Lot Content

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Jan or Frans Verbeeck (Active Mechelen, 16th century)
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION (LOTS 1A-3A)
Jan or Frans Verbeeck (Active Mechelen, 16th century)

The Witches' Sabbath

Details
Jan or Frans Verbeeck (Active Mechelen, 16th century)
The Witches' Sabbath
oil on panel
27 ¾ x 37 in. (70.5 x 93.9 cm.)
the reverse stamped with the mark of the Imperial Gallery of Vienna ‘K.K.’
Provenance
Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands (1614-1662), Brussels and Vienna, listed in the inventory of the Imperial Collection of 1659, inv. no. 397, and by descent in the Habsburg collection to,
Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor (1685-1740), Vienna, listed in the inventory of the Imperial Collection of 1772, inv. no. 33, and later transferred to,
Pressburger Schloss, Pressburg (now Bratislava), listed in the castle’s second inventory of the autumn of 1781, inv. no. 60, and later transferred to,
Schloss von Ofen, Budapest, in 1784, and probably sold in 1856 in Budapest by order of the Imperial offices.
Ignatz Pfeffer, Budapest, by 1882.
Péteri collection, Budapest, by 1905.
Private collection, Budapest, by at least 1927.
Rolf Toussaint, Munich, by 1952.
Acquired by the father of the present owner.
Literature
Listed in the inventory of the Imperial Collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, Vienna, 1659, inv. no. 397, as ‘Julio Romano’, ‘Ein Stuckh von Öhlfarb auf Holcz, warin ein Zauberey mit vielen Hexen in der Lufft. In einer schwartz glatten Ramen, das inwendtige Leistl mit Pater noster verguldt, hoch 4 ½ Spann vnndt 5 Spann 6 Finger braidt. Von Julio Romano Original’.
F. Storffer, Neu eingerichtes Inventarium der Kayl. Bilder Gallerie in der Stallburg welches nach denen Numeris und Maßstab ordiniret und von Ferdinand à Storffer gemahlen worden, I, 1720, under C, no. 24, a painted inventory of the Imperial Collections in Vienna, the original held in the archive of the Gemäldegalerie, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
A.J. von Prenner and F. van Stampart, Prodromus, 1735, a preliminary catalogue of the Imperial Collections of Austria in the Stallburg Gallery, Vienna.
Listed in the Inventarium über die in der Kaiserl. Königl. Bildergallerie vorhandenen Bilder und Gemälde, 1772, inv. no. 33, the original held in the archive of the Gemäldegalerie, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Listed in the inventory of Imperial Collection at Schloss von Boda, Pressburg, 1781, II , inv. no. 60.
A. Berger, ‘Inventar und Kunstsammlung des Erzherzogs Leopold Wilhelm von Österreich: nach der Originalhandschrift im fürstlich Schwarzenberg'schen Centralarchive’, Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses, I, Vienna, 1883, p. CVIII, no. 397, as ‘G. Romano’.
A.J. von Prenner and F. van Stampart, ‘Prodromus (1735)’, Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses, VII, Vienna, 1888, pl. 4.
K. Garas, ‘Das Schicksal der Sammlung des Erzherzogs Leopold Wilhelm’, Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, LXIV, Vienna, 1968, p. 226, no. 397, as ‘G. Romano’.
K. Garas, 'La collection de tableaux du Château Royal de Buda au XVIIIe siècle', Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, nos. 32-33, 1969, p. 100, as 'Giulio Romano'.
R. Vervoort, Brueghel’s Witches: Witchcraft Images in the Low Countries between 1450 and 1700, exhibition catalogue, Bruges, 2015, pp. 98, 100 and 133, fig. 79, as ‘Bartholomeus Spranger (attributed)’.
Sale Room Notice
Please note the following additional cataloguing for this lot. We are grateful to Dr. Gudrun Swoboda and Dr. Gerlinde Gruber for their assistance with the provenance.

Other details:
the reverse stamped with the mark of the Imperial Gallery of Vienna ‘K.K.’

Provenance:

Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands (1614-1662), Brussels and Vienna, listed in the inventory of the Imperial Collection of 1659, inv. no. 397, and by descent in the Habsburg collection to,
Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor (1685-1740), Vienna, listed in the inventory of the Imperial Collection of 1772, inv. no. 33, and later transferred to,
Pressburger Schloss, Pressburg (now Bratislava), listed in the castle’s second inventory of the autumn of 1781, inv. no. 60, and later transferred to,
Schloss von Ofen, Budapest, in 1784, and probably sold in 1856 in Budapest by order of the Imperial offices.
Ignatz Pfeffer, Budapest, by 1882.
Péteri collection, Budapest, by 1905.
Private collection, Budapest, by at least 1927.

Engraved:
German School(?), circa 1646/55, held in Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, inv. no. HB 18353.
Anton Joseph Prenner, Theatrum Artis Pictoriae, 1728, as ‘after Pieter Bruegel the Elder’.
A.J. von Prenner and F. van Stampart, Prodromus, 1735.

Literature:

Listed in the inventory of the Imperial Collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, Vienna, 1659, inv. no. 397, as ‘Julio Romano’, ‘Ein Stuckh von Öhlfarb auf Holcz, warin ein Zauberey mit vielen Hexen in der Lufft. In einer schwartz glatten Ramen, das inwendtige Leistl mit Pater noster verguldt, hoch 4 ½ Spann vnndt 5 Spann 6 Finger braidt. Von Julio Romano Original’.
F. Storffer, Neu eingerichtes Inventarium der Kayl. Bilder Gallerie in der Stallburg welches nach denen Numeris und Maßstab ordiniret und von Ferdinand à Storffer gemahlen worden, I, 1720, under C, no. 24, a painted inventory of the Imperial Collections in Vienna, the original held in the archive of the Gemäldegalerie, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
A.J. von Prenner and F. van Stampart, Prodromus, 1735, a preliminary catalogue of the Imperial Collections of Austria in the Stallburg Gallery, Vienna.
Listed in the Inventarium über die in der Kaiserl. Königl. Bildergallerie vorhandenen Bilder und Gemälde, 1772, inv. no. 33, the original held in the archive of the Gemäldegalerie, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Listed in the inventory of Imperial Collection at Schloss von Boda, Pressburg, 1781, II , inv. no. 60.
A. Berger, ‘Inventar und Kunstsammlung des Erzherzogs Leopold Wilhelm von Österreich: nach der Originalhandschrift im fürstlich Schwarzenberg'schen Centralarchive’, Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses, I, Vienna, 1883, p. CVIII, no. 397, as ‘G. Romano’.
A.J. von Prenner and F. van Stampart, ‘Prodromus (1735)’, Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses, VII, Vienna, 1888, pl. 4.
K. Garas, ‘Das Schicksal der Sammlung des Erzherzogs Leopold Wilhelm’, Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, LXIV, Vienna, 1968, p. 226, no. 397, as ‘G. Romano’.
K. Garas, 'La collection de tableaux du Château Royal de Buda au XVIIIe siècle', Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, nos. 32-33, 1969, p. 100, as 'Giulio Romano'.
R. Vervoort, Brueghel’s Witches: Witchcraft Images in the Low Countries between 1450 and 1700, exhibition catalogue, Bruges, 2015, pp. 98, 100 and 133, fig. 79, as ‘Bartholomeus Spranger (attributed)’.

Brought to you by

Imogen Jones
Imogen Jones

Lot Essay

Sorcery has intrigued the human imagination since classical antiquity. Descriptions and depictions of witches and their behaviour fascinated popular thought and, from the late-fifteenth century, encouraged the development of a diverse and inventive visual language. Painted most likely in the 1560s, by Jan or Frans Verbeeck, this picture, which has only recently been rediscovered, occupies a key position in the iconography of witchcraft, representing a moral warning against the wild, tortuous and fantastic behaviour of the figures depicted as well as a celebration of the painter’s powers of imagination.

Though very little is known about the Verbeeck family, they were evidently an important artistic dynasty working in Mechelen during the sixteenth and early-seventeenth century. In his Schilderboeck (1604), Karel van Mander briefly discussed the work of Frans Verbeeck, ‘who was clever at making works in watercolour in the manner of Jeroon Bos [Hieronmymus Bosch]’. Van Mander went on to describe the ‘ghostly details’ included by the artist in a painting of Saint Christopher in Mechelen, and the ‘strange spooks’ in the Parable of the Vineyard which hung in the city’s Church of Sint-Katerijen (fol. 228r). These descriptions suggest something of the idiosyncratic visual ideas of the painter, relating both to the example established by Bosch, while other known paintings (discussed below) show his awareness of works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. A number of pictures and drawings have now been attributed to Frans Verbeeck, though no signed example of his work is known. The iconography of these works is remarkably varied, from religious scenes like The Temptation of St Anthony (1569; Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett der Staatliche Museen); satirical subjects of vernacular peasant life, such as the Peasant Wedding (Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao); or allegorical works like the Satire on human folly (Private collection, sold Dorotheum, Vienna, 21 October 2014, lot 33). This dramatic scene of witches, crowded around a bubbling cauldron, is a key addition to the artist’s visual repertoire, showing the astonishing diversity and complexity of Verbeeck’s visual language and inventive power.

The visual tradition of depicting witches in Northern Europe extended back to the fifteenth century. Though the scenes of witchcraft were relatively unusual in painting, they were more widely disseminated in printed material. In December 1484, Pope Innocent VIII had issued a bull condemning witchcraft in Europe and had established a committee to eliminate it, led by the Dominican friar and inquisitor Heinrich Kramer and Jakob Sprenger. This Papal act rapidly saw ideas on witchcraft disseminate both in text and image. In 1486, for example, the inquisitors printed an encyclopaedia of demonology, Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches) which described how ‘the devil can possess a man…[and] that since a man is by any mortal sin brought into devil’s service…the devil provides suggestion of sin either to the senses or to the imagination, to that event the devil is said to inhabit in man’. By combining popular social fears and folkloric tales, texts like the Malleus Maleficarum became increasingly influential and widespread (indeed, the text was reprinted fourteen times before 1520 alone) and led to the publication of other accounts of sorcery and witchcraft. Ulrich Molitor, a doctor of law, wrote an early treatise entitled the De Lamiis et Pythonicis Mulieribus (On Witches and Female Soothsayers) in 1489 which included the first known illustration of witches brewing a potion as the title page. The pervasive nature of these ideas, especially in Germany, likewise became influential for artists. Albrecht Dürer was one of the first to assimilate the theories and teachings of witch-hunters and inquisitors, producing the first independent depiction of the subject and thus formulated a new iconographic type in his Witch riding backwards on a goat (c. 1500-02). Perhaps one of the most influential sources for the present panel was Hans Baldung’s woodcut The Witches of circa 1510 (fig.1). In a nocturnal landscape, the figures gather around a cauldron which spews forth a billowing cloud of smoke, through which one of the witches is riding, elements clearly recognisable in Verbeeck’s painting. The cat shown with its back to the viewer likewise can be recognised in the large panther-like beasts of the present Sabbath. Pieter Bruegel the Elder also played a decisive role in the development of witchcraft representations, notably through his design of two prints, Saint James at the Sorcerer’s Den (fig. 2) and Saint James and the Fall of the Sorcerer, that showed witches on broomsticks and similar plumes of smoke that swirl around this panel (see R. Vervoort, Bruegel’s Witches. Witchcraft Images in the Low Countries between 1450 and 1700, exhibition catalogue, Bruges, 2015).

While the influence of local traditions concerning witches and their degenerate night-time activities were rife in Germany and the Netherlands, and clearly had a great influence in informing the work produced by artists working in the region, in this Witches’ Sabbath the Verbeeck family reveal a more international trend of influence. Indeed, as Professor Vandenbroeck has discussed, it is likely that, as with many Netherlandish painters during the period, members of the Verbeeck family travelled to Italy. The impact of such travels can certainly be seen in the present work. While the iconographic programme and conception of the composition, as well as figures such as the crouching hooded figure at the left of the panel (which evidently references Dürer’s Saint Anthony of 1519), suggest the painter’s use of local visual traditions, other elements demonstrate wider knowledge. The figure at the summit of the dense clouds of smoke, looking back over her shoulder at the viewer, for example, suggests that the artist was familiar with the Libyan Sibyl from Michelangelo’s ceiling for the Sistine Chapel. The way in which the witches are clothed too suggests a knowledge of other figures from this scheme, like the women beneath the True Cross in the Sistine Last Judgement. Scenes of witchcraft in Italy were also known and Agostino Veneziano’s famous The Carcass (Lo Stregozzo) must have been known to the Verbeecks, given the inclusion of the skeletal mount ridden at the left of this picture.

Immersed in this complex network of influences and traditions, this is a work of inventive brilliance. Indeed, as Prof. Dr. Paul Vandenbroeck, to whom we are grateful for assisting in the cataloguing of the work and in the preparation of this entry, states ‘as an art work, the painting offered here for sale, is exceptional: the powerfully diagonal composition, the monumentality of the protagonists, the grand rendering of a gloomy and stormy night, the rapid, almost sketchy pictorial execution, the compellingly magical atmosphere, reveal a unique pictorial talent’.

More from Old Masters Evening Sale

View All
View All