LAWRENCE STEIGRAD FINE ARTS

Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits

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HENDRICK VAN STEENWYCK THE YOUNGER (Antwerp 1580/81 – Leiden or the Hague 1649)

The Interior of a Gothic Church

signed with initials H. V. S with the H and V partially effaced along the right edge of the first step of the first altar in the lower left

oil on panel

21 x 26 3/4 inches          (53 x 68 cm.)


PROVENANCE

Anonymous sale, Sotheby’s, London, December 3, 1969, lot 132, where purchased by

Gaunt

Estate of Paula Brown Glick, New York, acquired 1970’s until 2009

 

LITERATURE

Jeremy Howarth The Steenwyck Family as Masters of Perspective, Pictura Nova XII, Brepols, Turnhout, Belgium, 2009, pp. 167-168, no. II. B 69. (as present whereabouts unknown) and p. 455 (illustrated)

 

Hendrick van Steenwyck the Younger painted in a style similar to that of his father (c. 1550–1603) who worked in Aachen, Antwerp and Frankfurt-am-Main and is credited, together with his master Hans Vredeman de Vries, with rediscovering the art of perspective, using realistic if imaginary architectural scenes as the main subject of his paintings. [1]

Hendrick the Younger studied under his father in Frankfurt and went on to work in Antwerp, London and The Hague painting a wide range of subjects, including interiors of imaginary churches, prison scenes, imaginary Renaissance courtyards (including some as the backgrounds to portraits of King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria, working with artists such as Daniel Mytens and Cornelis Johnson) [2] as well as a number of religious scenes and domestic interiors. He is renowned for his meticulous work and his very realistic impressions of architecture and light and shade that must have been astonishing to his contemporaries. In all cases his architectural themes predominated and the figures and the subject were subsidiary to the main purpose which was to display his talent for creating the illusions of reality and space. He found favour with King Charles I at whose court he worked for over 20 years [3] and was a friend of Sir Anthony van Dyck who drew Steenwyck’s portrait in the early 1630s. [4] His painstaking methods and technique were described by another of Steenwyck’s contemporaries, Edward Norgate. [5]

The church’s interior is not site specific, but meant to create the illusion of an Antwerp cathedral, as was typical in the majority of Steenwyck’s works and it is for these scenes that the artist is best known. Painstakingly rendered with precise detail these imaginary interiors were meant to transport the viewer through an illusion of time and space, via a familiar setting. The complexity of the architecture combined with the play of light and shade, a restrictive use of color, a non-symmetrical viewpoint that enhanced the perspective challenge along with a low vantage point which provided an immediacy to the visual access were his hallmarks. [6]

In this panel they are masterfully realized to achieve the desired effect. Our view depicts a long and wide gothic church with a vaulted stone ceiling painted slightly left of center, paved with square light and dark flagstones. From the low vantage-point the viewer looks eastward down the nave to the choir screen through its open portal to the high altar. A number of side altars shown with both open and closed triptychs flank the sides of the nave, with a baptismal fount at its center. Light flows in from an unseen doorway and windows on the left side of the panel. As is traditional a beggar, here a young woman with her children, sit near the entranceway asking for alms. Elegant groups stroll through the panel with many women dressed in the distinctive cloaks and hats of the Antwerp bourgeois. [7] Two priests comfort and converse with ladies.

Frequently, as must be the case in this work, the painting was completed by Steenwyck and the staffage (which Howarth dates to the 1590s or 1600s) [8] added later. This was common practice at the time and Steenwyck combined his skills with such artists as Theodoor van Thulden, Jan Brueghel I and II, Frans Francken the Younger, Cornelis van Poelenburgh and Orazio Gentileschi among others. The staffage artist in this work remains unidentified but his contribution plays a key role in the overall achievement of the realistically structured architectural space. Interestingly Howarth has noted that in these scenes the figures most prominently displayed probably constitute portraits of the family who had commissioned the work or at least the staffage. [9]

It would thus be plausible to suggest, viewing from left to right along the foreground that the woman giving alms, the strolling couple, mother and child, young lady with dog, and the matron conversing with a priest are all family members of the artist’s patron.

Paula Brown Glick, the last owner of the painting was an influential social anthropologist who resided in New York City. She devoted her career to the study of the country of Papua New Guinea and published her findings in books, articles and journals for more than forty years. Her 1978 monograph Highland Peoples of New Guinea was the first comparative discussion of these highlands cultures. Her last book published in 1995, Beyond a Mountain Valley: The Simbu of Papua New Guinea is an ethnohistory of the Simbu people.

 

 

[1] Reprinted from Jeremy Howarth “Hendrick van Steenwyck the Younger” catalogue Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts, Portraits and Other Recent Acquisitions, 2009, no. 8.

[2] Examples of architectural backgrounds by Steenwyck to royal portraits are held in the Royal Collection at Hampton Court, Turin Galleria Sabauda, the Dresden Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, London, National Portrait Gallery and the Copenhagen Statens Museum for Kunst.

[3] The Royal Collection at Hampton Court still holds some 11 paintings by or partly by Steenwyck II, mainly scenes of the Liberation of St. Peter.

[4] Steenwyck’s portrait was engraved and published in 1645 as part of Paulus Pontius’s Iconography of Van Dyck’s drawings of contemporary leaders.

[5] Edward Norgate, Miniatura or the art of limming, originally published in 1628; modern edition ed. J.M. Muller and J. Murrell, New Haven & London 1997; and entire paragraph Howarth, op. cit., Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts, 2009.

[6] Howarth, The Steenwyck Family as Masters of Perspective, op. cit., pp. 48-52, 67.

[7] Ibid., pp. 45-46, 49-51.

[8] Written communication with Jeremy Howarth dated October 24, 2009.

[9] Howarth, The Steenwyck Family as Masters of Perspective, op. cit., pp. 47, 76.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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