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Abel Grimmer (Antwerp 1570-1618/9)
THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN 
Abel Grimmer (Antwerp 1570-1618/9)

The Tower of Babel

Details
Abel Grimmer (Antwerp 1570-1618/9)
The Tower of Babel
dated '1604··' (lower left, on the column)
oil on panel
20 1/8 x 26 1/8 in. (51.1 x 66.3 cm.)
Provenance
Acquired in the 1830s by Sir Edward Blackett, 6th Baronet (1803-1885), for Maften Hall, Northumberland, and by descent to the present owner.
Literature
H. Minkowski, Aus dem Nebel der Vergangenheit steigt der Turm zu Babel, Berlin, 1960, p. 71 and 231, as Lucas van Valckenborch.
H. Minkowski, Der Turm zu Babel, Berlin, 1991, p. 207, as signed and dated 'L 604' and attributed to Lucas van Valckenborch.
R. de Bertier de Sauvigny, Jacob et Abel Grimmer, Brussels, 1991, p. 303, no. 2; pp. 222-3, no. XLIVbis; p. 294, under no. 1; and p. 189, under no. 1.
Exhibited
Newcastle, The Hatton Gallery King's College, Pictures from Collections in Northumberland, 8 May-15 June 1951, no. 42, as Lucas van Valckenborch.

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Alexis Ashot
Alexis Ashot

Lot Essay

This superbly preserved panel, which offers an extraordinarily detailed overview of the imaginary construction of the Tower of Babel, is amongst the most ambitious and refined works within Abel Grimmer's entire oeuvre. The subject is taken from Genesis (11:1-9) which recounts how the people decided to 'build ourselves a city and a tower, with its top in the heavens' and appointed Nimrod - 'the mighty warrior before the Lord' - to oversee its construction. This account provided a rich source of subject matter for several late sixteenth and early seventeenth century Flemish painters whose representations of it were inspired ultimately by the two iconic eponymous works of 1563 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum; and Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen).

Abel Grimmer painted the subject several times, including dated works from 1591 (formerly Munich, von Bissing collection) and another smaller painting from 1604 (formerly with Leegenhoek, Paris, 1978). A third treatment, which is closely comparable with the present work, was with Galerie de Jonckheere, Brussels (see R. de Bertier de Sauvigny, op. cit., p. 294, no. 1, fig. 154). Grimmer collaborated with several different figure painters in each of these works and in this example the figure group that occupies the lower left corner has clearly been added by another hand. De Bertier de Sauvigny suggested they might be by the young Frans Francken II (1581-1642; see op. cit. p. 223, under no. XLVbis), although drs Luuk Pijl, to whom we are grateful, has recently suggested, more plausibly, that they may be by Francken's father, Frans the Elder (1542-1616). Pijl does point out, however, that his works are difficult to distinguish from those of his brothers Hieronymus (circa 1540-1610) and Ambrosius (circa 1544-1618), all of whom were active as figure painters around 1600.

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