oil on panel
support: h 132.5 cm × w 96.3 cm
oil on panel
support: h 132.5 cm × w 96.3 cm
The support consists of four vertically grained oak planks (14, 28, 27.1 and 27.2 cm) planed down to a thickness of approx. 0.4-0.6 cm. The planks were butt-joined with four dowels each. There are evenly spaced holes along the edges on the reverse of the panel which are probably remnants of the attachment in the original frame. Dendrochronology has shown that the youngest heartwood ring was formed in 1469. The panel could have been ready for use by 1480, but a date in or after 1494 is more likely. The white ground was applied in the frame. There is an unpainted edge 0.1-0.6 cm wide on all four sides, and remains of the barbe (painted surface: 131.8 x 95.8 cm). The white ground is visible through the rather transparent paint layers. Infrared reflectography partly revealed an underdrawing in a dry medium, probably black chalk. The larger figures were reserved, and there are a number of minor changes in the contours and the architecture. The portraits of the standing figures on the right (and the seated man with a cap to the left of them) were painted with more detail; three of these portraits were added on top of the painted background fig. e, fig. f.
Fair. The painting is abraded and faded in parts. The paint in some of the faces has been scratched off. The joins are rather fragile. There are discoloured fillings and retouchings along the joins and the right edge of the panel.
…; collection Bortniansky;1 sale, General Schumlansky (St Petersburg) et al. [section General Schumlansky], Leipzig (Engel), 10 May 1861 sqq., no. 39, as Lucas van Leyden (‘Ein Prediger vor zahlreicher Versammlung, im Schiff einer offen gesehenen Kirche. Rechts im Vorgrund der reichen Composition steht ein junger vornehmer Mann, in pelzverbrämtem Mantel, Scharlachbeinkleidern und Sammtwamms, umgeben von einer Anzahl bürgerlich gekleideter Männer, unter denen der Künstler selbst. Im Hintergrund erblickt man denselben vornehmen Mann Brot an Arme austheilend, eine Landschaft schliesst die Darstellung.’); …; from P.D. Colnaghi, London, fl. 3,022, as Lucas van Leyden, to the museum, with support from the Vereniging Rembrandt, February 1897; on loan to Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden, December 2004-10
Object number: SK-A-1691
Credit line: Purchased with the support of the Vereniging Rembrandt
Copyright: Public domain
Aertgen Claesz van Leyden (Leiden c. 1498 - Leiden c. 1564), attributed to
According to Van Mander, Aert Claesz, better known as Aertgen van Leyden, was born in 1498 as the son of a Leiden fuller, and drowned in Volkersgracht in Leiden in 1564. He initially took up his father’s trade, but in 1516 he was apprenticed to the painter Cornelis Engelbrechtsz. He is documented in August 1521 as ‘Aernt Claesz, painter’ in connection with a debt that he owed to the Guild of St Luke, and he appears in the tax registers as ‘Aertgen, painter’ in 1561 and 1564, when he was living at the address on Zijdegracht recorded by Van Mander.
The latter relates that Aertgen followed the style of his teacher when he became a master painter, before being influenced by Jan van Scorel and later by Maarten van Heemskerck. This evident lack of an individual, recognisable style went hand in hand with a ‘shoddy and unpleasing’ manner of painting, although Van Mander does praise his compositions as being ‘very clever and lively’. He also reports that Aertgen made many designs for glass painters and other artists. Van Mander had himself seen several of Aertgen’s works, among them a Nativity belonging to the widow of the Leiden burgomaster Joan van Wassenaer, and a Triptych with the Last Judgement in the home of Jan Diricksz van Montfoort. Aertgen’s paintings must have been quite popular in the 17th century, judging by the frequent mentions of them in leading collections. Rubens, for example, had a Nativity of his, and the inventory of Rembrandt’s possessions drawn up in 1656 lists several works by him.
Attempts were made to reconstruct Aertgen’s oeuvre in the early decades of the 20th century on the basis of Van Mander’s description of the various influences and styles in his work. Two groups of drawings which Wescher had assigned in 1928 to the Master of 1527 and the Master of the Miracles of the Apostles were attributed to Aertgen van Leyden by Hoogewerff and Van Regteren Altena in 1939, together with a Cologne Nativity and several other paintings. In 1960, Bruyn added a few more paintings and drawings to this large and varied group of works, the core one being The Sermon in the Church (now The Calling of St Antony) in Amsterdam, which until then had been given to Lucas van Leyden.
The rediscovery in Valenciennes in 1972 of the 1555 Triptych with the Last Judgement with the Montfoort Family described by Van Mander defines the parameters of the artist’s late style, with elongated figures in the manner of Maarten van Heemskerck.2 This late triptych could be tied in with five other paintings, but had little if any connection with the oeuvre previously assigned to Aertgen, which as a result was reattributed in the 1986 Art Before the Iconoclasm exhibition to various masters with ad hoc names, such as the Master of the Sermon in the Church.
For the present catalogue, however, it was decided to restore those works to him, because they match Van Mander’s description of his oeuvre. Moreover, to date there have been no convincing reattributions of them to other artists. In addition, there are sufficient points of interrelationship between the various groups of paintings and drawings attributed to Aertgen to justify placing them under one name. It should be noted, though, that there were practical reasons for adopting this approach, and not personal art-historical convictions, for it is still conceivable that several artists were responsible for the oeuvre attributed to Aertgen van Leyden, the more so because there were many artists active in Leiden in this period whose works are at present unknown.
Van Mander 1604, fols. 236v-38r; Cohen in Thieme/Becker VII, 1912, pp. 35-36; Wescher 1928; Hoogewerff III, 1939, pp. 388-419; Van Regteren Altena 1939; Bruyn 1960; Bangs 1979, pp. 136-37; coll. cat. Leiden 1983, pp. 92-93, nos. 252-54; Scholten in Amsterdam 1986a, pp. 328-30; Filedt Kok in Turner 1996, I, pp. 166-68; Miedema IV, 1997, pp. 1-10; Feurer in Saur XIX, 1998, pp. 350-51; Ekkart 2000, pp. 125-29; Filedt Kok in exh. cat. Leiden 2011, pp. 201-02
(Menno Balm/Jan Piet Filedt Kok)
A priest is preaching to a congregation gathered inside and in front of a church. The six men standing in a group on the right all have individualised features and are in contemporary dress, and are probably the donors of the painting. The most prominent man, dressed in blue with a fur-lined cloak, reappears in the right background, where he is doling out bread to the poor and the lame. The Tau cross and bell hanging from a chain around his neck identify him as a member of the Brotherhood of St Antony. The scene shows a contemporary of the artist in the role of St Antony.3
The artist has depicted the moment of St Antony’s calling. When he heard the words from Matthew 19:21 (‘If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven’) he decided to give all his belongings to the poor and then retired into the desert. The temptations by devils and demons that he endured there were more often the subject of paintings than his calling. There is, however, an iconographic tradition of the calling in late-medieval Italian and Flemish art.4 The way in which the subject is treated in this painting corresponds to that in a painting of The Calling of St Antony in New York, which must have been made in Antwerp around 1520 (fig. a).5 The main difference is that the New York picture is more faithful to the letter of the gospel by showing St Antony giving away his possessions, whereas in Amsterdam he is giving bread to the poor.6 The cripples in the background of both paintings are a reference to St Antony as the patron saint of those suffering from St Antony’s fire (erysipelas).7 The flowers lying on the floor in the foreground of the painting have been identified as herbs that were used at the time to treat St Antony’s fire, the plague and related diseases.8 Evidence that the painting was also regarded as a depiction of a saint in the 16th century is provided by the fact that it was attacked during the Iconoclasm, with damage being inflicted to the priest’s face and to that of the richly attired man, both in the foreground and background.9
The iconography of the painting has also been interpreted as a sermon on the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), with the distribution of bread and the altar prepared for celebrating the Eucharist being references to the verse ‘Give us this day our daily bread’.10 Although we consider this interpretation to be outdated, the depiction of that subject in prints does underlie the visual tradition on which the calling of St Antony is based. The earliest example of this is a late 15th-century woodcut (fig. b).11 There is also a related composition in an engraving of 1524 after Hans Holbein the Younger which served as an illustration in Erasmus’s Predicatio dominica.12
The fashionable clothing of the young man acting like St Antony in the Rijksmuseum painting - a shirt with a standing collar and a small ruffle, a low-cut doublet and a short blue fur-lined coat with a fox-fur collar - can be dated around 1530.13 This is not only a good pointer to the date of the painting, but Bruyn also suspected that it identifies the man as Jacques de Ligne (c. 1500-52), the Viscount of Leiden at the time, aged around 30.14 However, Bruyn’s hypothesis that De Ligne’s wife, Maria van Wassenaer, is the noblewoman praying in the middle of the seated congregation is less persuasive, since this figure was borrowed from an Italian engraving.15 Another reason for doubting whether this is a portrait is the absence of the linen hood with a linen cap, and of the meticulous execution found in the other likenesses in the painting.
It is not inconceivable that the picture was made for St Antony’s Hospital in Leiden or for the altar of the Leiden Guild of St Antony in the Church of St Peter, which was described in the 16th century as having a ‘casse’, or altarpiece with carved figures and painted wings.16 In that case, The Calling of St Antony could have been the left wing of the retable, with as the right wing the fragmentary Temptation of St Antony now in Brussels (fig. c), which is closely related in style to the Amsterdam panel. The Portrait of a Donor in Madrid (fig. d) was probably part of The Temptation originally, and that painting corresponds closely to the portrait heads in the Amsterdam painting.17 It is likely, in any event, that the figure who may be Jacques de Ligne, and who was certainly a member of the knightly Brotherhood of St Antony, was the main donor of the painting or retable.18
The Amsterdam painting has a fairly cursory and sketchy underdrawing, probably in a dry medium, consisting of contour lines with occasional hatchings for the shaded passages (fig. e). The execution of the architecture and the figures, with the exception of the portraits, is rather broad and careless, even becoming fairly sketchy towards the background. Rounded forms are common in the draperies, hands, ornaments and background figures. The paint was applied with quite a broad, long touch, heightened with delicately drawn brushstrokes in ornaments, brocade and hair. The colours contain a lot of lead white, giving the painting a rather cool, often pallid look. A closely related manner of painting and palette are found in the fragments in Brussels and Madrid (fig. c, fig. d) and in three panels with The Legend of S. Sebastian in Hampton Court.19
So while many of the figures were painted quite rapidly, the portraits in the right foreground were done with great care and attention to detail. X-radiographs and infrared reflectogram assemblies show that initially only the portraits of the three men closest to the pulpit were planned, with the other three portraits rising up behind them being added at a later stage (fig. e fig. f). There is a seventh equally meticulous portrait in the middle of the congregation. It is the man with a moustache and a red cap seated immediately to the left of the six standing men, which Bruyn identified as the portrait (or self-portrait) of Aertgen van Leyden.20 This one, too, was only included at a late stage.
The Calling of St Antony was generally regarded as a work by Lucas van Leyden until the 1950s, partly because of the ‘L’ monogram at bottom right. It then turned out that the monogram was a later addition. Lucas van Leyden’s influence is unmistakable in the ornamentation, palette, and above all the portraits. Having said that, the male portraits by Lucas van Leyden in London and Braunschweig have a greater plasticity and a more complex paint structure.21 These donors’ portraits cannot therefore be attributed to Lucas, as was assumed in the past. In our view, the difference between the portraits and the rest of the painting can be explained by a difference in working method and not by a difference in hands. The painter probably worked from detailed drawings for the portraits, which he followed carefully and in a draughtsman-like manner in the paint. One finds the same detailing, refinement and craftsmanship in the head of St Antony in the Brussels painting and the portrait of Hendrik III of Nassau in an Antwerp triptych that can be attributed to the same hand.22 The pictorial qualities mentioned above are found not only in the portraits in The Calling of St Antony, but in other details as well, such as the flowers in the foreground.
The attribution to Aertgen van Leyden proposed by Van Regteren Altena in 1939 and adopted by Van Gelder in 1946 was firmly underpinned by Bruyn in 1960, and was widely accepted until the 1970s. The rediscovery in 1972 of Aertgen’s 1555 Triptych with the Last Judgement, which is now Valenciennes, sowed doubts about Bruyn’s attribution because of the major stylistic differences.23
Nevertheless, Van Mander’s statement that Aertgen followed his teacher Cornelis Engelbrechtsz in his early work and Maarten van Heemskerck in a later period does explain the stylistic differences between the present painting of c. 1530 and The Last Judgement of 1555. Van Mander’s dismissal of Aertgen’s manner as ‘shoddy and unpleasing’, together with the possible inclusion of his self-portrait, is yet another reason to restore The Calling of St Antony to Aertgen’s oeuvre.
(Menno Balm/Jan Piet Filedt Kok)
Dülberg 1909, p. 16 (as Lucas van Leyden or his brother); Cust 1910, p. 150 (as Lucas van Leyden); Beets 1913, p. 108 (as Lucas van Leyden); Friedländer 1916, p. 158 (as Lucas van Leyden); London 1929, p. 8, no. 33; Friedländer X, 1932, pp. 136-37, no. 134 (as Lucas van Leyden, possibly with the assistance of Pieter Cornelisz named Kunst); Beets 1934, p. 156 (as Lucas van Leyden); Hudig 1934 (as Lucas van Leyden); Hoogewerff III, 1939, pp. 261-65 (as Lucas van Leyden); Van Regteren Altena 1939, pp. 82, 230, no. 51 (as Aertgen van Leyden); Van Gelder 1946, pp. 101-06 (as Aertgen van Leyden); Amsterdam 1958, pp. 113-14, no. 140 (as Lucas van Leyden); Bruyn 1960, pp. 37-119 (as Aertgen van Leyden); Boon 1969, pp. 58-59 (as Aertgen van Leyden); ENP X, 1973, pp. 53-54, no. 134 (as Lucas van Leyden); Bangs 1979, pp. 128-43; Scholten 1986a (as Master of the Church Sermon); Scholten in Amsterdam 1986a, pp. 161-62, no. 44 (as Master of the Church Sermon); Krysmanski 1996, pp. 775-77; Filedt Kok in Van Os ‘et al.’ 2000, pp. 138-39, no. 49 (as Master of the Church Sermon); Van der Coelen in Rotterdam 2008b, p. 174, 188, no. 76
1903, p. 160, no. 1452 (as Lucas van Leyden); 1934, p. 166, no. 1452 (as Lucas van Leyden, 'The sermon'; 1960, p. 174, no. 1452 (as Lucas van Leyden, 'The sermon'; 1976, p. 345, no. A 1691; 1992, p. 97, no. A 1691 (as Master of the Church Sermon)