Published with assistance of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.
A decade ago, students of Netherlandish art were greatly assisted by the publication by Olga Kotková of a Summary Catalogue of the works in the National Gallery in Prague. Now with Kress Foundation assistance and input from CODART, another important collection from Central Europe, the Slovak state museums, appears in a scholarly publication, ably researched by Dr. Ingrid Ciulisová. Her own work was reviewed by both Kotková and HNA life member, Zsuzsa Urbach of Budapest, then edited further by Lorne Campbell of London’s National Gallery and Rudi Ekkart of the RKD in The Hague. The resulting volume will be a lasting tool of scholarship.
Unlike Prague and Budapest, with their highlights of Gossaert and Bruegel, Bratislava’s collection will be less familiar to Netherlandish specialists; however, this scrupulous catalogue frequently errs on the side of caution (“attributed to” or anonymous). The modest author frankly admits, “No top quality paintings are included in this book . . . [h]owever . . . in spite of the iconoclastic outrages and other catastrophes . . . no major pictorial idea had been entirely lost.” These words are especially appropriate for the clustered images of Antwerp sixteenth-century works in Slovakia.
After an Introduction that traces the history of collecting these paintings in this country, the works follow in alphabetical order, separated into sections of known painters and anonymous. The very first pair of images, Vegetable-Sellers, stem from Beuckelaer – even if not unqualified originals, they clearly convey both the sexual overtones of these peasant women with their wares as well as the abundance of the produce. Such works typify the Slovak collections as well as the period and place of their origin. Throughout this catalogue, my constant reaction was how easy it would be to teach about Antwerp painting from Bratislava.
Representing the earlier century is a workshop version of Albert Bouts’s proto-typical bust-length Man of Sorrows and a representative Colijn de Coter (fused) panel of two saints with kneeling donors as well as a workshop version of the Holy Family from the Mansi-Magdalene circle. But a particular strength of this collection is the Romanist mode of Flemish painting. Most essential is the pair of works from the Frans Floris atelier: a fine tronie of a Sea Goddess, close to the Stockholm Banquet of Sea Gods (1561); and a figure-rich Crucifixion (assigned to a follower, such as Crispijn van den Broeck, but strong in its main figures, especially in the muscular anatomy of the two thieves). Additionally, a signed Gillis Coignet Venus derives from the Mellon Venus with a Mirror, a mature work by Titian (Washington) and shows a less familiar Antwerp painter who visited Italy but went on to a career in Hamburg in the second half of the century.
As with both Vienna and Brno in Moravia, this collection highlights the Valckenborch family. Two important collaborations between Lucas van Valckenborch and Georg Flegel show market scenes in the foreground and landscape backgrounds for the seasons Summer and Autumn (both were accepted by Wied and reunited with their mates from a Swedish private collection; the catalogue dates them 1593-94). Two other kitchen scenes from Lucas’s workshop build upon the Beuckelaer foundations, again with the migration into German-speaking lands, here Frankfurt. Lucas’s brother Martin and/or his son Frederick are credited with a Highlands Landscape with Elijah (cf. Coninxloo). Another image of a Night Banquet, ascribed to Frederick, should also be compared to the iconography of Joos van Winge’s painting, also from Frankfurt (Brussels; engraved by Jan Sadeler, 1588) or the form Jan Muller’s engraving, Belshazzar’s Feast.
Turn-of-the-century internationalism is also evident at Bratislava. A wonderful, signed and dated Vredeman de Vries includes figures of Solomon and Sheba within the fantasy architecture (1612; included in the 2002 Lemgo and Antwerp exhibition). If the Venus and Cupidascribed to the circle of Spranger is not an autograph work, it stands close to several related female heads in Prague, especially a Justicia. A plausibly attributed Karel van Mander Tower of Babel links with the Valckenborch theme derived from Bruegel. And a finely painted Dives and Lazarus reveals the workshop of Frans Francken II; above its mantel stands a painted Sodom and Gomorrah very close to the Jan Brueghel in Munich.
There are a few attributions that do not quite convince, especially a “Follower of Marten de Vos” Daniel Defending Susannah, an unusual subject and an image with remnants of the earlier generation of Antwerp Mannerist costumes combined with Coecke van Aelst classicism, thus earlier to my eye. Still closer to Coecke is the anonymous image of Jesus at the Sea of Galilee, here appropriately compared to the Raphael tapestry cartoons. A final work of note is an anonymous view of the Coudenberg Palace in Brussels, worthwhile as documentation alone but also finely painted at the end of the sixteenth century, perhaps by a court painter close to Valckenborch.
Such fascinating questions clearly reveal the benefit of this new publication, which not only represents Netherlandish art of the sixteenth century in some notable clusters but also adds some important and largely unknown works for future study. Dr. Ciulisová and those colleagues who assisted her deserve the thanks of all of us.
University of Pennsylvania