Paulus Jansz. Moreelse (Utrecht 1571-1638)
An amorous young couple
signed and dated 'Moreelse fe an . 1629' (lower right, on her left sleeve)
oil on panel, dodecagonal
24 ½ in. (62.3 cm.), diameter
(Presumably) Sir William Young, 1st Bt. (1725-1788), Delaford Manor, Iver, Buckinghamshire, by 1782.
Anonymous sale [Property of a gentleman]; Christie's, London, 5 July 1991, lot 61 (£154,000).
with Richard Green, London, 12 March 1992, from whom acquired.
J.E. Wessely, Jacob Gole, Verzeichnis seiner kupferstiche und Schabkunstblätter, Hamburg, 1889, p. 66, no. 199.
M. Thibaut, 'Gang durch den Londener Kunsthandel', Weltkunst, LXII, 1992, p. 1454, illustrated.
P.H. Janssen, Jan van Bijlert, 1597/98-1671, Amsterdam, 1998, p. 151.
E.N. Domela Nieuwenhuis Nyegaard, Paulus Moreelse (1571-1638), Leiden, 2001, p. 597, no. SAH191.

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Imogen Jones
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Lot Essay

Utrecht, unlike the other artistic centres of the province of Holland, was governed by a noble, aristocratic elite whose tastes conditioned the city’s artistic production, particularly in the first decades of the seventeenth century. Arcadian subjects flourished there – first in literature and, shortly thereafter, in art. This pair of young lovers belongs to this tradition. Such a painting may well have been enjoyed primarily for its titillating subject matter rather than its implicit cautioning against loose morals.

The composition of this painting derives in part from that of the ‘ill-matched’ or ‘unequal’ lovers, a popular subject going back to the Northern Renaissance. This was a pictorial manifestation of a literary theme that first appeared in the work of the 3rd century BCE Roman poet, Plautus, who cautioned against elderly men taking younger lovers. First popularised by artists like Lucas Cranach the Elder and Quentin Massys, the man generally appears aged to the point of disfiguration and often carries a purse of coins to compensate the woman for her services. In Moreelse’s painting, no such monetary exchange takes place and the couple is matched in age and beauty; thus, the composition is not chiefly a moralistic admonition but instead serves as a celebration of youth, beauty and sensuality.

The sole autograph version of this composition, the present painting was evidently highly regarded in the years after its production. In addition to a contemporary painted copy in rectangular formal (Nieuwenhuis, op. cit., no. 191A), numerous reproductive prints are known. Their format, always ovoid or 12-sided, suggests that they derive from this autograph painting rather than the painted copy.

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