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Quinten Massys (Leuven 1466 - 1530 Kiel near Antwerp), The Madonna of the cherries

Quinten Massys (Leuven 1466 – 1530 Kiel near Antwerp), The Madonna of the cherries. Estimation 1,500,000 — 2,000,000 USD. Photo Sotheby’s.

oil on panel; 29  3/4  by 24  3/4  in.  by 75.6 by 62. 9 cm.

PROVENANCE: Martin Colnaghi, before 1864 (as by Van Orley);
From whom acquired by Thomas Baring, London, 1864;
By inheritence to his nephew Baron Northbrook (later 1st Earl of Northbrook), London, 1873;
Anonymous sale, London, Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., 14 December 1977, « The Property of a Lady, » lot 94 (as Quentin Massys);
London, Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., 11 July 1979, lot 94 (as Quentin Massys);
Francisco Rebes;
Christie’s New York, January 9, 1981, lot 119A;
Collection of Bob Guccione, New York, by 1994;
Anonymous sale, New York, Christie’s, 17 October 2006, lot 11 (as Attributed to Quinten Massys);
Where purchased by the present collector.

EXPOSITION: London, Fine Arts Club, Exhibition of Pictures by Masters of the Netherlandish and Allied Schools of XV. and Early XVI. Centuries, 1892, no. 30 (as after Quinten Massys);
London, Guildhall, Exhibition of a Collection of Works by Flemish Painters and Modern Belgian Painters Under the Gracious Patronage of His Majesty the King of the Belgians, 1906, no. 43;
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Exhibition of Flemish and Belgian Art 1300-1900, 8 January – 5 March 1927, no. 287;
From Botticelli to Matisse: Masterworks from the Guccione Collection, Nassau County Museum of Art, Roslyn Harbor, 16 January-3 April 1994 (as Quinten Massys);
For the past five years on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (as Quinten Massys).

LITTERATURE: R. Gower et al., Northbrook Gallery. An Illustrated Descriptive and Historic Account of the Collection of the Earl of Northbrook, 1885, p. 29, no. 23;
W.H.J. Weale and J.P. Richter, Descriptive Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures Belonging to the Earl of Northbrook, London 1889, p. 22, no. 23 (as an early copy after Massys);
Exhibition of Pictures by Masters of the Netherlandish and Allied Schools of XV. and early XVI. Centuries, London 1892, no. 30 (as after Quinten Massys);
A.G. Temple, Catalogue of the Exhibition of Works by Flemish Painters and Modern Belgian Painters, London 1906, p.p. 46-47, no. 43;
T. Borenius, in M. Conway (ed.), Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of Flemish and Belgian Art , Burlington House London, 1927, London 1927, p. 115, no. 287;
M. J. Friedländer, Die altniederländishe Malerei, vol. VII, Leiden 1934, pp. 125-126, no. 67A (as an old copy; and with incorrect dimensions;
L. Baldass, « Gotik und Renaissance im Werke des Quinten Metsys, » in Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, Neue Folge, vol. VII, 1933, pp. 171-172 (as a workshop copy);
H.T. Broadley, The Mature Style of Quinten Massys, Ph.D. Thesis, New York University, 1961, published Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1987, p. 152, no. 1 and p. 165, note 2 (as a copy of a painting by Massys);
M. J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, vol. VII: Quinten Massys, New York 1971, p. 68, cat. 67a (as an old copy; and with incorrect dimensions);
A. de Bosque, Quentin Metsys, Brussels 1975, p. 210, no. III 259, reproduced p. 354 (as « atelier de Quentin Metsys, » 74 x 61 cm., Ce tableau est une copie de celui du Mauritshuis), known only from a photograph;
L. Silver, The Paintings of Quinten Massys with Catalogue Raisonné, Montclair, New Jersey, 1984, p. 230, cat. no. 50C (as one of several versions after a lost original; with incorrect dimensions);
Roslyn Harbor, Nassau County Museum of Art, From Botticelli to Matisse: Masterworks from the Guccione Collection, January 16 – April 3, 1994 (as Quinten Massys).

The Madonna of the Cherries was recently examined firsthand by Maximiliaan P.J. Martens and Peter van den Brink, who both agree that this is an autograph work by Quinten Massys, and  Prof. dr. Martens will be including it in the catalogue raisonné of the artist that he is preparing in collaboration with Dr. Annick Born.  Since it last appeared on the market in 2006 (see Provenance), the picture has been lightly cleaned and undergone scientific examination, including infrared reflectography, X-ray, and dendrochronology, and the results of these tests, taken together with the quality of the painting itself, are all consistent with other fully accepted works by Massys.

The Madonna of the Cherries dates to the 1520s, Massys’ last decade.   It was a period during which he was concentrating on devotional images, mainly of the Virgin, rather than altarpieces, many of which are known in multiple versions. At the beginning of his career, Massys modeled his compositions on Netherlandish prototypes, but later he turned to more contemporary sources for inspiration.  In the earlier works Massys depicted the Virgin Enthroned – the Queen of Heaven on a celestial throne with a halo and other attendant imagery – who was intended to be adored by their donors and viewers.  Here we see the influence of Leonardo transmitted through the lens of Joos van Cleve, as in his Madonna of the Cherries in the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum,  which also shows Virgin in three-quarter length seated on a throne with a landscape at the left.  In the present Massys’ Virgin is still a Queen of Heaven but has lost her halo and is dressed in a remarkably plain costume.  Rather than being an intercessor and a figure to be adored, she has in some ways become more human, as is evidenced by stronger emotional connection in her kissing the Child.  This motif ultimately derives from 12th century icons, but probably comes to Massys through the intermediary of Dirck Bouts and Gerard David.  Massys’ version, however is more restrained, his Virgin a more stoic figure, who holds herself back, perhaps envisaging what was to come.

In 19th century accounts, the subject is recorded as having been attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, and the present work was purchased by Thomas Baring as a painting by Bernard van Orley.1   Subsequently it has been considered either by Massys himself or an old (presumably studio) copy of a painting by the master.  Martens and Van den Brink have compiled a list of 13 known versions of the composition (some possibly duplicates), but accept only this and the painting in the Mauritshuis, The Hague (on loan from the Rijksmuseum since 1948, inv. no. SK-A-247) as by Massys himself.

One of the issues that has complicated the question of attribution for the entire group is that all the paintings are related to a prime version that is now lost.  The lost work was owned by the Antwerp collector Cornelis van der Gheest  (1577-1638).  It is prominently included in a painting by Willem van der Haecht commemorating a visit by the Archdukes  Albert and Isabella to Van der Gheest  in 1615 (fig.1).  While the overall composition is essentially the same, there are significant difference in details among the versions and, in some cases, between them and Van Haecht’s representation.  These variations relate mainly to the decoration of the throne, the color of the Virgin’s dress and arrangement of the fruit on the foreground sill.  In the present work and the Hague picture, the throne is more elaborate, with swelling columns and a brocade cloth behind the Virgin, rather than a plainer, marbleized structure, the Virgin’s dress is darker and the placement of the grapes and apples is reversed.  Both are also of distinctly better quality than the other versions.  In the present work we can see Massys’s hand in such details as the finesse of the brocade and the other adornments on the throne.  We also see it in the modeling of the Christ Child, who is round and plump, his soft flesh yielding to the Virgin’s touch.  Out the window to the left a perfect landscape is revealed:  a view of trees, a river and a castle, fading to blue mountains in the far distance.

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Willem van Haecht, The Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest, Rubenshuis, Antwerp, Belgium / Bridgeman Images

We are very grateful to Maximiliaan P.J. Martens and Peter van den Brink for confirming the attribution to Massys and for their help in preparing this note.

1.  Weale and Richter (see Provenance).

Sotheby’s. Master Paintings: Part I. New York | 29 janv. 2015, 10:00 AM