Jan Breughel II (Antwerp 1601-1678)
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Jan Breughel II (Antwerp 1601-1678)

The Adoration of the Magi

Jan Breughel II (Antwerp 1601-1678)
The Adoration of the Magi
oil on copper
10 1/8 x 13 5/8 in. (25.7 x 34.5 cm.)
Baron Paul Hatvany (1899-1977), Cadogan Place, London, and by descent.
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Lot Essay

We are very grateful to Dr. Klaus Ertz for confirming the attribution to Jan Breughel II; he dates the present work to circa 1620. The picture is offered with a certificate of authenticity by Dr. Ertz, dated 12 May 2003.

This previously unpublished painting depicts a subject that was one of the most popular of all those represented in the Brueghel family's oeuvre. Dr. Ertz, in his 1984 monograph on the works of Jan Breughel II lists four other versions by that artist, all of which are in public collections: the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, the Národni Galerie, Prague, the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, and the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Brunswick (Jan Breughel der Jüngere, Freren, 1984, pp. 327-30, nos. 162-5, illustrated); the present work is thus the last known by Jan II to remain in private hands.

Of Jan II's compositions, the present work and the Dresden and Brunswick pictures derive from those of his father, Jan I, of which Ertz lists five, in the National Gallery, London, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, and (with only a qualified attribution) that sold, Sotheby's, London, 25 November 1970, lot 21 (Jan Brueghel der Ältere, Cologne, 1979, pp. 565-6, nos. 48-50 and 63-4, figs. 506-10). Jan I in turn drew the inspiration for the central figures of the Holy Family and the Magi from the celebrated painting of 1564 by his own father, Pieter I, in the National Gallery, London (a copy of which by Jan I's brother, Pieter II, was sold, Sotheby's, London, 19 April 1989, lot 24).

Jan I's composition was also strongly influenced by the central panel of Hieronymus Bosch's Altarpiece of the Epiphany in the Prado, Madrid, from which he seems to have drawn such elements as the shape of the inn and its byre, the figures of the villagers staring from the inn's doorway and window, and, lastly, the figures peering round the right hand edge of the building. Of those latter figures, the man peering through the wall is of particular interest for the present work, for he recurs in none of the other versions by either Jan I and Jan II; interestingly also, the present picture is the only version to copy the kneeling figure of Caspar in the ermine-collared, pink doublet with trailing sleeve that he wears in Pieter I's London Adoration.

That being so, and given the variety of other, smaller details in which the present work differs from all others by father and son, one must presume either that Jan II had himself seen both of his father's inspirations and had been influenced by them directly (this would be the only case in which that had happened for the present subject), or that the present picture is based upon a further, lost prototype by Jan I. of which it is the only surviving record.

Pieter I depicted the subject in another, larger composition (Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts), generally dated to circa 1555-6, that was also copied by Pieter II (Philadelphia, Museum of Art, datable to after 1616; numerous versions are known, all by anonymous contemporary copyists [for which, see K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere, Lingen, 2000, pp. 317-20, nos. 268-87]), but that differs entirely in composition from the versions by Jan I and II. Pieter II appears subsequently only to have produced Adorations of the type based on his father's prototype (Winterthur, Museum Oskar Reinhart).

Baron Paul Hatvany was a Hungarian exile whose family came to England just before the Second World War. In his house at Cadogan Place he built an important collection of Old Master Paintings and Drawings that included Giovanni Bellini's Dona delle Rose Madonna and Child (Southampton, Art Gallery), Rubens' Jacob and Esau (Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland) and Francesco di Giorgio Martini's drawing of Adam and Eve (Oxford, Christ Church). The majority of his extensive drawings and bronzes were dispersed in two sales in these Rooms on 24 June and 14 July 1980.

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