Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


THE MONOGRAMMIST WA (Flemish, active early Seventeenth Century) 

A Christening Party

signed with initials WA conjoined in a monogram and dated 1629 in the wood paneling above the door in the upper right

oil on panel

22 ⅛ x 34 ⅛ inches          (56.2 x 86.7 cm.)


Madame J. Baron, Les Biolles, Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland, 1921

Estate of Anne Hastings, Washington, D.C., 2005


The monogrammist WA is thought to possibly be Willem Anthonissone (Anthonis, Anthonisz., Anthonissen, Antonissens, Guliam Anthony, or Giliam Anthonissens) who was born in Burgundy. He became a citizen of Antwerp in 1619, and the teacher of Abraham Willemsen (c. 1610 – 1672) in 1627 – 1628. Stylistically related to Louis de Caullery (c. 1594 – 1620) and Sebastian Vrancx (1573 – 1647), the quality of the draftsmanship and attention to incidental detail are exceptional. As demonstrated by this and at least one other known work, the artist employed a great deal of gilding richly decorating the surface details of frames, lamps, and embossed leather wall coverings.[1]

A fascinating view into seventeenth century life, our panel depicts a Christening celebration with extended family and friends in an expensively furnished and decorated dining room. The painting is representative of a trend whose roots lie in the sixteenth century, an early example of what has been labeled a genre portrait. Popular throughout the seventeenth century especially in the Southern Netherlands, such paintings employed a small-scale format for depictions of individuals informally posed while engaged in leisurely pursuits or celebrations. Intended as a reflection of the sitters’ social status and cultural refinement, the finished panel served as a form of self-aggrandizement for permanent display.[2]

Interestingly in these works equal emphasis is given to the surroundings in which the sitters are placed.[3] It is unknown if these paintings document actual rooms or aspirations.[4] The dining room of our Christening displays an almost encyclopedic rendering of furnishings usually found in painted examples of the period. Always the most lavishly decorated, the dining room was probably the area most used for entertaining. The bare wood-planked floor, exposed beam ceiling, chandelier, gilded corbels, gold leather wall-hanging suspended from cornices, marble fireplace, brass firedogs, cupboard with plate and vessels, a covered draw-leaf table (in this case probably silken velvet trimmed with fringe), paintings, and gilt patterned black leather chairs are all typical.[5] The presence of the bed is not unusual, as seventeenth century inventories reveal that beds were placed in rooms throughout the house.

Within these interior genre portraits, the strongest indication of cultural refinement was the inclusion of art. The most important paintings hung in the dining room. Portraits of historical figures as well as scenes of edification were deemed appropriate subjects. In our panel, the paintings in a symmetrical pattern above the cornice were probably based on a series of 15 Roman emperors by Otto van Veen (1556 – 1629). Fireplaces were regarded as the visual focal point of the room. Paintings hung on the chimney wall (called schouwstuk or chimney pieces) were viewed as a key component.[6] In our work, the painting is The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden, exactly matching the proportions of the chimney wall, whose importance is underlined by its double gold-bordered frame. Apropos to the scene is The Virgin and Child that hangs above the cupboard.

We are indebted to Fred G. Meijer for his assistance in the writing of this entry.




[1] Another example by the artist, featuring figures from the Commedia dell’Arte dancing in a similar interior, signed with monogram WA and dated 1628, was with Rafael Valls Limited, London, in 1995.

[2] Marjorie E. Wieseman, “The Art of ‘Conservatie’: Genre Portraiture in the Southern Netherlands in the Seventeenth Century,” exhibition catalogue, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Age of Rubens, September 22, 1993 – January 2, 1994, pp. 183-191.

[3] Ibid, p. 183.

[4] Jeffrey M. Muller, “Private Collections in the Spanish Netherlands: Ownership and Display of Paintings in Domestic Interiors” in The Age of Rubens, op. cit., p. 203.

[5] Ibid, p. 183.

[6] Ibid, pp. 196, 199-202.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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