This festive marine scene depicts the embarkation of Don Juan José of Austria (1629-79), illegitimate son of Philip IV of Spain, on 4 March 1656 on his voyage from Barcelona to Brussels to take up his new position as Governor of the Spanish Netherlands. The local landmark of the mountain of Montjuïc is clearly seen in the background while the bustle and celebratory atmosphere of the occasion was aptly described in the Pacully sale catalogue (loc. cit.): 'The state barge with velvety red sails and gilded lanterns. John of Austria, son of Philip IV, Governor of the Netherlands, embarks at Barcelona on the great ship. The crowd of people, indicated in pink, blue and grey, painted with an extraordinary delicacy. A figure in a red coat bows before the Archduke in armour. In the sky, the setting sun lights up the clouds with a fiery glow'.
The elaborate painted border, incorporating winged cupids playing with fish and shells, playfully reinforces the idea of the picture's marine setting, while also indicating its role as a tapestry modello. As habitual in tapestries, it would have provided an elaborate frame to the composition as woven. Tapestries were extremely expensive, labour-intensive, prestigious decorations. When an artist was commissioned to devise a tapestry he would first paint a modello like the present picture to present his compositional ideas to the patron that, once accepted, would be worked up into a large cartoon the actual size of the proposed tapestry. The weavers would work directly from the cartoon copying the drawn composition into tapestry. Modelli, presenting as they do an artist's first ideas for a composition, are highly prized. Teniers' modello recalls Rubens's designs for tapestries, most notably the Achilles series, while the detailed elements of the border decoration reveal the influence of the still-life painter Jan van Kessel.
The Embarkation of Don Juan of Austria is actually the first of four modelli for a celebratory tapestry series commemorating Don Juan's eventful journey (for a fuller account see 'Relación del Viaje que Sr. D. Juan de Austria, hizo desde Cataluna a Flandes', Varios Relaciones de los Estados de Flandes 1631 a 1656, 1880, pp. 321-49). During the voyage, a Turkish squadron attacked the new Governor's boats between Mallorca and Minorca. This skirmish is depicted in the second modello of the series (private collection, fig. 1), and also indirectly referred to in the symbolism of the border of the present picture, where a gold medallion of the Virgin recalls the Hapsburg and Christian world's antagonism to the Turks in the name of Christianity. The third modello depicts the end of Don Juan's sea voyage on 23 March with his arrival in the port of Genoa (private collection, fig. 2). The final modello of the series depicts the triumphal conclusion of Don Juan's voyage as he enters Brussels on 12 May 1656 on a rearing white stallion and accepts the keys of the city from the city fathers (Wallace Collection, London, fig. 3; J. Ingamells, loc. cit.).
It is not known whether the projected tapestry series was ever made, although two large paintings depicting Don Juan's entry into Brussels, possibly tapestry cartoons by Teniers, were listed in the Spanish royal collection in 1686. Teniers, who already lived in Brussels and occupied the position of Court Painter to the Archduke Leopold William from 1651, continued in the same position under his successor, Don Juan. In 1657 the inventory of Teniers' first wife recorded that his patron already owed Teniers 8,000 guilders. The modelli were probably painted at this period but the final tapestry project may never have been completed due to Don Juan's short tenure of office. He left the Spanish Netherlands only three years after his arrival, following his ignominious defeat at the Battle of the Dunes in 1658.
It is not known what happened to Teniers tapestry modelli in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. By the mid nineteenth century they had been split up; the last in the series, which appeared in Sir Thomas Baring's sale at Christie's in 1848, was eventually purchased by Sir Richard Wallace in 1872 and is now on display in the Wallace Collection, London. The other three modelli were kept together and were recorded in the collection of the Duke of Pastrana in the nineteenth century. They then entered the collection of Emile Pacully and were sold as separate lots at his sale in Paris in 1903, but must have been acquired by the same purchaser, as all three were in the collection of John and Anna Jaffé before 1943.
The Jaffés came from an illustrious Jewish European family with far-reaching connections in the business and intellectual world of the day. John was President of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce in 1883 and his brother, Sir Otto Jaffé, became the first non-Protestant Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1899. Anna was the daughter of Professor Gottlieb Gluge, doctor to the King of Belgium. After their marriage in 1873, John and Anna entertained a wide variety of friends, including the Queen of Belgium, at their homes in Monte-Carlo, Neufchatel and Nice. At the turn of the century the Jaffé's villa, at 38 Promenade des Anglais in Nice, became one of the social centres of English Society on the Côte d'Azur, while its breath-taking collection of Old Masters, sculpture, books, furniture and objets d'art was said to resemble a small museum. Many of their pictures, which were remarkable for their exceptional quality, were purchased in Paris through the dealer Charles Sedelmeyer, sometimes on the advice of the Director of the Berlin Museums, Willem von Bode. Neighbours and close friends of the Massénas, they were also among the first patrons of the Musée Masséna in Nice, housed in the former Masséna villa. In 1933 they also acquired the Emperor Napoleon and Marie-Louise's library and donated it to the Musée Malmaison as a mark of gratitude to the French State and to celebrate their diamond-wedding anniversary. The following year they were themselves awarded the Légion d'Honneur in a ceremony by the mayor of Nice.
The rise of National Socialism in Germany destroyed the civilised existence of this cultured couple. They followed with trepidation the rapid rise of Hitler and his Fascist supporters through the letters sent to them by their nephew Gustave Cohen, a regular visitor to Germany in the 1930s. John died in 1934, before the outbreak of the Second World War, but Anna was trapped in Nice during the war, dying there in 1942. She bequeathed her villa and its contents to her nephews, but the following year her property was seized and the collection was ordered to be sold by the Commisariat aux questions juives de l'Etat Français. More than 60 paintings and hundreds of works of art were dispersed between July and November 1943 in the Hôtel Savoy in Nice. Many works were taken away by the Nazis, some for Hitler's private museum in Linz, and it has taken over sixty years for John and Anna's heirs to recover some of their paintings. A Guardi and two of the three Teniers modelli from the Jaffé Collection, the former now in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles and the latter pair in a private collection, were sold by Christie's in London in July 2005 (£4,376,000 and £254,400 respectively), and a work by Turner, now in the Fort Worth Museum, Texas, was sold by Christie's New York in April 2007 (for $6,424,000). The high prices they achieved reflect the exceptional quality and interest of the works collected by John and Anna Jaffé and stand as a testament to their connoisseurial skills and love of art. The Teniers offered here is sold according to an agreement between the seller and the heirs of John and Anna Jaffé. This agreement resolves the title of ownership, which will pass definitively to the buyer of the current lot.