Jan de Beer (Antwerp c. 1475-1528 or earlier)
Jan de Beer (Antwerp c. 1475-1528 or earlier)
Jan de Beer (Antwerp c. 1475-1528 or earlier)
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These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more Property of a Distinguished American Private Collector
Jan de Beer (Antwerp c. 1475-1528 or earlier)

The Flight into Egypt: the wing of a triptych

Jan de Beer (Antwerp c. 1475-1528 or earlier)
The Flight into Egypt: the wing of a triptych
oil on panel, the upper left corner made up
31 x 10 ½ in. (78.7 x 26.7 cm.)
with inventory number '159' (on the reverse)
Anonymous sale; Christie's, New York, 7 June 2002, lot 79, as 'Circle of Joachim Patinir', when acquired by the present owner.
D. Ewing, Jan de Beer: Gothic Renewal in Renaissance Antwerp, Turnhout, 2016, no. 12, pp. 194-99 and 315, pl. 164.
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. 251-54, fig. III.18.1.
D. Ewing, P. van den Brink, and R. Wenly, 'Truly Bright and Memorable': Jan de Beer's Renaissance Altarpieces, exhibition catalogue, London, 2019, pp. 35-36, 39, 41 and 43, fig. 19.
Special notice

These lots have been imported from outside the EU or, if the UK has withdrawn from the EU without an agreed transition deal, from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Customs Duty as applicable will be added to the hammer price and Import VAT at 20% will be charged on the Duty Inclusive hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

Brought to you by

Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair

Lot Essay

This enchanting panel was first recognised by Peter van den Brink in 2009 as a work by Jan de Beer, one of the most important and successful Antwerp Mannerists, by whom only around two dozen paintings survive today (op. cit., 2018, p. 251-252). It likely formed the right wing of a triptych that would have included a central panel showing the Adoration of the Magi and a left wing featuring a Night Nativity, an iconographic arrangement favoured by de Beer. The artist also had a penchant for creating fanciful architectural elements and delicate, almost doll-like figures with dainty hands, proclivities visible in the present painting.

The Flight into Egypt became an increasingly popular subject in Netherlandish art in the early-sixteenth century, thanks in part to the growing importance of the Devotio Moderna movement, which advocated stronger spiritual engagement through heightened identification with the suffering of Christ. The original source for the narrative of the Flight is the Gospel of Matthew (2:13-14), which describes an angel appearing to Joseph in a dream and warning him to flee with his family to Egypt so that Christ might not fall victim to Herod’s soldiers, who were ordered to kill all first-born sons. The passage was subsequently augmented in numerous apocryphal writings, such as The Gospel of the Pseudo-Matthew, providing artists with additional episodes to integrate into their compositions. These were often conceived using continuous narration, thus inviting viewers to enhance their devotional experience by closely following the Holy Family’s journey and meditating on its hardships. Such is the case in the present panel, where the landscape of densely foliated trees and sun-kissed rocks includes in the distance a whimsical porphyry column from which an idol topples, following the description provided in such texts as the Golden Legend: 'And when the Lord came into Egypt, all the idols in the land were destroyed, as had been foretold by the Prophet Isaiah.' Pursuing their voyage, the Holy Family occupies the foreground in a grouping that draws on Albrecht Dürer’s famed woodcut of the same subject from his Life of the Virgin series dating to 1511 (fig. 1). De Beer made some notable modifications to the figures and their poses, however, such as having the Virgin face the Christ Child as she holds him up, thereby underscoring their interaction.

Dan Ewing situates the present panel in the mature phase of de Beer’s career, sometime between 1516 and 1519 (op. cit., 2016; see also P. van den Brink and D. Ewing, op. cit., 2018). Dendrochronological analysis provides an earliest plausible usage date of 1505 assuming two years of seasoning, but a post-1513 usage date would be more likely as it would allow for ten years of seasoning, a more typical length in this period. Moreover, the underdrawing (fig. 2) also supports the dating advanced by Ewing as Peter van den Brink observes (op. cit., p. 36), leading him to remark: 'This is truly a drawing of the mature Jan de Beer' (op. cit., p. 39). Examination of the carbon-based black underdrawing reveals that de Beer hardly deviated from his original plan in the final painting, with the notable exception of the Virgin’s hat, for which he explored different options. Moreover, it stylistically relates very closely to de Beer’s Crucifixion of circa 1525 (Cologne, Kolumba Museum). Indeed, the same lack of hesitation, strong outlines, parallel hatching and pronounced fold lines define both.

We are grateful to Peter van den Brink for generously sharing his research with us for this catalogue note.

Please note that this painting has been requested for the exhibition Dürer was here: A Journey becomes Legend, which is planned at the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen, 18 July 2021-24 October 2021.

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