Adam van Vianen (c. 1569-1627)
The German baroque artist and art-historian Joachim von Sandrart wrote, around 1670 in his Teutsche Acadamie, that the silversmiths Paulus van Vianen (c.1570-1613) and his elder brother Adam (c.1569-1627) were ‘considered to be very diligent in designing, modelling in wax and embossing in silver, to such an extent they both became famous’. It has been suggested that the frequency with which they signed their work is a clear indication that they considered themselves to be artists in precious metals (J. R. ter Molen, Van Vianen: Utrechtse familie van zilversmeden met internationale faam, 1984, vol. I, p. 115). The signing of their work has certainly helped to perpetuate their fame for four centuries but so too has their outstanding technical skill.
Paulus is known to have left the Netherlands after 1591 travelling to France, Italy and Germany, probably in that order. From 1596 to 1601 he was employed at the Munich court of Duke William V of Bavaria (1584-1628) before moving to that of the Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietreich Von Raitenau (1559-1617) in Salzburg. Finally, from 1603 until his death in 1613, he worked primarily for the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II (1552-1612) in Prague. Among his northern contemporaries contributing to the extraordinary artistic milieu of that court were the sculptor Adriaen de Vries (1556-1626), and the artists Roelant Savery (1576-1639), Bartholomeus Spranger (1546-1611) and Pieter Stevens (c.1567-after 1624).
In contrast, his younger brother Adam appears to have lived all his life in Utrecht working there from the early 1590s. His earliest surviving work, a standing cup and cover of 1594 or 1595, now in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg is of very traditional form (ter Molen, op. cit., no. 406 and C. Hernmarck, The Art of the European Goldsmith, London, 1977, vol. II, p. 42, fig. 106). As ter Molen has pointed out his early plaquettes show the influence both of the South German masters, his brother Paulus as well the Harlem mannerists (ter Molen, op. cit., p. 116). There is documentary evidence of Adam’s friendship with Cornelis Cornelisz (1562-1638) and the circle of artists around Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617). The later plaquettes, of which the present lot is a particularly fine example, ter Moelen continues, appear ‘to be of his own design, although the mountainous landscapes were probably borrowed in part from Paulus.’
During the first decade of the 17th century both brothers started to incorporate auricular ornament in their work, the roots of which may ultimately lie in the work of 16th century Italian mannerists such as Enea Vico (1523-1567). Of the two, it was Adam who gave the fullest expression to this extraordinary form of decoration with followers, amongst them his son Christian (c.1601-1667), Johannes I Lutma (1584-1669) and Thomas Bogaert (c.1597-1653), imitating and further experimenting with it.
Auricular work is characterised by sinuous ear-like motifs, fluid masks and grotesque figures. Perhaps the ultimate example of this distinctive style at its most exuberant is the covered ewer that Adam made in 1614, which was almost certainly commissioned by the Amsterdam silversmiths' guild in memory of his brother (Christie’s, London, 19 October 1976, lot 544, purchased by the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam- RBK- 1976-75; ter Molen, op. cit., no. 409). Made from a single sheet of raised silver this astonishing tour de force of the silversmith’s art attracted enormous contemporary interest and appears in at least twenty Dutch 17th century paintings including works by Pieter Lastman (1583-1633), Jan Tengnagel (1584-1635) and Salomon Koninck (1609-1656).
Adam’s later work includes a series of very beautiful shallow dishes with borders chased with Bacchus, Venus, Ceres and Cupid such as that dated 1622, formerly in the Dr. Anton C.R. Dreesmann collection (Christie’s Amsterdam, 11 April 2002, lot 1132; ter Molen, op. cit., no. 423), ewers with human masks and salt-cellars resting on human supports. It is above all Adam van Vianen’s complete command of both mannerist and auricular ornament that is so exceptional and marks him out as one of the greatest European silversmiths.
Adam van Vianen’s plaquettes of the conversion of St. Paul
Johann R. ter Molen’s dissertation (op. cit., 1984) includes, as volume II, a catalogue raisonné of the work of the van Vianen family. He records two plaquettes by Adam with differing versions of the scene of the conversion of Saul, later St. Paul, on the road to Damascus. This present plaquette is a third. With the possible exception of the very tentatively suggested 18th century Dutch provenance below, it appears never previously to have been recorded.
The first version is signed 'A.DE.VIANA.F' and appears to be known in bronze and lead only (ter Molen, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 98, no. 528, illustrated in J. W. Fredericks, Dutch Silver, the Hague, 1952, vol. 1, p. 73, no. 45B and I. Weber, Deutsche, Niederlandische und Frantzische Renaissance-plaquetten, 1500-1650, Munich, 1975, no. 911). It shows the central figure of Saul in a prominent position in the forefront thrown from his horse, his escorts pointing or looking upwards to the blinding light emanating from the risen Christ, with a soldier on a plunging horse cowering behind his shield to his right. The background consists of an extensive landscape, buildings, trees and a lake.
The second version, known in silver, is signed 'A.D.V.F.' and dated to circa 1613 (Christie’s Amsterdam, 26 November 1996, lot 469; ter Molen, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 99, no. 529, illustrated in J. W. Fredericks, op. cit., no. 48E and I. Weber, op. cit., no. 916). It derives in part from an engraving dated 1576 by Cornelis Cort (1533-1578), a Dutch artist working in Rome, which in turn was after a washed pencil drawing by Cort’s Roman contemporary Giorgioi-Giulio Clovio (1498-1578).
In this plaquette the central much smaller figure of the fallen Saul is surrounded by a broad horizontal band of plunging and rearing horses and their riders. In the front left is a prominent equestrian figure riding away from Saul while glancing up at the figure of the risen Christ amongst the clouds. In the background is a rocky landscape with buildings to the left, a small central group of three standing figures and a wood to the right.
In the third and present version the central, again small, fallen figure of Saul thrown from his rearing terrified horse is flanked in the front by two prominent equestrian figures, one to his right holding a lance on his rearing mount, the other on his falling horse pointing towards the vision in the sky. The background with trees and rocky landscape is less complicated than those in the other versions.
A Possible Provenance
In addition to the two plaquettes with differing scenes of the conversion of St. Paul recorded by ter Molen, he also lists three descriptions taken from old Dutch auction catalogues of what is, presumably in all cases, the same subject (op. cit., nos. 545, 555 and 800).
The first of these, ‘a plaque with Paul struck from his horse on the way to Damascus’ in the Sichterman collection in 1764, seems likely to be the plaquette after Cort, (ter Molen, no. 529) and, because of the signature recorded as 'D.v.F', cannot be the present example.
The second, in the Noot collection in 1818, was catalogued as ‘a silver relief with an historic composition and a Roman colonel galloping away. Mounted in an ebony frame.’ Given the description of the colonel galloping away, this seems most likely to again refer to no. 529.
The third, in the Braancamp collection, was described as ‘a silver plaque by Van Vianen with the conversion of St. Paul, mounted in an ebony frame’, and could be either of the first two or, equally possibly, the present version.
Gerrit Braamcamp (1699-1771) was a wealthy Amsterdam distiller, timber-merchant and very significant collector of both the fine and decorative arts, including silver. Following his death his collection was auctioned in Amsterdam on 6 August 1771 with the plaquette included as lot 832. The sale attracted widespread interest and among those bidding were a number of agents organised by Prince Galitzin, the Russian ambassador in The Hague, on behalf of the Empress Catherine the Great as well as himself. Tragically the bulk of Catherine the Great’s purchases were lost when the ship transporting them, the Vrouw Maria, sank in the Baltic off the coast of Finland later that year. The paintings are known to have included works by Gerard Dou, Gabriel Metsu, Paulus Potter, the Ostades and others.
Plaques of ‘Unknown Assay’
Until the last quarter of the 18th century virtually all of Adam van Vianen’s silver remained in the hands of the families for which it was made or with Dutch collectors. After this, and particularly following the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars, many major pieces were acquired by English collectors such as William Beckford. The mounting of the present plaquette as a small tazza is a significant example of English antiquarian taste in the first half of the 19th century.
There are at least 16 pieces recorded between April 1821 and June 1876 with similar inscriptions concerning the mounting of silver of unknown assay. Half of these are by William Elliott and were made in 1821 and, of these, almost all are caskets with covers inset with interesting detachable plaquettes. One example is chased with the figure of Marcus Scaevola after Goltzius and signed on the reverse TZ 1599 probably for Tobias Zeiner of Augsburg who is known to have worked in Prague (Christie’s, New York, 29 April 1987, lot 271). The last recorded example by Elliott, dated December 4th 1821, is a tazza bowl chased with a scene of Susanna and the Elders by Paulus van Vianen dated 1612, with a Renaissance-style back plate and foot by Elliott. This appears to have been in the collection of one of the English Rothschilds and is now in Rotterdam (J. R. ter Molen, Zilver. Catalogus van devoorwerpen van edelmetaal in de collectie van het Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1994, pp. 64-67, cat. nos. 7a and 7b). Later examples of the mounting of silver of unknown assay include chased dishes and another tazza top, mounted by Paul Storr, Edward Farrell, Septimus Crespell II, Joseph Ash and others.
The engraved date of March 10 1842 in the inscription is consistent with the hall-marked date letter ‘f’ which was in use from May 29th 1841 until May 30th of the following year. The engraving of such inscriptions was clearly to allow earlier foreign silver of artistic significance to be mounted without the risk of it being destroyed if below English sterling standard, or, if up to standard, being defaced by the addition of English hallmarks. The survival of both the tazza bowl by Paulus van Vianen just mentioned and the present, apparently unique, plaquette by Adam van Vianen in such a remarkable state of preservation is, at least in part, a direct result of this enlightened exception being made to the very strict rules governing the hallmarking of silver by the Goldsmiths’ Company in London in the 19th century.
Christie’s is grateful to Dr. J. R. ter Molen for his comments, based on images, on the above lot.