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Sebastiaen Vrancx’s Crossing of the Red Sea


The recent acquisition of Sebastiaen Vrancx’s Crossing of the Red Sea (fig. 1), a major work from his Italian period, has not only enriched the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection with an interesting comparison piece to its fine Poussin painting of the same theme (fig. 2), but is also remarkable within the confines of Vrancx’s oeuvre in exemplifying the less commonly known aspects of his art. 

This Flemish painter (b. Antwerp 1573, d. Antwerp 1647), fellow townsman and almost exact contemporary of Peter Paul Rubens,1Vrancx was baptised in the Church of St James in Antwerp on 22 January 1573. Carel Van Mander mentions an apprenticeship with Adam van Noort. Vrancx became a free-master in the Antwerp Painters Guild in the guild year 1600–01 and was dean of the guild in 1612–13. His best-known pupil was Peter Snayers (1592–1666/67), who specialised in rendering on huge canvases and with great vistas the Spanish army’s town sieges. Apart from being a painter, Vrancx also made a career in the Antwerp militia and was active as a rhetorician. For this last aspect see A. A. Keersmaekers, ‘De schilder Sebastiaen Vrancx (1573–1647) als rederijker’, in Jaarboek 1982, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, Antwerp, 1983, pp. 165–86. For his career as an artist, see Joost Vander Auwera, Sebastiaen Vrancx (1573–1647), een monografische benadering, Dissertation for the degree of licentiate, Ghent State University, Ghent, 1979 (from Prof. Dr R. A. d’Hulst). is traditionally associated with the genre of battle scenes, demonstrating his predilection for cavalry skirmishes. Moreover, Vrancx’s pictures painted after about 1610 are his best known. They display his mature style, characterised by neatly outlined figures engaged in belligerent activities, painted in enamel-like primary colours and set against a decorative landscape. The backgrounds are painted in more subdued hues and are enlivened by one or several vistas in which depth is suggested by a series of fast-receding perspectives.2Cf. F. C. Legrand, Les peintres flamands de genre an XVIIe siècle, Editions Meddens, Paris & Brussels, 1963, p. 192. Most of these works are painted on a small scale – about 50 x 80 cm is a common format – and they are often authenticated by a monogram consisting of an S, the initial of the artist’s first name, typically interlaced with a V, the initial of his surname. Unfortunately this monogram does not appear with the consistency desired by the art market, nor is its occurrence a warrant for authenticity.3In this respect a Market scene in a Flemish town at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam may be mentioned. It bears a conspicuous monogram but, apart from its different style, it shows a tower – including eighteenth-century alterations – in the background at left reminiscent of the church tower of St Gommarus in Lier (Flanders); see P. J. Van Thiel et al., All the Paintings of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, & Gary Schwartz, Maarssen, 1976, p. 590, no. C 510; panel 42 x 55 cm. The unsigned Looting of a convoy, dating from about 1611 and now at the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in Kassel (fig. 3),4Inventory no. GK 61. This is also a good example of an unsigned but autographic replica. A monogrammed version, dated 1611, was in the collection of J. C. Heldring, Oosterbeek (The Netherlands), later brought to auction at Sotheby’s, London, 27 March 1963, no. 38. is a fine example of this well-known Vrancx genre. 

But Vrancx’s thematic range was far wider, and fully signed works or authentic paintings on a larger scale, although not very common, do exist. Vrancx was painting pictures well before the second decade of the seventeenth century and the works from this early period, although somewhat different in style, are certainly not his least interesting.5Cf. Vander Auwera, Sebastiaen Vrancx. Military scenes amount to about half his oeuvre. His stately park scenes are also better known and more sought after. Decorative designs and rhetorical compositions form another part of his thematic spectrum; less well known are his architectural, religious, mythological and allegorical scenes, which mostly have a genre-like character. This is particularly well illustrated by the Crossing of the Red Sea

The painting is signed at the lower right edge with the full signature ‘S. Vrancx fe’. This form of signature is not unique; it is to be found, for example, on the undated Looting of a village by soldiers in the Boymans Van Beuningen Museum at Rotterdam,6Inventory no. 1937, oil on panel, 52 x 66.5 cm. on a drawing, Mountainous landscape with ruins and travellers, inscribed ‘1597 Sebastiano Vrancx’ (fig. 4),7Schwartz Sale, Vienna, 24 April 1918, no. 53. and on a painting dated 1600 and representing the Sermon of St John the Baptist in the Galleria Nazionale at Parma (figs 5 and 6).8Inventory no. 257 It has a signed companion piece representing The battle between Lapiths and centaurs bearing the certainly apocryphal date 1560; it probably also dates from about 1600. 

The two last-mentioned works are especially interesting. Not only are they dated, but they are also strikingly similar in motif and style to the painting under discussion. The drawing parallels the Melbourne Crossing in its decorative handling of trees with gently twisted stems and the strong contrasts of light and shade in the foliage (compare, for example, the tree closing the right side of the composition en repoussoir on both painting and drawing). Moreover, the motif seen at the centre foreground of the drawing – the mule carrying a person in a sort of tent on its back and with a footman driving it from behind – recurs almost identically in the right middle distance of the Melbourne painting. In the case of the Sermon of St John the Baptist, where the similarities are not obscured by a different medium, the parallels are even more evident, particularly in the handling of the foliage and in the grouping and types of figures in pseudo-oriental dress. 

Further points of comparison with the Melbourne Crossing can be found in two other dated compositions from the same early period. First there is a print after Vrancx which represents the Conversion of St Paul and is dated 1597 (fig. 7).9With the caption: ‘Quis es Domine … neque bibit. A. Apost. cap. 9’. Two different states of it are in the Graphische Sammlung Albertina, in the album Fr. I.6, pp. 21 and 22 respectively. The first mentions Johannes and Philippus Turpinus as engravers (and not Thomassin as usually stated in the literature); the second, which unfortunately has been trimmed at the lower edge, cites ‘Calistus Feranter’. For mention of S. Vrancx as the inventor, the date and the dedication cf. n. 30. The characterisation of this dramatic event, with horses and riders suddenly scattering in panic, may be compared with the turmoil of the drowning Egyptian army in the Melbourne painting. This similarity is all the more compelling as it encompasses such details as the soldiers’ garments, for example the old-fashioned outfits and flat hats of the lansquenets (in the left foreground in the painting; in the right middle distance in the print), and the type and movements of the horses. Compare, for example, the grey horse seen from behind in the left foreground of the painting with its counterpart mounted by a bugler in the print. Even the focal point of the print – Saul falling from his horse – is echoed with only minor variations in the soldier falling from his mount in the lower left corner of the painting. 

Last, but not least, Vrancx elaborated the theme of the Crossing of the Red Sea in another painting, at present in the Italian Chamber of Representatives, Rome, on loan from the Galleria Nazionale in Parma (fig. 8).10Inventory no. 959. Like its fully signed and dated companion piece, the Massacre of the Innocents (fig. 9),11Inventory no. 958. Signed at the base of a statue in the left foreground in a manner similar to the signature on the Melbourne painting: ‘Sebas Vrancx/1600’. Both works are discussed at some length in Joost Vander Auwera, ‘Sebastiaen Vrancx (1573–1647) en zijn samenwerking met Jan I Brueghel (1568–1625)’, in Jaarboek 1981, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, Antwerp, 1982, pp. 135–51 (pls 8 and 9 with the erroneous statement that they are painted on copper). it can be dated to the year 1600. A. Blankert12In a letter dated 28 September 1988 to Chaucer Fine Arts, the former owner of the picture, Dr Blankert also rightly suggested the date of 1600 for the Crossing of the Red Sea now in Rome, in accordance with the date on its pendant. has rightly noted that several details in this Roman Crossing reappear in the Melbourne picture: the island consisting of a bizarre fissured rock in the water; the bent tree in the centre; and, again, the mule with its strange load. This list can be completed with devices such as the sun-lit coast in the distance, and the way in which the cloud column in the sky, signifying the presence of Jahweh, is painted. And here too we see the type of foliage and figures already observed in the Sermon of St John the Baptist

  

 

All this evidence not only anchors the Melbourne Crossing firmly in Vrancx’s oeuvre, it also points to an early date in that oeuvre: given the dates of the above-mentioned works with their stylistic similarity, between about 1597 and 1600. Significantly this period coincides with the artist’s Italian journey.13Blankert, letter to Chaucer Fine Arts, independently came to analogous conclusions. He supposes that the Rome Crossing is a little later than the Melbourne version; I am not so sure of that. 

We know for certain that Vrancx visited Italy and that he stayed in Rome. This is implied by his membership in 1610 of the Antwerp Confraternity of St Peter and St Paul, a select religious company that only admitted those who had visited the tombs of the patron saints in Rome.14First mentioned by P. Rombouts & T. Van Lerius, De Liggeren en andere historische archieven der Antwerpsche St.-Lucasgilde, Antwerp & Den Haag, 1864–76, vol. I, p. 293, n. 5 (repr. W. Israel, Amsterdam, 1961); see also E. Dillis, ‘La Confrérie des Romanistes’, Annales de l’Académie Royale d’Archeologie de Belgique, vol. LXX, 1922, pp. 416–88. More precise information is given in an annotation on another drawing which was auctioned at Sotheby’s and which represents a Mountainous landscape with travellers.15Sotheby’s, London, 22 November 1974, no. 2; from the collection of William Exdael (Lugt no. 2617); pen and brown ink over traces of red chalk, 196 x 281 mm. Its verso reads: ‘Sebastian Vrancx in(ventit) et fecit Roma, 1597’. From this we may deduce that Vrancx stayed in Rome before he became a free-master in the Antwerp Painters Guild in the year 1600–01 and that he did so during the period to which the Melbourne painting can also be dated. 

In those years Rome was the most important centre in a development in European art which would eventually lead to the baroque era. It may be unnecessary, therefore, to recall the role played in this Roman scene by Italian painters such as Caravaggio and the Carracci. That does not alter the fact that some details in the Melbourne painting may derive from compositions by Italian masters. One can point, for example, to the motif of the mother with her baby on her lap resting at the foot of the great tree in the centre; she is reminiscent of the figure of Mary in a print by Agostino Carracci representing the Preparations for the Flight into Egypt (fig. 10).16D. DeGrazia, ‘Le Stampe dei Carracci … ’, Catalogo Critico, Edizione Alfa, Bologna, 1984, catalogue Agostino, no. 38, pl. 65; dated by DeGrazia c.1579–81, who also mentions that Agostino Carracci in turn drew on a print with the same theme by Cornelis Cort. A female figure, similar in pose to Mary, was painted by Michelangelo in the Ezechias lunette in the Sistine Chapel, however the motif in Vrancx’s picture comes closest to the Carracci print. Blankert, letter to Chaucer Fine Arts, points to the bending half-nude man at the extreme right as prefiguring A. Elsheimer. This figure also appears in a signed Vrancx painting dated 159(6) (the last digit is unclear); see n. 21 for discussion of this painting. However such derivations, even if direct, are submerged almost unnoticed in Vrancxs crowd of picturesque and active figures, full of entertaining detail, in an equally picturesque and no less important landscape. 

 

Such a concept, in which the figures enacting a biblical or historical theme do not dominate the landscape and are to a certain degree even secondary to it is, needless to say, not at all Italian. For parallels one should look instead to the works of the important colony of Flemish painters who were active in the papal city in those years.17See D. Bodart, Les peintres des Pays-Bas Méridionaux et de la Principauté de Liège à Rome au XVIIe siècle, 2 vols, L’Institut Historique Belge de Rome, Brussels, 1970, and L. Salerno, Landscape Painters of the Seventeenth Century in Rome, 3 vols, Ugo Bozzi Editore, Rome, 1977–78. Their contribution can be seen firstly in the field of landscape painting, a genre with which the Italians were never really at ease and which was certainly not central to their artistic aspirations. But it should be remembered that it was precisely this sort of landscape concept that was given momentum at the end of the sixteenth century by Flemish artists working in Italy and was much sought after by Italian patrons, among them even the Pope, who commissioned Flemings to decorate his residences with frescos.18Salerno, Landscape Painters; for Paul Bril see also G. T. Gaggin, ‘Per Paolo Bril’, Paragone, no. 183, new ser. 5, 1965, pp. 21–35. Eventually this would lead to a decisive evolution in landscape painting. The influence of Paul Bril (b. Antwerp 1554, d. Rome 1626) on Claude Lorrain, whose master Agostino Tassi was active in the studio of this leading Flemish master, is the most illustrious example of this phenomenon. 

 

At the time that Vrancx was painting his Crossing of the Red Sea the art of Paul Bril had not yet reached its ‘classical’ phase, responding to the new ideas imported by masters such as Elsheimer and Carracci. On the contrary, his work was still firmly rooted in the rich Flemish tradition of landscape painting and was particularly reminiscent of its greatest representative, Pieter I. Brueghel, although in a diluted form that sacrificed much of Brueghel’s genius to the charm of decorative beauty. It is this style that Vrancx’s work most closely resembles. 

When we examine Bril’s landscapes of the 1590s – the Landscape with the Temptation of St Anthony of 1593 in the collection of E. de Callatay in Brussels19Exhibition catalogue, De Eeuw van Bruegel, Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels, 27 September – 24 November 1963, no. 43, pl. 255; a very similar work, signed and dated 1592, is in a Roman private collection; Salerno, Landscape Painters, Paul Bril, pl. p. 15. or the Mountainous landscape with shepherds of 1594 in the collection of Silvano Lodi in Campione20K. Ertz, Jan Brueghel der Ältere (1568–1625), Die Gemälde …, Du Mont, Cologne, 1979, p. 95, pl. 88. The connection with Paul Bril was also detected by Blankert, letter to Chaucer Fine Arts. – echoes of Brueghel and the same devices can be seen: the combination of a hilly landscape with a view over water receding far into the distance; the trees en repoussoir at each side of the composition and a bent tree in the middle distance; the artificial succession of dark and light zones to suggest depth; the figures peregrinating through the landscape.21The question arises of how far painters such as Paul Bril, Jan. I. Brueghel and Sebastiaen Vrancx were still like Patinier in earlier times, thinking of travellers as symbols for humankind in general and consciously applying the distinction between an ‘easy’ and a ‘difficult’ landscape as a symbol of the choice between a good and evil way of life (cf. the recent thesis by R. L. Falkenburg in Joachim Patinir: Landscape as an Image of the Pilgrimage of Life (Oculi, Studies in the Art of the Low Countries, vol. 2), John Benjamins Publishing, Amsterdam & Philadelphia, 1988). It seems to me that in Vrancx’s work from this early period there is at least one picture that displays striking parallels to such a line of thought. It is signed and dated 159(6), and was with Richard L. Feigen, New York, in 1976. The composition is divided in the centre by a huge tree; in front of it there is a female(?) figure with flowers in her hair; in her hand she bears a torch which, significantly, goes out (Vanity?); on the right side a merry company is seen under a portico (that is, the sinister side, for these figures perhaps display amoral and vain behaviour); on the left side, strongly sun-lit, a horseman is passing by on a road, leaving the viewer uncertain whether he will choose the path towards this company on the crossroad that lies before him. This device also reminds us of the so-called ‘Prodigal Son’ by Hieronymus Bosch in the Museum Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (inv. no. 1079). In Vrancx this last feature is like a distant reflection of Brueghel’s famous rendering of the train of St Paul making its way through the mountains in the Conversion of St Paul in Vienna, although Vrancx lacks Brueghel’s sense of drama and the majesty of nature. Another point of comparison is Bril’s Harbour scene at night with a lighthouse of 1601 in Vienna (fig. 11),22Inventory no. 5770; K. Demus, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien, Verzeichnis der Gemälde, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, & Verlag Anton Schroll, Vienna & Munich, 1976, p. 29, pl. 76. The connection with Paul Bril for the landscape was already noted by Blankert, letter to Chaucer Fine Arts; Salerno, Landscape Painters, pointed to this influence in the case of the Vrancx paintings in Rome. where the strong and decorative light effects in the sky and on the shores with their picturesque rocks accord perfectly with the light in Vrancx’s work. 

 

Compared with the art of the young Vrancx, Bril’s paintings are better balanced in composition and the brush of the older master has a more miniaturistic and discriminating touch. On the other hand, Bril never displays as keen an interest in vestimentary detail as does Vrancx in the Melbourne painting – a constant preoccupation in Vrancx and for which a print series showing different regional costumes is characteristic.23The series, engraved by P. de Jode I (Hollstein, nos 237–46), is dispersed in a number of print rooms, among them the Albertina in Vienna. Neither would we find in Bril such ignoble details as the Jew throwing pebbles at a helpless drowning Egyptian on the far right sea-shore. Clearly we are also worlds apart from Poussin’s rendering of the theme, where Pharaoh’s army is merely suggested and attention is focused wholly on the honourable actions of the Jews. Here, in this early work, it is already obvious that a love of anecdotal detail, the picturesque and the particular, rather than the ideal and universal, is integral to Vrancx’s art. 

As I have pointed out elsewhere, Vrancx’s later concept of landscape stems from that of Jan I. ‘Velvet’ Brueghel, but is more conservative.24Vander Auwera, Jaarboek 1981. Nevertheless it is appropriate here to refer to Jan Brueghel’s Italian journey whose brevity seems to have been in inverse proportion to its influence. In the early 1590s it led to a fruitful cooperation between Bril and Brueghel.25See the brilliant article by T. Gerszi, ‘Bruegels Nachwirkung auf die niederländischen Landschaftsmaler um 1600’, Oud Holland, vol. 90, no. 4, 1976, pp. 201–21; and Ertz, Jan Brueghel der Ältere, passim, and especially pp. 90ss, 422ss. It is therefore possible that the somewhat closer and lower, and consequently more modern, perspective in the Melbourne painting was due to this mutual influence, and particularly to Jan Brueghel’s innovative seascapes.26See Ertz, Jan Brueghel der Ältere, passim, and especially fig. 85, Seashore with Army-Vessel, in a German collection, dated about 1592 by Ertz. Blankert, letter to Chaucer Fine Arts, compared the drowning army of the Egyptians to the art of Jan I. Brueghel. I think such a likeness is explicable by direct influence but also by common artistic sources in the Roman milieu, for example A. Tempesta’s work (see n. 28); the same can be said of the affinity observed by Blankert between the Jews and the paintings of Peter Schoubrouck, who was also in Rome at that time. For this master see Salerno, Landscape Painters. 

  

Finally, there are other striking parallels between the Melbourne Crossing of the Red Sea and a painting with the same theme now in the Galleria Doria Pamphili in Rome and painted in oil on alabaster by Antonio Tempesta.27No. 382, Catalogue Sestieri, no. 287, signed ‘Ant. Tempi’. The perspective is higher and the role of landscape less important, but this does not obscure the remarkable similarities in the relative position of Jews and Egyptians ashore and in the sea, in the pointing gestures of the Jews and of Moses with his staff and, even more striking, in the rendering of the Egyptian army with its standard-bearer in the foreground and the main chariot at the far left. Before he came to Rome in 1570, the Florentine Antonio Tempesta was a pupil of the Flemish-born Johannes Stradanus and clearly influenced by him. He also worked with Paul Bril’s older brother Matthew.28For Tempesta in this context see, in addition to Salerno, Landscape Painters, F. Sricchia Santoro, ‘Antonio Tempesta fra Stradano e Matteo Bril’, in Relations artistiques entre les Pays-Bas et l’ltalie à la Renaissance, Etudes dédiées à Suzanne Sulzberger, Etudes d’Historie de l’Art publiées par l’lnstitut Historique Belge de Rome, Brussels, 1980, vol. IV, pp. 227–37. Probably this blend of Italian style and Flemish tradition greatly facilitated the absorption of Tempestas art by masters such as Vrancx. 

The art of Stradanus-Tempesta also had a significant influence on Vrancx’s rendering of horsemen, and the Melbourne Crossing is the first painting in which this becomes apparent. Whereas in his early pictures a ‘wooden’ sort of horse is the rule, the riders and mounts depicted here are particularly dynamic and vivid. As mentioned previously, it is only in a print from Vrancx’s early years, the Conversion of St Paul of 1597, that such vividness is accomplished. And it is also in this print that its origin in the art of Stradanus and Tempesta is most obvious.29This woodenness is present, for example, in the Massacre of the Innocents and in the Combat of Lapiths and centaurs (cf. n. 8). In the latter work this idiom remains in clear opposition to the intended dynamism of the dramatic action. For Stradanus as a source I would point, for instance, to the Mediceae familiae reum feliciter gestarum victoriae el triumphi, a print series dated 1583, by Philip Galle after Stradanus, pls 4 and 5. In a plate numbered 2 and representing an episode from the Parma war, a soldier also appears in the left foreground in a pose very similar to Vrancx’s Egyptian standard-bearer. It is possible that Vrancx was already acquainted with such Stradanus prints in Antwerp before his Italian journey. 

The dedication of the print to Seraphino Olivario Razaleo, a high functionary at the Vatican,30It reads, on the side of a rock in the foreground at centre: ‘Ill(us)tri(ssimi) Admodu(m), et R(everendissi)mo D. D. Seraphino Olivario Razaleo sacri Rotae Auditorij Decano, et signaturae minoris gratiae S.(ancti?) D.(omini?) N.(ostri?) prefecto: Ioannes Turpinus devotissimis dat, donat, dicatque’. Further to the right it reads: ‘Sebastianus Vrancxus invent.’, followed by the name(s) of the different engravers and the specification ‘Rom 1597’. Cardinal Olivario’s (Olivieri’s) secretary, named Becatelli, also had contacts with Philip Rubens, brother of Peter Paul Rubens; see R. Oldenbourg, ‘Abraham Janssens’, in Paul Clemen (ed.), Belgische Kunstdenkmäler, Verlag F. Bruckmann, Munich, 1923, vol. II, p. 250, n. 1. raises another and final problem – that of the intended patronage for Vrancx’s Italian production in general and the Melbourne Crossing in particular. Apart from its religious theme, the dedication of such a work to a papal functionary might not have been unusual at a time when the papal residences had been decorated with frescos by the Bril-brothers.31Cf. the literature mentioned in n. 18. The print, the importance of which is underlined by its considerable dimensions, was however not dedicated by Vrancx but by the editor, the engraver and painter Iohannes Turpinus. Moreover, Vrancx is only mentioned as the inventor, not as a painter of the composition. Therefore we cannot conclude from this that Vrancx had direct contact with people like Razaleo, and the hypothesis that Razaleo ever commissioned a painting from Vrancx is even more remote. None the less there are some grounds for the belief that during this period Vrancx painted with specific patrons in mind. The concept, for example, of the Crossing of the Red Sea (fig. 8) in Rome and its companion piece the Massacre of the Innocents (fig. 9) as pendants, not only formally because of their equal dimensions but also their content, seems to point in this direction. The thematic opposition in this concept – the guilty Egyptians persecuting the Jewish people and therefore being punished by God (notably after the death of their first-born) on the one side, and the new-born innocent Jews murdered by the usurper Herod on the other – is as unconventional as it is carefully contrived. It appears to me that this concept was intentional, that it would have passed unnoticed by a patron who did not have more than the usual degree of religious knowledge, and that only such a person could have appreciated the point being made. Even disregarding this, it seems most improbable that Vrancx would have painted such large works for the free market.

The theory has all the more validity in the case of the Melbourne painting as it is the largest of all the pictures dating from Vrancx’s Italian years. It must have been painted for someone of considerable financial means. The theme of the painting is not in itself specific enough to imply a particular patron; we are far from the Mattei commission to Paul Bril of huge paintings of castles.32Four paintings, each 155 x 230 cm, now in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arta Antica, Rome. In the future the inventory number on the back of the painting33In red on the apparently not relined canvas: ‘I 03’. may indicate a more definitive answer to this question, although it is not even certain whether the collection it implies is the original one. What is certain, however, and what makes us grateful, is that Vrancx’s Crossing of the Red Sea, having itself crossed many oceans, has now finally reached a collection where it is in professional custody and where it may be enjoyed by a far larger public than that for which it was originally intended. 

Joost Vander Auwera, State University of Ghent, Seminar of Fine Arts (in 1989).

Acknowledgements 

I wish to express my sincere thanks to Mrs R. Gillis-Demeester (whose knowledge of the English language is far better than mine) for kindly seeing my text through to manuscript; Dr E. Devapriam; the editor of the Art Bulletin of Victoria, Ms S. Dean; and the copy-editor, Ms A. Gundert, for their much-appreciated editorial and practical assistance. 

 

Notes 

1          Vrancx was baptised in the Church of St James in Antwerp on 22 January 1573. Carel Van Mander mentions an apprenticeship with Adam van Noort. Vrancx became a free-master in the Antwerp Painters Guild in the guild year 1600–01 and was dean of the guild in 1612–13. His best-known pupil was Peter Snayers (1592–1666/67), who specialised in rendering on huge canvases and with great vistas the Spanish army’s town sieges. Apart from being a painter, Vrancx also made a career in the Antwerp militia and was active as a rhetorician. For this last aspect see A. A. Keersmaekers, ‘De schilder Sebastiaen Vrancx (1573–1647) als rederijker’, in Jaarboek 1982, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, Antwerp, 1983, pp. 165–86. For his career as an artist, see Joost Vander Auwera, Sebastiaen Vrancx (1573–1647), een monografische benadering, Dissertation for the degree of licentiate, Ghent State University, Ghent, 1979 (from Prof. Dr R. A. d’Hulst). 

2          Cf. F. C. Legrand, Les peintres flamands de genre an XVIIe siècle, Editions Meddens, Paris & Brussels, 1963, p. 192. 

3          In this respect a Market scene in a Flemish town at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam may be mentioned. It bears a conspicuous monogram but, apart from its different style, it shows a tower – including eighteenth-century alterations – in the background at left reminiscent of the church tower of St Gommarus in Lier (Flanders); see P. J. Van Thiel et al., All the Paintings of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, & Gary Schwartz, Maarssen, 1976, p. 590, no. C 510; panel 42 x 55 cm. 

4          Inventory no. GK 61. This is also a good example of an unsigned but autographic replica. A monogrammed version, dated 1611, was in the collection of J. C. Heldring, Oosterbeek (The Netherlands), later brought to auction at Sotheby’s, London, 27 March 1963, no. 38. 

5          Cf. Vander Auwera, Sebastiaen Vrancx. Military scenes amount to about half his oeuvre. His stately park scenes are also better known and more sought after. Decorative designs and rhetorical compositions form another part of his thematic spectrum; less well known are his architectural, religious, mythological and allegorical scenes, which mostly have a genre-like character. 

6          Inventory no. 1937, oil on panel, 52 x 66.5 cm. 

7          Schwartz Sale, Vienna, 24 April 1918, no. 53. 

8          Inventory no. 257 It has a signed companion piece representing The battle between Lapiths and centaurs bearing the certainly apocryphal date 1560; it probably also dates from about 1600. 

9          With the caption: ‘Quis es Domine … neque bibit. A. Apost. cap. 9’. Two different states of it are in the Graphische Sammlung Albertina, in the album Fr. I.6, pp. 21 and 22 respectively. The first mentions Johannes and Philippus Turpinus as engravers (and not Thomassin as usually stated in the literature); the second, which unfortunately has been trimmed at the lower edge, cites ‘Calistus Feranter’. For mention of S. Vrancx as the inventor, the date and the dedication cf. n. 30. 

10        Inventory no. 959. 

11        Inventory no. 958. Signed at the base of a statue in the left foreground in a manner similar to the signature on the Melbourne painting: ‘Sebas Vrancx/1600’. Both works are discussed at some length in Joost Vander Auwera, ‘Sebastiaen Vrancx (1573–1647) en zijn samenwerking met Jan I Brueghel (1568–1625)’, in Jaarboek 1981, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, Antwerp, 1982, pp. 135–51 (pls 8 and 9 with the erroneous statement that they are painted on copper). 

12        In a letter dated 28 September 1988 to Chaucer Fine Arts, the former owner of the picture, Dr Blankert also rightly suggested the date of 1600 for the Crossing of the Red Sea now in Rome, in accordance with the date on its pendant. 

13        Blankert, letter to Chaucer Fine Arts, independently came to analogous conclusions. He supposes that the Rome Crossing is a little later than the Melbourne version; I am not so sure of that. 

14        First mentioned by P. Rombouts & T. Van Lerius, De Liggeren en andere historische archieven der Antwerpsche St.-Lucasgilde, Antwerp & Den Haag, 1864–76, vol. I, p. 293, n. 5 (repr. W. Israel, Amsterdam, 1961); see also E. Dillis, ‘La Confrérie des Romanistes’, Annales de l’Académie Royale d’Archeologie de Belgique, vol. LXX, 1922, pp. 416–88. 

15        Sotheby’s, London, 22 November 1974, no. 2; from the collection of William Exdael (Lugt no. 2617); pen and brown ink over traces of red chalk, 196 x 281 mm. 

16        D. DeGrazia, ‘Le Stampe dei Carracci … ’, Catalogo Critico, Edizione Alfa, Bologna, 1984, catalogue Agostino, no. 38, pl. 65; dated by DeGrazia c.1579–81, who also mentions that Agostino Carracci in turn drew on a print with the same theme by Cornelis Cort. A female figure, similar in pose to Mary, was painted by Michelangelo in the Ezechias lunette in the Sistine Chapel, however the motif in Vrancx’s picture comes closest to the Carracci print. Blankert, letter to Chaucer Fine Arts, points to the bending half-nude man at the extreme right as prefiguring A. Elsheimer. This figure also appears in a signed Vrancx painting dated 159(6) (the last digit is unclear); see n. 21 for discussion of this painting. 

17        See D. Bodart, Les peintres des Pays-Bas Méridionaux et de la Principauté de Liège à Rome au XVIIe siècle, 2 vols, L’Institut Historique Belge de Rome, Brussels, 1970, and L. Salerno, Landscape Painters of the Seventeenth Century in Rome, 3 vols, Ugo Bozzi Editore, Rome, 1977–78. 

18        Salerno, Landscape Painters; for Paul Bril see also G. T. Gaggin, ‘Per Paolo Bril’, Paragone, no. 183, new ser. 5, 1965, pp. 21–35. 

19        Exhibition catalogue, De Eeuw van Bruegel, Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels, 27 September – 24 November 1963, no. 43, pl. 255; a very similar work, signed and dated 1592, is in a Roman private collection; Salerno, Landscape Painters, Paul Bril, pl. p. 15. 

20        K. Ertz, Jan Brueghel der Ältere (1568–1625), Die Gemälde …, Du Mont, Cologne, 1979, p. 95, pl. 88. The connection with Paul Bril was also detected by Blankert, letter to Chaucer Fine Arts. 

21        The question arises of how far painters such as Paul Bril, Jan. I. Brueghel and Sebastiaen Vrancx were still like Patinier in earlier times, thinking of travellers as symbols for humankind in general and consciously applying the distinction between an ‘easy’ and a ‘difficult’ landscape as a symbol of the choice between a good and evil way of life (cf. the recent thesis by R. L. Falkenburg in Joachim Patinir: Landscape as an Image of the Pilgrimage of Life (Oculi, Studies in the Art of the Low Countries, vol. 2), John Benjamins Publishing, Amsterdam & Philadelphia, 1988). It seems to me that in Vrancx’s work from this early period there is at least one picture that displays striking parallels to such a line of thought. It is signed and dated 159(6), and was with Richard L. Feigen, New York, in 1976. The composition is divided in the centre by a huge tree; in front of it there is a female(?) figure with flowers in her hair; in her hand she bears a torch which, significantly, goes out (Vanity?); on the right side a merry company is seen under a portico (that is, the sinister side, for these figures perhaps display amoral and vain behaviour); on the left side, strongly sun-lit, a horseman is passing by on a road, leaving the viewer uncertain whether he will choose the path towards this company on the crossroad that lies before him. This device also reminds us of the so-called ‘Prodigal Son’ by Hieronymus Bosch in the Museum Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (inv. no. 1079). 

22        Inventory no. 5770; K. Demus, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien, Verzeichnis der Gemälde, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, & Verlag Anton Schroll, Vienna & Munich, 1976, p. 29, pl. 76. The connection with Paul Bril for the landscape was already noted by Blankert, letter to Chaucer Fine Arts; Salerno, Landscape Painters, pointed to this influence in the case of the Vrancx paintings in Rome. 

23        The series, engraved by P. de Jode I (Hollstein, nos 237–46), is dispersed in a number of print rooms, among them the Albertina in Vienna. 

24        Vander Auwera, Jaarboek 1981

25        See the brilliant article by T. Gerszi, ‘Bruegels Nachwirkung auf die niederländischen Landschaftsmaler um 1600’, Oud Holland, vol. 90, no. 4, 1976, pp. 201–21; and Ertz, Jan Brueghel der Ältere, passim, and especially pp. 90ss, 422ss. 

26        See Ertz, Jan Brueghel der Ältere, passim, and especially fig. 85, Seashore with Army-Vessel, in a German collection, dated about 1592 by Ertz. Blankert, letter to Chaucer Fine Arts, compared the drowning army of the Egyptians to the art of Jan I. Brueghel. I think such a likeness is explicable by direct influence but also by common artistic sources in the Roman milieu, for example A. Tempesta’s work (see n. 28); the same can be said of the affinity observed by Blankert between the Jews and the paintings of Peter Schoubrouck, who was also in Rome at that time. For this master see Salerno, Landscape Painters

27        No. 382, Catalogue Sestieri, no. 287, signed ‘Ant. Tempi’. 

28        For Tempesta in this context see, in addition to Salerno, Landscape Painters, F. Sricchia Santoro, ‘Antonio Tempesta fra Stradano e Matteo Bril’, in Relations artistiques entre les Pays-Bas et l’ltalie à la Renaissance, Etudes dédiées à Suzanne Sulzberger, Etudes d’Historie de l’Art publiées par l’lnstitut Historique Belge de Rome, Brussels, 1980, vol. IV, pp. 227–37. 

29        This woodenness is present, for example, in the Massacre of the Innocents and in the Combat of Lapiths and centaurs (cf. n. 8). In the latter work this idiom remains in clear opposition to the intended dynamism of the dramatic action. For Stradanus as a source I would point, for instance, to the Mediceae familiae reum feliciter gestarum victoriae el triumphi, a print series dated 1583, by Philip Galle after Stradanus, pls 4 and 5. In a plate numbered 2 and representing an episode from the Parma war, a soldier also appears in the left foreground in a pose very similar to Vrancx’s Egyptian standard-bearer. It is possible that Vrancx was already acquainted with such Stradanus prints in Antwerp before his Italian journey. 

30        It reads, on the side of a rock in the foreground at centre: ‘Ill(us)tri(ssimi) Admodu(m), et R(everendissi)mo D. D. Seraphino Olivario Razaleo sacri Rotae Auditorij Decano, et signaturae minoris gratiae S.(ancti?) D.(omini?) N.(ostri?) prefecto: Ioannes Turpinus devotissimis dat, donat, dicatque’. Further to the right it reads: ‘Sebastianus Vrancxus invent.’, followed by the name(s) of the different engravers and the specification ‘Rom 1597’. Cardinal Olivario’s (Olivieri’s) secretary, named Becatelli, also had contacts with Philip Rubens, brother of Peter Paul Rubens; see R. Oldenbourg, ‘Abraham Janssens’, in Paul Clemen (ed.), Belgische Kunstdenkmäler, Verlag F. Bruckmann, Munich, 1923, vol. II, p. 250, n. 1. 

31        Cf. the literature mentioned in n. 18. 

32        Four paintings, each 155 x 230 cm, now in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arta Antica, Rome. 

33        In red on the apparently not relined canvas: ‘I 03’.