Jan Lievens (Leiden 1607-1674 Amsterdam)
Jan Lievens (Leiden 1607-1674 Amsterdam)

Saint Simon with the Christ Child

Jan Lievens (Leiden 1607-1674 Amsterdam)
Saint Simon with the Christ Child
signed 'J. Livius' (center left)
oil on panel
38½ x 27½ in. (97.8 x 69.8 cm.)
(Possibly) Chaplin; his sale, London, Foster, 15-16 April 1835, lot 111 (“Simeon and the Saviour”), where acquired by Sherwood [?].
Anonymous sale; Helbing, Munich, 3 June 1908, lot 36.
H. Schneider, Jan Lievens. Sein Leben und seine Werke, Haarlem, 1932, p. 23, 98, no. 26.
H. Gerson, “Twee vroege studies van Jan Lievens”, Oud Holland, LXIX, 1954, p. 180.
K. Bauch, “Zum Werk des Jan Lievens (I)”, Pantheon, XXV, 1967, p. 162.
H. Schneider and R.E.O. Ekkart, Jan Lievens. Sein Leben und seine Werke, Amsterdam, 1973, no. 26, p. 98, 322.
W. Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandtschüler, Landau, 1983, III, no. 1223, p. 1790.
R. Klessmann, Jan Lievens. Ein Maler im Schatten Rembrandts, exh. cat. Brauschweig, 1979, p. 42, under no. 1.
W. Sumowski, Drawings of the Rembrandt School, New York, 1979, VII, p. 3894.
P. Eikemeier, review of Klessmann 1979 (see above); Pantheon, 38, 1980, p. 6.
H. Gutbrod, Lievens und Rembrandt. Studien zum Verhältnis ihrer Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, 1996, p. 96.
R. van Straten and I. Moerman, Young Rembrandt. The Leiden Years, 1606 – 1632, Leiden 2005, pp. 42-43, fig. 35.
D. de Witt, The Bader Collection. Dutch and Flemish Paintings, Kingston 2008, p. 189, fig. 113a.
B. Schnackenburg, Jan Lievens, friend and rival of the young Rembrandt, forthcoming.
To be included in the forthcoming monograph with catalogue raisonné of Lievens’ work currently in preparation by Dr. Lloyd de Witt.

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Nicholas H. J. Hall

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Lot Essay

Lost from sight for over a century, this early masterpiece by Jan Lievens is a spectacular rediscovery. The subject of Simeon praising the Christ Child is from the Gospel of Saint Luke (2: 25-33) and relates how Joseph and Mary, after the Circumcision, went to the temple in Jerusalem to present their first-born to the Lord and make the mandatory offering of two turtledoves. There they found the aged and devout high priest of the temple, Simeon, of whom was prophesied that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. Simeon recognized the Christ Child, took him in his arms and thanked the Lord in a prayer: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to the word: For mine eyes have seen they salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel”. In Christian faith Simeon’s song of praise is a key event representing an affirmation through divine revelation of Christ’s special status as the Savior of mankind.

Lievens created a gripping image, full of drama. Simeon, weathered by age, turns his eyes moist with emotion heavenward. Holding the infant with his hands firmly clasped together, his mouth slightly opened, he mutters the prayer. With his powerful presence Simeon seems to burst from the picture plane. Two other treatments of this subject by Lievens have been preserved, both of which are later and in the Bader Collection, Milwaukee (D. de Witt, op. cit., pp. 189-190, no. 113; pp. 193-195, no. 11).

Lievens painted this large panel in the first years of activity as an artist, 1625 or slightly earlier, when he was still a teenager and closely associated with the slightly older Rembrandt. Lievens, however, was more precocious, and according to his early patron, the Leiden city chronicler Jan Orlers, his “consummate skill astounded numerous connoisseurs of art who found it hard to believe that a mere stripling of twelve or scarcely older could produce such work”. Comparison with Rembrandt’s small and carefully painted panel Tobit and Anna of 1626 in the Rijksmuseum clarifies the considerable difference in approach between these two great masters. Lievens stood out and even at this early stage his clientele already included noble and royal clients.

Lievens took a keen interest in the works of the Utrecht Caravaggisti and quickly made their innovative style his own. Two interpretations of Simeon and the Christ Child by Jan van Bijlert are strikingly close to the present work and Lievens may have had one or both in mind when he painted it (fig. 1).

This exceptionally well-preserved painting is a superb demonstration of the young Lievens’ talents. Lievens achieved a strong sense of directness and immediacy by deftly manipulating the paint and ingeniously adjusting his brushwork. Vigorously executed wet-in-wet passages and areas with thick impasto are to be admired throughout the painting, some of them even carrying the artist’s fingerprints.

We thank Dr Lloyd de Witt for his kind assistance in the preparation of this lot.

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