Jan de Beer (Antwerp c. 1475-1528 or earlier)
Property of a Distinguished American Private Collector
Jan de Beer (Antwerp c. 1475-1528 or earlier)

The Annunciation

Jan de Beer (Antwerp c. 1475-1528 or earlier)
The Annunciation
oil on panel
26 ¾ x 20 5/8 in. (67.9 x 52.4 cm.)
Private collection, Heidelberg, before 1823, when acquired by
Count Caspar Heinrich von Siestorpff, Bad Driburg (1750-1842), and by descent to his son
Count Ernst von Sierstorpff, Bad Driburg (1813-1855), and by descent to his son
Count Bruno von Sierstorpff, Bad Driburg (1855-1870), and by inheritance to his brother
Count Ernst von Sierstorpff, Bad Driburg (d. 1879), and by inheritance to his sister
Baroness Hedwig von Sierstorpff, Bad Driburg (d. 1887); her sale; Rudolph Lepke, Berlin, 19 April 1887, lot 107, as Herri Bles, sold (2,700 Reichsmark).
Private collection, Frankfurt.
Anonymous sale; Rudolf Bangel, Frankfurt am Main, 12-13 February 1901, lot 6, as Herri met de Bles.
Hermann Emden (1840-1930), Hamburg; his sale, Rudolph Lepke, Berlin, 3 May 1910, lot 88, as Herri met de Bles (4,100 Reichsmark).
(Possibly) with Frieda Hinze, Berlin, by 1932.
Dr. Dolly Marx, Bielefeld.
Anonymous sale; Lempertz, Cologne, 28-30 April 1954, lot 846 (13,399 DM), where acquired by
Dr. Paul Ludowigs (1884-1968, Wülfrath, and by descent in the family until
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, Amsterdam, 15 November 2005, lot 42.
with Alexander Gallery, New York, from whom acquired by the present owner.
C.H. von Sierstorpff, Für die Kunstfreunde, welche meine kleine Gemälde-Sammlung besuchen wollen, Braunschweig, 1817, pp. 300-304, no. 115, as Hugo van der Goes.
G. Parthey, Deutscher Bildersaal, Berlin, 1863-1864, I, p. 362.
'Vom Kunstmarkt', Kunstchronik, XXII, 28 April 1887, p. 478, as Herri met de Bles.
M.J. Friedländer, 'Die Antwerpener Manieristen von 1520', Jahrbuch der Königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen, XXXVI, 1915, p. 72, no. 22.
Sir M. Conway, The Van Eycks and their followers, London,1921, pp. 387, 388, pl. XX, fig. 1.
M.J. Friedländer, Die altniederländische Malerei. Die Antwerpener Manieristen - Adriaen Ysenbrant, XI, Berlin, 1933, p. 118, no. 24.
H. Gerson, J.W. Goodison, D. Sutton, Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge. Catalogue of paintings. Volume I: Dutch and Flemish, French, German and Spanish, Cambridge, 1960, p. 39 note 3.
M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish painting. The Antwerp Mannerists - Adriaen Ysenbrant, XI, Leiden and Brussels, 1974, p. 69, no. 24, pl. 19, no. 24.
D. Ewing, The Paintings and Drawings of Jan de Beer, Ph. D. dissertation, 1978, I, pp. 139-140, 151, II, pp. 269-275, 340, no. 16, fig. 54.
Peter Eikemeier et al., Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen. Alte Pinakothek München. Erläuterungen zu den ausgestellten Gemälden, Munich, 1983, p. 66.
M.D. Orth, 'Antwerp Mannerist Model Drawings in French Renaissance Books of Hours: A Case Study of the 1520s Hours Workshop', J. Walters A.G., XLVII, 1989, p. 74, 84-85, fig. 20.
A. Arnould and J.M. Massing, Splendours of Flanders, exhibition catalogue, Cambridge 1993, p. 50.
P. van den Brink, 'Friedländer list. Updated overview of all Antwerp Mannerist paintings published by Max J. Friedländer in part XI of his Early Netherlandish Painting', in K. Belkin, M. Martens, P. van den Brink, eds., Jaarboek Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen 2004-2005/Antwerp Royal Museum Annual 2004-2005, 2006, p. 359, no. 24.
D. Ewing, Jan de Beer: Gothic Renewal in Renaissance Antwerp, Turnhout, 2016, pp. 34-37, 152-161, 293-294, no. 5, fig. 104.
P. van den Brink and D. Ewing, 'Two "new" paintings by Jan de Beer: technical studies, connoisseurship and provenance research', in Technical Studies of Paintings: Problems of Attribution (15th-17th Centuries): Papers Presented at the Nineteenth Symposium for the Study of Underdrawing and Technology in Painting, A. Dubois, J. Couvert and T.-H. Borchert, eds., Paris, Leuven and Bristol, CT, 2018, pp. 254-256, fig. 18.5.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 9 December 2014-10 May 2018, on loan.

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Lot Essay

Jan de Beer was one of the greatest and most talented painters associated with a group of largely anonymous artists active in the early 16th century who today are collectively known as the Antwerp Mannerists. He is one of a select few early Antwerp painters whose fame extended beyond his death, receiving praise from writers such as Lodovico Guicciardini (1567) and Karel van Mander (1604). Works by de Beer are exceptionally rare, with only around two dozen paintings ascribed to him (just two are signed). Like the present lot, all of De Beer’s paintings depict religious subjects. His oeuvre is celebrated for his sophisticated and refined use of saturated colors as well as the psychological depth of his figures. Like his fellow Antwerp Mannerists, De Beer’s paintings combine traditional Flemish naturalism with exuberant decorative details - especially in the form of fantastic costumes and capricious, often Italianate, architectural inventions - all of which feature prominently in this astonishing representation of The Annunciation.
Dan Ewing and Peter van den Brink convincingly argue that Jan de Beer painted the present Annunciation circa 1515, when the artist was at the height of his career (2018, loc. cit.). This dating is supported by Dr. Peter Klein’s dendrochronological examination of the panel, which indicates an earliest felling date of 1503 for the panel, and a likely execution date of 1511 upward. To create this composition, De Beer appears to have drawn inspiration from Jan van Eyck’s seminal circa 1434-36 Annunciation (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; fig. 1), in which an extremely elegant Archangel Gabriel greets a regal Virgin Mary in a soaring, Gothic church. Particularly influential were Van Eyck’s elongated figures and focus on verticality. Yet here, De Beer modifies Van Eyck’s ecclesiastical setting by blending it with the more traditional iconography of Annunciation scenes in Early Netherlandish art, in which the Virgin kneels at a prie-dieu in a domestic setting. Such images frequently include a marriage bed, such as Rogier van der Weyden’s Annunciation from the left wing of his circa 1455 Columba Altarpiece (Alte Pinakothek, Munich). In the present composition, with its multiple rooms and staggeringly high ceilings, De Beer radicalized his the scene to the point that, when compared to Rogier’s work - which was revolutionary for the mid-1450’s - the latter appears subdued. As Ewing notes, '…De Beer’s emphatic rejection of restraint and balance exemplifies the new century’s commitment to jettisoning decorous boundaries and pushing hyperbole to the point of fantasy. […]. The flamboyant descent of the archangel Gabriel, his flight suspended in mid-air, is the picture’s defining motif. The stress upon his heaven-sent mission is reinforced by the extreme verticality of the interior spaces, and especially by the seemingly endless columns framing the rear of the front room, whose upward elongation is represented without capitals or any other form of upper termination’ (op. cit., 2016, pp. 34-36).
The present Annunciation, as Ewing has pointed out, was incredibly successful – it is the third most imitated of all of De Beer’s compositions (ibid., p. 152). At least 14 copies and variants exist, of which the most well-known is the Annunciation in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich. It is a reflection of De Beer’s genius that in the case of nearly all of these imitations, his followers were either unable or unwilling to commit fully to the original’s extravagance (for a detailed discussion of these responses, see D. Ewing and P. van den Brink, op. cit., p. 254-259). The numerous copyists who took up this composition often found De Beer’s invention too daring, so that they frequently reduced the spacious rooms in the background, capped the soaring columns, and even grounded the floating archangel.
The primacy of this panel is further confirmed by study of its underdrawing, visible with infrared-reflectography (fig. 2). De Beer’s underdrawing is loose and sketchy, executed in a dry medium, probably black chalk, with, as Ewing observes, 'nervous but powerful, often broken contour lines. These lines are typically short and discontinuous, with characteristic hooks as their terminations, or sometimes T-endings. The draftsmanship is virtuosic –bold, quickly drawn, filled with energy and verve’ (op. cit., 2016, p. 154). De Beer worked out his architectural setting using perspectival lines that recede to a vanishing point at right in the framed text on the column. The IRR also reveals that De Beer made changes to his composition as he painted. Certain details that do not appear in the underdrawing were added at the painting stage, including the white cat who sits on the threshold (likely a reference to the medieval saying that the devil was trapped by Christ’s incarnation in the way that a mouse is trapped by a cat) and the basket behind the Virgin, as well as the two red porphyry columns. Furthermore, the pair of lancet windows visible at left in the rear room were originally conceived as four smaller, Gothic-arched windows (ibid., p. 154).
The early history of this important painting has recently been worked out by Peter van den Brink, to whom we are grateful for generously sharing his research. In the 19th century, this painting was in the collection of the Counts of Sierstorpff at Driburg Castle, near Paderborn, who had assembled a significant and well-known Old Masters collection. When it sold in 1887 under an attribution to Herri met de Bles, it entered another significant collection, probably in Frankfurt, that included Bernard van Orley’s Virgin and Child with singing angels (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and an Adoration triptych from Joos van Cleve’s workshop (Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit). It next entered the collection of the Hamburg collector Hermann Emden, a successful textile merchant. In 1910, it sold again to an unknown collector, at which point it disappeared for nearly a half a century, resurfacing at a 1954 auction in Cologne and finally correctly attributed to Jan de Beer in accordance with Max J. Friedländer’s 1915 and 1933 publications (loc. cit.). The vendor at that sale was Dr. Dolly Marx, from Bielefeld, and the Annunciation was acquired by Paul Ludowigs, a German industrialist from Cologne who lived in Wülfrath. It remained in his family until the 2005 sale at Sotheby’s Amsterdam, where it was acquired by Alexander Gallery, New York, from whom it was ultimately acquired by the present owner.

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