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Hendrick van Steenwijk II  Frankfurt am Main c. 1580-c. 1649 London
Hendrick van Steenwijk II Frankfurt am Main c. 1580-c. 1649 London

The Liberation of Saint Peter from prison

Hendrick van Steenwijk II Frankfurt am Main c. 1580-c. 1649 London
The Liberation of Saint Peter from prison
signed and dated 'H.V.STEENWYCK.1618' (on the step lower left)
oil on panel
8¼ x 10 7/8 in. 21 x 27.5 cm.
James-Alexandre, Comte de Pourtalès-Gorgier (1776-1885), Rue Tronchet 7, Paris.
Anonymous sale; Phillips, London, 19-20 May 1826, lot 38 (17 gns. to E.W. Lake or Richardson & Co.).
W. Martin, Wassenaar.
with Jacques Goudstikker, Amsterdam, 1920.
Looted by the Nazi authorities, July 1940.
Recovered by the Allies, 1945.
in the custody of the Dutch Government.
Restituted in February 2006 to the heir of Jacques Goudstikker.
Limburgs Museum voor Kunst en Oudheden and Bisschoppelijk Museum Bosdom Roermond, Catalogus van Schilderijn en Beeldhouwwerken, Maastricht, 1958, pp. 55-6.
Old Master Paintings: An illustrated summary catalogue, Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst (The Netherlandish Office for the Fine Arts), The Hague, 1992, p. 283, no. 2485, illustrated.
B. Schwartz, Hitler's Museum: Die Fotoalben Gemäldegalerie Linz, Dokumente zum 'Führermuseum', Wien, Köln, Weimar, 2004, p. 125, 269, VI/25.
Maastricht, Bonnefantenmuseum, on loan.

Lot Essay

The liberation of Saint Peter, told in Acts 12:1-11, seems to have been one of Steenwijk's favorite subjects as he depicted it many times over the course of his career. The story is perfectly suited to an artist who specializes in interiors as the focal point of its drama takes place inside a prison. As told in Acts, King Herod imprisoned Peter for treason, placing him under armed guard and having him bound with chains. On the night before Peter's presentation to the people, an angel appeared in his prison cell and the chains dropped from his hands. The angel told him to dress and led him out of the prison and through the city gates to safety. The event led to Herod's loss of the support of his people and ultimately to his own death at the hands of the same angel.

Unlike his church interiors, Steenwijk's prison scenes are less about the virtuosity of the architecture and more about the miraculous events at the heart of the story. The interior is completely closed and the guards are sleeping, their cloaks drawn around them and their hats pulled over their eyes. Weapons and shields lie useless on the ground and in the far distance at the end of a dark passage Saint Peter and the angel appear. Candlelight emphasizes the hue and texture of the stone as much as the structure of the architecture and Steenwijck paints it almost in grisaille.

Although archival documents do not reveal much about Steenwijk's life, his paintings allow us to reconstruct what was clearly a highly successful career spent collaborating with the most important Flemish painters of his generation and serving the courts in both England and the Netherlands. He was most likely born in Antwerp and seems to have spent time there although he never enrolled in the city's Guild of St. Luke. His collaborations with Frans Francken II, Jan Brueghel the Elder and others, together with his strong influence on Pieter Neefs I, suggests his extended presence in the city and currency on the Antwerp art market. By 1617 Steenwijk had settled in London where he painted architectural interiors in the backgrounds of portraits by Anthony van Dyck and Daniel Mytens the Elder. He probably stayed in England until 1637, the year he dated the architectural backgrounds of portraits of Charles I and Henrietta Maria (Dresden) produced by van Dyck's studio. By 1645 he had moved to the northern Netherlands and is described in van Dyck's Iconography as the 'architectural painter to the Hague courts.'

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