This book is the result of an unusual collaboration. When he died unexpectedly in August 2003, Leonard J. Slatkes left behind copious fractional entries and an elaborate photo archive for the present catalogue, an undertaking that had occupied him periodically since the 1970s. Shortly thereafter, Wayne Franits, who had once been Slatkes’s graduate student, began the demanding task of completing the project. Franits updated, developed, and annotated Slatkes’s catalogue entries, assembling them into a whole and adding two extended explicatory essays of his own. In deference to his former mentor’s intentions, however, he gave precedence to Slatkes’s judgments, even those with which, his notes tell us, he took issue. The outcome reflects these knotty circumstances. The book provides an up-to-date account of ter Brugghen’s output, incorporating the great deal of material that has emerged since the publication of Benedict Nicolson’s classic monograph of 1958. It tackles a host of persistent problems, and proposes many thoughtful solutions. Understandably, it falls a bit short of providing a consistent vision of ter Brugghen’s artistic development and historical significance.
The catalogue readily attests to the remarkable success registered over the past half century in reconstructing ter Brugghen’s oeuvre. Of the 89 paintings accepted by Slatkes as autograph works, nearly a quarter of the total (20) do not figure in Nicolson’s monograph. That group includes bona fide masterpieces such the Rijksmuseum’s 1619 Adoration of the Magi and Cleveland’s St. Jerome Contemplating a Skull, a quantity of lesser-known canvases, and even two heretofore unpublished works, a Christ Crowned with Thorns (United Kingdom, formerly C. Newton-Robinson, Esq. collection), and a Boy with a Wineglass by Candlelight (United Kingdom, private collection). Slatkes occasionally expressed undue enthusiasm for problematic attributions. For instance, he hailed the Toledo Museum of Art’s Supper at Emmausas “the earliest of ter Brugghen’s known certain works,” turning aside substantial objections raised by other experts about both its authenticity and date (Franits pointedly disavows the attribution). He had only positive remarks for the rarely seen Mucius Scaevola before Porsenna (present location unknown), despite that picture’s disturbing stylistic inconsistencies and an alternate theory about its authorship. He also championed as autograph the Paris Mocking of Christ (Musée de l’Assistance Publique) over an arguably superior version in Palma de Mallorca, once preferred by Nicolson.
In constructing ter Brugghen’s oeuvre, however, Slatkes generally leaned toward exclusivity. He cast out of the canon twelve pictures supported as fully genuine in Nicolson’s monograph. Among the demoted are some old favorites: Pilate Washing His Hands in Kassel (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister), presented in the new catalogue as an old copy after a version now in the Lublin museum; Supper at Emmausin Potsdam (Bildergalerie, Sanssouci), downgraded to a workshop production with possible involvement of the master; and the pendant Boy Lute Player and Girl with Tankard and Glass in Stockholm (Nationalmuseum), here attributed to ter Brugghen and workshop. Slatkes regarded Christ at Emmaus in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, which Nicolson held to be essentially by ter Brugghen, as wholly the product of a North Italian master. Tellingly, the new catalogue’s 142 “Rejected works formerly attributed to or associated with ter Brugghen” outnumber the “Authentic Paintings” by nearly two to one.
Among the catalogue’s strengths is a portion devoted to pictures purportedly produced in a workshop in Utrecht shared by ter Brugghen and Dirck van Baburen. Slatkes had already hypothesized the existence of such a joint venture in his 1965 monograph on Van Baburen (pp. 96-98), citing as evidence the existence of multiple versions of pictures merging stylistic attributes of both artists. The catalogue gathers 19 paintings within that group, the most prominent among them a set of Four Evangelists currently on loan to the Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte in Münster and a version of David with the Praise-Singing Israelite Women belonging to the Instituut Collectie Nederland in Amsterdam. Although by no means proven, the theory that the two men worked together remains intriguing, and deserves further consideration.
Owing to its complicated organization – some rejected paintings and shop works are grouped with autograph canvases, whereas others are not – I found the catalogue maddening to consult without frequent reference to the prefatory “Guide.”
Franits’s very readable introductory essays add substantially to the value of the book. The first piece deals mostly with thorny biographical questions still central to ter Brugghen research. Can we trust the early written sources on ter Brugghen’s life? After meticulous analysis, Franits duly judges not. Did the young Dutch painter while in Italy engage systematically with the art of Italian painters other than Caravaggio? Franits thinks so, especially with that of some north Italians. Did ter Brugghen make a second trip to Italy in the early 1620s, as Longhi and others long ago suggested? Not likely, according to Franits, despite tantalizing circumstantial evidence. The second essay, which focuses primarily upon ter Brugghen’s patronage, ideology, and social significance, is also both thoughtful and informative.
While dutifully documenting Slatkes’s idea of ter Brugghen, Franits engages throughout the book in lively dialogue with his former teacher about matters both of fact and interpretation. Responding to Slatkes’s un-shaded assertion that “[ter Brugghen] was a member of the Reformed church” (119), Franits rejoinders that “Actually, there is no firm evidence of ter Brugghen’s membership in the Reformed church…” (120, n. 6), elsewhere suggesting the painter’s Protestantism to have been nominal (6). When Slatkes on slender grounds interprets a canvas showing a seated woman holding a candle as The Death of the Virgin (London, Simon C. Dickinson, Ltd.), Franits remarks without further comment that the work may depict one of the Wise Virgins from Christ’s parable of the Ten Virgins (115, n. 1). In response to some of Slatkes’s attributions, Franits expresses frank skepticism, as I have mentioned above.
The book’s sporadic internal wrangling makes The Paintings of Hendrick ter Brugghen a very unusual monograph indeed. To be sure, the element of scholarly discord may occasionally confound readers in search of simple answers. It also unveils a frequently forgotten truth, however, that all “reasoned” catalogues are imperfect attempts at modeling the past, colored by personal preference, inference, and hope. Slatkes and Franits have done a service by bringing this one into existence.
David A. Levine
Southern Connecticut State University