Jacob Jordaens (Antwerp 1593-1678)
Jacob Jordaens (Antwerp 1593-1678)

Study for the head of Saint Christopher

Jacob Jordaens (Antwerp 1593-1678)
Study for the head of Saint Christopher
oil on paper, laid down on panel
14 5/8 x 10 ¼ in. (37.2 x 26 cm.)
New York art market, 1966.
Mr and Mrs Lawrence A. Fleischman, New York, by 1968.
with Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, by 1973.
Private Collection, Portugal.
with Schlichte Bergen, Amsterdam (Maastricht), by 1992.
with Noortman (Maastricht) BV, 24 March 1999, from whom acquired.
J.S. Held, 'Jordaens at Ottawa', The Burlington Magazine, CXI, no. 794, May 1969, London, p. 266.
R.-A. d'Hulst, 'Exhibition Reviews: Jordaens', The Art Bulletin, LI, December 1969, New York, p. 382.
R.A. d'Hulst, Jacob Jordaens, London, 1982, p. 138, note 17.
R.A. d' Hulst, in Jacob Jordaens, 1593-1678, exhibition catalogue, Antwerp, 1993, I, p. 148, under no. A42, fig. A42b, footnote 6.
Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, Jacob Jordaens 1593- 1678, 29 November 1968- 5 January 1969, no. 29.

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Imogen Jones
Imogen Jones

Lot Essay

Jordaens employed this powerful head study of a bearded man for the head of Saint Christopher in his monumental painting of Saint Christopher Carrying the Christ Child, circa 1625-30 (fig. 1; Belfast, Ulster Museum Art Gallery). Jordaens’s depiction of the gargantuan saint in the finished painting was clearly influenced by Rubens’s earlier rendering of the saint on the left wing of his altarpiece of the Descent from the Cross commissioned by the Antwerp arquebusiers for their altar in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp. Jordaens made some significant changes in his own composition, however, notably in the prominence of the hermit with his guiding torch, which enhances the chiaroscuro and overall drama of the scene. Furthermore, rather than simply copying Rubens’s facial type for Saint Christopher, Jordaens chose to make this life study of a model by candlelight. Jordaens’s use of realistic models and his penchant for introducing dramatic contrasts of light and dark in his paintings reveal Caravaggio’s influence. While Jordaens never travelled south of the Alps (unlike Rubens and van Dyck), he did his utmost to see works by such luminaries as Titian, Veronese, Bassano and Caravaggio, so that he could apply their ideas to his work (Joachim von Sandrarts Academie der Bau-, Bild-, und Mahlerey-Künste von 1675, ed. A.-R. Peltzer, Munich, 1925, pp. 2145). Jordaens would also have absorbed elements of Caravaggio’s style via Rubens, who painted a number of works that were strongly Caravaggesque after returning from Italy in 1608, such as Boy Blowing on a Brazier circa 1616-17 (Dresden, Gemäldegalerie). The one canvas by Caravaggio that Jordaens could admire at first hand was The Madonna of the Rosary, which was acquired in 1618/19 by an Antwerp consortium that included Rubens and Jan Breughel the Elder, and hung in the Dominican church at Antwerp.

According to Saint Christopher’s legend, which is recounted in Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda Aurea, Christopher was a Canaanite of huge stature intent on serving the most powerful lord of all: his first lord was a king, but when the king fled in fear of Satan Christopher chose to serve the devil instead, who in turn showed fear in front of the crucifix, revealing the true Lord of all – Christ. In his quest for Christ, Christopher was guided by a hermit to carry the poor and weak across a river. One night, he was carrying a small child across the river and the infant seemed to become heavier with each step; Christopher had difficulty reaching the other side. The child then revealed that he was Christ and that Christopher had been carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Devotion to Christopher, whose name in Greek means ‘he who bears Christ’ (Christophoros), was widespread in the Middle Ages: Christians believed that he could protect them, especially from sudden death. He also became the patron saint of travellers. Large painted and carved effigies were placed in churches, on facades and even on city walls.

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