An artist now most famous for his pioneering kitchen still-lives and monumental genre scenes, Aertsen was also a productive painter of religious works, many of which must have fallen victim to Iconoclasm. His rare drawings provide a more complete record of his activity as a history painter. Eighteen of his drawings were catalogued in an article by Wouter Kloek of 1990 (op. cit., pp. 129-166). To these, a number of newly discovered sheets should be added, including works in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. 1999.311); Teylers Museum, Haarlem (inv. KT 2008 002); Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (inv. MB 2008/T 36 (PK)); and a European private collection. The present sheet, previously only discussed by Josua Bruyn and Kloek (see lit.) on the basis of a black-and-white photograph, entered the literature as a workshop replica; its recent rediscovery allowed a more accurate assessment of its quality and significance. Entirely characteristic in the sinuous, drooping outlines, treatment of the faces, and use of hatching and wash, it can be compared to a few other drawings dated to ca. 1550-1550, such as a sheet in the Uffizi, Florence (W. Kloek and B. W. Meijer, eds., Fiamminghi e olandesi a Firenze. Disegni dalle collezioni degli Uffizi, Florence 2008, no. 15, ill.); and one in the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich (Kloek, op. cit., 1990, pp. 142-143, no. A.9, ill.). The latter relates to one of Aertsen’s altarpieces in the Church of Saint Leonard in Zoutleeuw (Léau), and has been called the ‘most important and reliable starting point for our knowledge of Pieter Aertsen as a draftsman’ (ibid., p. 143). No painting related to the present sheet – one of the largest known by the artist – can be identified, but the subject (as well as the related one of the Adoration of the Shepherds) was often treated by Aertsen (ibid., pp. 19-21).
We are grateful to Wouter Kloek for confirming the attribution on inspection of the original.