These two handsomely produced volumes publish the work that was begun as a dissertation, submitted in 2000 to the Georg-August Universität in Göttingen and written under the supervision of Karl Arndt. The stimulus for this catalogue raisonné of the paintings, related oil sketches and drawings was Frans Baudouin’s 1984 article in Oud-Holland on Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert as a history painter and his influence on Dutch art. Axel Heinrich first gave an overview of his research in 1999 at the Antwerp Van Dyck symposium; he elaborated on it further the following year in the catalogue to the exhibition Dans le sillage de Rubens, shown in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Valenciennes.
Volume one of this latest publication in the Pictura Nova series includes an overview of the appreciation of Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert (1613/14-1654) up to today, followed by a biography and the catalogue of the paintings, divided into three groups: histories, allegories, and large figure compositions; portraits; ‘portraits historiées’. The catalogue part ends with a list of the lost and rejected works. In a brief conclusion Heinrich discusses Willeboirts’s work in the context of Flemish seventeenth-century painting. Volume two begins with the publication of thirty-three documents that refer to the artist. Although not translated, each document is preceded by a brief synopsis of its content. After the ample footnotes and bibliography follow the 180 plates. Besides a general index we also find one for the subjects and for the present and former locations.
Heinrich discusses slightly over one hundred works, namely 78 history paintings, allegories, and large figure compositions with the related oil sketches, studio versions, copies, and drawings, followed by 21 portraits, among them two self-portraits, eight copies after Anthony van Dyck, and ending with a list of 150 works known only through the literature. Most of the original paintings and some of the studio versions are reproduced in good black and white illustrations. Discussed are also five questionable attributions and some 81 rejected works.
Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert’s family originally was from Antwerp and Roman Catholic. Later in the sixteenth century his grandfather moved to Bergen op Zoom in the Northern Netherlands, where they were allowed to continue their faith. For unknown reasons the family name Bosschaert was expanded to include Willeboirts; it is with this name the artist chose to sign his paintings. (Axel Heinrich refers to the artist almost exclusively as Willeboirts but uses the full name in the captions.) In 1628 Thomas Willeboirts returned to Antwerp in the Southern Netherlands, where he entered the studio of Gerard Seghers (1591-1651). At that very time Rubens had left the city on diplomatic missions to Spain and London. Willeboirts apparently remained in Seghers’s studio for eight years. In 1636-37 he became a master in the Antwerp guild and also a citizen. Among his first works in 1636-38 are the paintings executed in collaboration with Rubens for the Torre de la Parada that Philip IV of Spain commissioned. What singles Willeboirts out is the patronage of Prince Frederik Hendrik in The Hague. The prince had become aware of Willeboirts’s work during the siege by the Dutch army of Bergen op Zoom. Willeboirts, a Catholic artist born in the Northern Netherlands but now residing in Antwerp thus worked for the protestant court in the Northern Netherlands beginning in 1641 until the death of Frederik Hendrik in 1647. The artist may have been seen as a close substitute for Anthony van Dyck who had worked for the Dutch court briefly in The Hague in late 1631 until early 1632 but then went to England. (See Frans Baudouin, “Van Dyck in Den Haag,” in: Oranienbaum. Huis van Oranje. Exh. cat. Oranienbaum, 2003, pp. 152-63). After 1647 Willeboirts’s only major commission from The Hague was the work for the decorations in the Oranjezaal in the Huis ten Bosch. Thirty paintings are still known today that Willeboirts executed for the Dutch court. The artist also acted as an agent in Antwerp to find art for the prince’s palaces, for example from Rubens’s estate in the early 1640s.
Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert was one of the best and most important Flemish painters who continued history painting after Rubens and Van Dyck. Rather than a follower of his teacher Gerard Seghers he is seen as a worthy follower of Anthony van Dyck. Hans Vlieghe even considered it possible that Willeboirts may have been trained by Van Dyck, since some of his paintings are so close to those of the older master (“Thoughts on Van Dyck’s Early Fame and Influence in Flanders,” in:Van Dyck 350. Studies in the History of Art, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, vol. 46 [Symposium Papers 26] edited by Susan J. Barnes and Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994, pp. 210, 214). Contrary to earlier statements the artist apparently did not travel to Italy. Thomas Willeboirts had a total of nine pupils, six of them registered in the liggeren. One of his last, Johan van Elewijn, inherited all of his teacher’s drawings, which today seem to be lost for the most part. A trace of them is still found in the inventory of Erasmus Quellinus (1607-1678) where 37 drawings and academies, and 18, 22, and 45 academies by “Willeborts” are listed. (Erik Duverger. Antwerpse Kunstinventarissen uit de zeventiende eeuw, X [1674-1680], Brussels, 1999, p. 371: inventories of November 7, 1678 and March 22, 24, and 27, 1679).
The catalogue of Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert’s paintings, related oil sketches, and a handful of drawings is divided chronologically and begins with the first five years from 1636-1641; continues with the artist’s work for the court in The Hague, 1641/42-1644/45; followed by his most productive years, 1645/16-1649/50, and ends with his final years, 1650/51-1654, which include the large commission from Count Don Alonso Perez de Vivero for Fuensaldaóa, today in the museum in Valladolid. A special chapter records the paintings in which Willeboirts collaborated with – among others – Daniel Seghers, Paul de Vos, Jan Fyt, Jan van den Hoecke, and Frans Snyders.
What strikes one looking through the illustrations is the fact that there is often more than one original version, not to mention the several studio replicas and copies, in particular with regard to the Lamentation of Christ, St. Sebastian, which apparently exists in three authentic versions and three copies, and the Death of Adonis. This made it necessary to see as many originals as possible, a fact Heinrich recorded with an asterisk before the title.
A small oil sketch on paper of Venus Lamenting the Dead Adonis in the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig that Thomas Döring published as by Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert in 1999 might be mentioned here, since the attribution – apparently supported verbally by Axel Heinrich – was not included in the present catalogue. (Van Dyck und sein Kreis. Exh. cat. Braunschweig, 1999, no. 17, ill.). One other oil sketch on paper, again with the Death of Adonis in a private collection (Kat. A5b, fig. 12), is uncomfortably close to the studio version in Stockholm (Kat. A5d, fig. 13). Since it is one of Willeboirts’s subjects that is known in several repetitions one wonders whether this is not the case for the sketch as well, since it has none of the unfinished, searching qualities one expects from a preliminary oil sketch. (Heinrich reproduces a mere nine preliminary oil sketches.)
Very pronounced are the heavy losses of Willeboirts’s work – the location of around thirty paintings remains unknown. This is partly due to the so-called Oranian Legacy: when the four daughters of Prince Frederik Hendrik and Amalie von Solms all married German princes, the Dutch princely collections ended up in Germany through inheritance. A large number of the paintings thus came to palaces in the former East Germany such as the Neues Palais and the Sanssouci-Bildergalerie in Potsdam, the Oranienburg near Potsdam (founded by Louise Henriette of Brandenburg [1627-67]), Oranienbaum near Dessau (formerly Nischwitz; founded by Henrietta Catharine [1637-1708]), the Berlin Stadtschloss, and Schwedt castle, buildings that were either destroyed or damaged in the second World War, or severely neglected due to a lack of funds.
This catalogue raisonné of the works of Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert is a welcome addition to the oeuvre of Flemish artists in the first half of the seventeenth century and assists in further separating his work from that of Anthony van Dyck, Jan Boeckhorst (1604-68) and Pieter Thys (Thijs, 1624-77). The work of Thys in particular seems to be very close of that of Willeboirts and a number of paintings that are here included have previously been given to him. Thys is another Flemish painter from Antwerp who registered in the guild in 1644/45 and collaborated on decorations in the Prince of Orange’s palace of Honselaarsdijk near The Hague (now lost). Whereas Axel Heinrich here defends Willeboirts’s authorship, it should nevertheless be kept in mind that Arnout Balis, Hans Vlieghe, and J. Douglas Stewart have preferred Thys to Willeboirts for the following paintings: The Martyrdom of St. Basil and the Vision of St. Anthony of Padua (formerly?) in the Fondation Coppée, Brussels (Kat. A67, fig. 100. See Arnout Balis. “Van Dyck: Some Problems of Attribution,” in: In Van Dyck 350, Washington, 1994, p. 180, figs. 5-6; J. Douglas Stewart “Pieter Thys (1624-77): Recovering a ‘scarcely known’ Antwerp Painter,” Apollo, 145 (1997), p. 41, fig. 8; and J. Douglas Stewart, “Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert and Pieter Thijs. A Tale of Two Tangled Antwerp Painters,” in: Van Dyck 1599-1999. Conjectures and Refutations, ed. by Hans Vlieghe, Turnhout, p. 279, fig. 10); The Martyrdom of St. James in Toulouse (Kat. A68, fig. 102. J. D. Stewart, in: Van Dyck 1599-1999, 2001, p. 281. fig. 12). Stewart, furthermore, accepted the signature P. Thys on the painting of the Toilet of Bathsheba and therefore considered the work to be by this artist, whereas Axel Heinrich considers it to be false and therefore attributes the picture to Willeboirts. (Gateshead, Shipley Art Gallery; Kat. A50, fig. 77; Stewart, in Apollo, 1997, p. 40, fig. 6; and in Van Dyck 1599-1999, 2001, pp. 271-72). For both of these paintings there exist preliminary black chalk drawings of Putti and of an Amor (Kat. A50a, fig. 78; Kat. A67a, fig. 101), which Heinrich gives to Willeboirts while Stewart attributes them to Pieter Thys. The drawings associated with these two works – in my opinion – differ in execution from the four other black chalk studies that Heinrich associated with Willeboirts (preserved in Antwerp, Paris, Cologne, and Haarlem; Kat. A2a, fig. 4; Kat. A 5a, fig. 11; Kat. A30c, fig. 47; Kat. AP16a, fig. 137 respectively. The drawing of St. George in the Lugt collection, Paris, is not for a painting but after one for a print and thus does not qualify for comparison. One may wonder whether this latter work is by Willeboirts or rather by a studio hand for the engraving by Theodoor van Kessel; Kat. A23a, fig. 36).
Vlieghe and Stewart also opted for Thys with regard to yet another painting, Time and the Goddesses of Fate, formerly in Sanssouci (Kat. A30, fig. 45, with a somewhat modified studio version in Grenoble; again with two accompanying drawings. Hans Vlieghe, Flemish Art and Architecture 1585-1700 [Pelican History of Art], New Haven and London, 1998, p. 98, fig. 127; Stewart, in: Van Dyck 1599-1999, 2001, p. 272). Since Hans Vlieghe is one of the editors of the Pictura Novaseries, one would have liked to hear whether he adheres to his attribution of the painting to Thys. One drawing that Axel Heinrich here attributes to Willeboirts Bosschaert, the preliminary study for The Vision of St. Francis Xavier in the University Library, Warsaw (Kat. A34a, fig. 59; Stewart, in: Van Dyck 1599-1999, 2001, p. 271, fig. 3 also as Willeboirts Bosschaert) for the painting of the same subject in Munich (Kat. A34, fig. 58) is very close to drawings by Jan Boeckhorst, to whom Michael Jaffé attributed the drawing earlier.
This is a reminder that some of Willeboirts’s work at times also approaches that of another artist from the circle of Anthony van Dyck, Jan Boeckhorst (1604-1678). One of the rare paintings attributed to Willeboirts in the United States, namely the Venus and Adonis in Sacramento (Kat. A10Ka), is here considered to be a copy – possibly by Jan de Duyts – based on the original in Braunschweig (Kat. A10, fig. 21; Walter Liedtke and Guy Bauman had listed it in 1992 in their Flemish Paintings in America [Antwerp, 1992] as Willeboirts, with the remark “also attributed to Pieter Thys” [no. 498; apparently not seen in the original]). Finally, a brief discussion of the unusual Andromeda Chained to the Rock in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, at times attributed to Anthony van Dyck but also to his circle, would have been welcome in connection with Willeboirts’s Perseus and Andromeda, formerly in castle Schwedt a. O. but lost since 1945. (For the Los Angeles painting [inv.no. M85.80] see Christopher Brown, in: Flemish Paintings in America, Antwerp, 1992, p. 262, no. 83 ill. in color, as Anthony van Dyck; Erik Larsen, Anthony van Dyck. Freren, 1988, vol. 2, p. 514, Cat. A 311, ill.). The Andromeda in the Los Angeles painting is very similar to the corresponding figure in the lost Willeboirts painting, which the artist signed and dated 1646 (Kat. A35, fig. 60).
These comments should not detract from the great achievement this catalogue of Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert’s oeuvre represents. Since the large majority of his work, including some of the second versions, studio replicas and even rejected works is illustrated, the two volumes will become a most useful resource for further identifications of paintings and oil sketches should they resurface.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art