Gonzales Coques was an Antwerp painter of cabinet-size individual and family group portraits, all viewed slightly from below. As Lisken-Pruss explicitly states, unlike so many of his contemporaries, he did not produce genre portraits, conversation pieces, or merry companies, but narrative portraits. The catalogue part of the present study, based on the author’s 2002 doctoral dissertation (University of Bonn), includes 56 paintings arranged in chronological order (cats. 1-56), 56 compositions known from engravings and written sources (Q 1-56), 27 doubtful works (all illustrated; U 1-27)), and five drawings (Z 1-5). In addition, Lisken-Pruss lists 106 paintings (F 1-106) wrongly attributed to Coques, some of which she assigns to other artists, such as the Painter’s Studio, c. 1665, in Schwerin (F 35), which more likely is Dutch. Among the misattributions already noted some time ago is The Family of Dr. Johannes van Buyten (F 10; private collection, Berlin), for which Katlijne Van der Stighelen convincingly put forward Karel Emanuel Biset. In most cases the catalogue text makes clear if the author consulted works in the original; there is no indication if the backs of paintings were examined.
Gonzales Coques (originally Cock) became a master in Antwerp in 1640/41 after an apprenticeship with Pieter Brueghel II or III and David Ryckaert. The year of his birth, 1614, has been established on the basis of his apprenticeship (26, 193). In the opening chapter, Lisken-Pruss presents a detailed account of the development of portrait painting from Jan van Eyck to Rubens; a separate chapter is devoted to Cornelis de Vos (19, 52-54). Although no direct contact with Rubens can be demonstrated, Coques was influenced by the great master, specifically his Self-Portrait with Helena Fourment and Nicolaas Rubens, the so-called Walk in the Garden, in Munich (the painting is considered to be by the Rubens workshop). However, based on stylistic analysis, there must have been contact between Coques and Van Dyck. Coques probably worked for Van Dyck from 1629 until 1632 when the latter left for England and again 1634/35 when he was briefly back in Flanders. After these initial contacts, Coques apparently followed Van Dyck to England since his close knowledge of some of the latter’s English compositions cannot be explained otherwise. This would explain why in Jan Meyssens’s series of portrait engravings of 1649, Coques is referred to as having worked for Charles I (he also worked for his two sons, Henry Stuart, Duke of Gloucester, and Charles II while in exile in Bruges in 1656/57; p. 39; cats. 24-27).
Considering that Coques transposed parts of Van Dyck’s portraits like set-pieces onto his canvases, it is not difficult to see that the older artist provided his most important inspiration. The nickname “The little Van Dyck” precisely refers to this artistic emulation whereby Coques transferred Van Dyck’s full-length aristocratic representations to the intimate format of cabinet pictures (17, 20, 64, 120). His emancipated sitters consisted of Antwerp’s wealthy bourgeoisie and prominent artists, such as Lucas Fayd’herbe, Cornelis de Bie, or David Ryckaert. His paintings were owned by socially influential people (39-41).
There is one aspect of Coques’s oeuvre that remains unknown today: his presumably large-scale portraits for the court at The Hague as well as the ten-part mythological series of the story of Psyche (for Honselaersdijk, after 1646) have not survived (29, 35, 71, 192, note 31, 269, cat. Q 50). Thus I still believe that the attribution to Coques of the large (236 x 172 cm) double portrait in Berlin and the identification of its sitters as William Cavendish and his wife Margaret in the garden of the Rubenshuis is a likely possibility (in the present catalogue the painting is tentatively attributed to Pieter Thijs; on this see Härting, Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, 24, 2002: 15-28). Enlarged details show protruding eyeballs with lowered eyelids bright with tears, details identified by Lisken-Pruss as characteristic of the painter. She also stresses that Coques was an artist capable of change who was perfectly able to work in two different styles: painterly pastose and graphically expressive. In the context of Coques’s court portraits, it should be mentioned that among his aristocratic sitters counted all three governors ruling the Spanish Netherlands during his lifetime: Archduke Leopold Wilhelm (cat. Q 8), Don John of Austria (cat. Q 9) and the Count of Monterey (cat. Q 6).
We know almost nothing of Coques’s Antwerp workshop. According to the registers of the St. Luke’s guild, he had two apprentices: Cornelis van den Bosch, 1643/44, and Lenardus-Franciscus Verdussen, 1665/66. Nothing else is known about these artists. Patrons must have been able to choose compositions and poses from a model book in the studio, which would explain identical poses in a series of diverse pictures (52).
It is difficult to establish a chronology of Coques’s paintings since they, save few exceptions, are not dated. One helpful indicator are costume details. Securely dated are an early painting, produced in collaboration with Frans Francken II, The Seven Works of Mercy, 1639 (preserved in fragments) and the Portrait of a Young Scholar and His Wife in Kassel. Based on stylistic analysis, the author suggests that Coques collaborated with painters of landscapes (Frans Wouters, Jacques d’Arthois) or church interiors (Pieter Neeffs I and II). Unfortunately, she does not apply the insights thus gained to comparable or corresponding works. For example, I consider it likely that the Portrait of a Clergyman and a Girl in a Church Interior (Christie’s 4 October 1996, lot 48; panel 43.2 x 70.5 cm) is the result of such collaboration with Pieter Neefs II. In connection with this discussion (74) should also have been mentioned the important Art Cabinet of Anton van Leyen with His Wife and Two Daughters in the Mauritshuis, which was executed together with an architectural specialist and which is extensively discussed later in the text where it is assigned the date 1671 (97-101, cat. 52, with Dirk van Delen ? and other collaborators).
The Portrait of Clara Rubens with Her Family (cat. 54; Belgian private collection) is a collaboration between Coques and a painter tentatively identified with Gaspar de Witte (1624-1681) who executed the overall composition, especially the baroque garden architecture. Taking account of costume details and the date of the birth of Clara’s most recent child, it should be dated ca. 1674. Clara (1632-1689), Rubens’s and Helena Fourment’s first child, was married to Filips van Parijs. Although small-figured on a large canvas (130 x 202 cm), the family members are represented full length, of gallant demeanor, and with portrait features conveying aristocratic principles and the entitlement to gentrification. We can see the same pictorial characteristics in the contemporaneous work of David Teniers. If Lisken-Pruss had devoted a chapter to Teniers, as well as to the small-figured portraits of Jan Brueghel the Elder (regardless if aristocratic or bourgeois portraits), she would have been able to successfully integrate Coques’s position into the Antwerp art world. Instead, she sees the artist as isolated although her aim was to show his role within the development of Flemish portrait painting (23f, 75). A connection between Antwerp and Brussels, for example, can be established with the almost forgotten Brussels painters’ dynasty of the Noveliers. A member of this family introduced portraits into some interiors, including by the Antwerp Francken dynasty. Among the paintings no longer given to Coques are some now attributed to this hand.
The chapter on the genesis of painted art cabinets should be rethought at hand of current research and more recent publications, especially in view of the emergence of painted bourgeois collections. For example, the hanging in painted art cabinets posited earlier – i.e. paintings systematically arranged around a main subject and different genres separated from each other (96) – no longer can be maintained. Moreover, the genre of the painted art or picture collection was not limited to Antwerp (95-97) but had followers elsewhere, such as the German Johann Heinrich Schönfeld, the Austrian Johann Michael Bretschneider, the Bohemian Norbert Grund, and the Dutch Jan Onghers. Apart from these comments, the book offers a detailed and comprehensible analysis of the artist’s work as well as the world of his sitters whom he portrayed “in’t cleyn” in their gallant self-assertiveness.
Translated by Kristin Belkin