Daniel van Heil (Brussels 1604-1662)
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF DENYS SUTTON
Daniel van Heil (Brussels 1604-1662)

The Burning of Troy

Details
Daniel van Heil (Brussels 1604-1662)
The Burning of Troy
oil on canvas
40¾ x 35 in. (103.5 x 88.9 cm.)
Provenance
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 7 November, 1951, lot 48 as 'L. de Vadder' (95 gns. to Denys Sutton), and by descent to the present owner.

Lot Essay

The attribution to Daniel van Heil was first suggested by Ludwig Burchard in a letter to Denys Sutton, dated 11 November 1951:

'Dear D.S., We hope you are perfectly well now, and wish all the best for a quick recovery. From A. Scharf I heard that the "Trojan Horse" at Sotheby's was bought by you, last Wednesday. I like it very much. Isn't it by Daniel van Heil, the specialist for 'nachtelijke branden' who painted the large canvas in Nuremberg and the small sketch in the Koenigs collection, the last named illustrated in Goudstikker's catalogue of the 1933 Rubens exhibition? Should the signature of your canvas read (as I hope) D.V. HEIL, the authorship of the Koenigs sketch would, indeed, be definitely settled.'

From a family of distinguished painters (both his father and master Leon and his brothers Leon and Jean-Baptiste were painters), Daniel van Heil, born in Brussels in 1604, was himself a successful landscape painter. He became a master in the Brussels Guild in 1627 and specialized in three different types of landscapes: those with fire, with ruins, and winter effects.

The present composition depicts The Burning of Troy and shows van Heil's mastery in rendering blazing flames and architecture. After nearly ten years of war between the Greeks and the Trojans the besieged city of Troy was finally sacked. Van Heil chose to depict the most familiar episode of the war, recounted in Virgil's Aeneid, of how the Greeks captured Troy with a wooden horse. The giant horse with Greeks soldiers pouring out of its left flank, is visible in the middle ground. Armed Trojans clash with them as their city's skyline bursts into flames and dark smoke hangs ominously over the violent scene. It was relatively rare for artists to depict this particular episode of the Trojan war (indeed the lack of a main character was an additional challenge), yet for Van Heil, who painted this scene along with the flight of Aeneas from Troy many a time, it was a favorite subject and an indication of his originality.

The artist also chooses to give the viewer his own anachronistic vision of Troy, a city comprised of ruins and contemporary buildings, both grandiose and humble, with church spires and basilicas in the background, and more humble typically Flemish structures in front of them. Van Heil astutely accentuates the inherent artistic, cultural and historical significance of the diverse structures he renders in The Burning of Troy, creating a connection between Brussels as court residence to Archduke and Archduchess Albert and Isabella and Troy as court residence to King Priam. And although the architecture is more apparent than the protagonists of the battle, the intensity of this tragic scene remains intact thanks to the menacing sky which takes up a large portion of the canvas' somewhat unusual vertical composition.
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