'van Zelven' (German or Netherlandish, active 1605)
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'van Zelven' (German or Netherlandish, active 1605)

Portrait of a child, full-length, in an embroidered dress and a feathered hat, with a dog

'van Zelven' (German or Netherlandish, active 1605)
Portrait of a child, full-length, in an embroidered dress and a feathered hat, with a dog
signed [or inscribed], and dated 'VAN ZELVEN 1605' (lower right)
oil on panel
41 5/8 x 30 in. (105.8 x 76.3 cm.)
Miss Margaret Jane Ashley, Rowan House, Dorchester; (+) Christie's, London, 25 July 1913, lot 135 (125 gns. to Colnaghi).
with M. Knoedler & Co, by 1913.
By inheritance to the uncle of the present owner.
F. Howard, An Illustrated Catalogue of the Second National Loan Exhibition, 1913-1914: Woman and Child in Art, London, 1915, p. 98, no. LX.
H. Vollmer, Allgemeines Lexikon Der Bilden Künstler von der Antike Bis zur Gegenwart Begründet von Ulrich Thieme und Felix Becker, Leipzig, 1947, p. 455.
H. Gerson, Ausbreitung und Nachwirkung der Hollandischen Malerie des 17. Jahrhunderts, Haarlem, 1942, 2nd edition, ed., B.W. Meijer, Amsterdam, 1983, p. 460.
London, Grosvenor Gallery, The Second National Loan Exhibition. Woman and Child in Art, 1913-1914, no. XL, as van Zelven, Danish School.
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Lot Essay

This portrait of a child, dated 1605, remains somewhat of a mystery. It is the only recorded work by an artist identified as 'Van Zelven', on the basis of the signature or inscription on the floor tiles in the lower right hand corner of the panel (see H. Vollmer, loc. cit.). The painting was last recorded in 1913-14 when it appeared at auction in these Rooms and was then shown at the Grosvenor Galleries in an exhibition devoted to The Woman and Child in Art, where the artist was intriguingly catalogued as being from the Danish School. Horst Gerson mentioned Van Zelven in passing in his 1942 book on Dutch 17th century artists, placing this Northern artist for a period as a portraitist in the Danish court (loc. cit.), although the evidence for this supposition is not given. The exciting rediscovery of this panel will perhaps resolve some of these questions over time.
On the basis of style and costume, the painting seems to come from the Rhineland, either from the Eastern part of the Netherlands or from Western Germany, perhaps near Cologne, as it is close in style to the Cologne artist Gottfried von Wedig, who was active from 1608. The pose of the child echoes the traditional portrait format for an aristocratic adult male portrait: the child holds a breadstick in the same way a nobleman would hold a baton of rule, and he pats a large seated dog, thus asserting a familiar element of authority. A crystal glass pacifier or dummy is attached to chains of bright coral beads, which are worn like a sash and order, and once again indicate that the sitter is a boy, since a girl would have had a coral necklace (coral was worn by children as it was considered to have protective values). The ornate high hat, decorated with ostrich plumes and a heron aigrette, is a tocque, which was fashionable for men from circa 1580 onwards, although the turned up red vizard is more unusual. The sitter wears a children's gown with a stylized floral pattern over a white petticoat embroidered in blackwork, often found in Dutch portraits of children, and an apron edged with lace and a feitel as a sort of bib. The pattern of folds on the starched and ironed apron add a lively sense of detail and movement to the picture, which remains beautifully preserved, with a richly impastoed surface.

We are grateful to Dr. Rudi Ekkart and Dr. Marieke de Winkel for their kind assistance in the cataloguing of this lot.

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