This hitherto unknown painting is likely to have been painted in the late 1620s, while Abraham Bloemaert was at the height of his artistic powers and success, receiving an array of important royal and religious commissions. It is a small-scale, intimate work that gently focuses on the curves and contours of the female nude who innocently slumbers in a wooded clearing. Her luminous skin-tones are deftly contrasted with the crisp white folds of a sheet and a luxurious deep blue drape, all of which are painted with greater impasto than the surrounding russet-coloured figures and landscape, which display a more transparent handling of the paint, leaving the grain of the oak panel visible. The painting tells the story of Cimon and Iphigenia (Boccaccio, Decameron, V:I), which exalts beauty and culture over uneducated rusticity: Cimon, despite his royal birth, remained so uncouth that he was sent to live with peasants, which suited him until he stumbled across the almost-nude Iphigenia who has fallen asleep with her servants. So struck was he by her beauty that he strove to better himself, eventually winning her hand in marriage. Such a bucolic subject would have greatly appealed to Bloemaert, who had a lifelong interest in peasant subjects, and so it is surprising to discover that there is only one other recorded painting by him of Cimon and Iphigenia, which is dated by Marcel Roethlisberger to the 1630s (see M. Roethlisberger, Abraham Bloemaert and his Sons: Paintings and Prints, Doornspijk, 1993, I, pp. 320-1, no. 498 and II, fig. 682 and pl. XXV). He also produced two drawings of the subject, one in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (dated to the 1620s) and another, dated 1649, in the Albertina, Vienna.
We are grateful to Professor Marcel Roethlisberger for his assistance in cataloguing this picture. As he has noted, the subject of Cimon and Iphigenia became popular in Dutch and Flemish art in the 2nd quarter of 17th century, being variously treated by Cornelis van Haarlem (in a painting of 1621 in St. Petersburg), Rubens (c. 1625, in Vienna), as well as Bartholomeus Breenberg, Cornelis Poelenburgh, Jacob de Backer and others. In a letter dated 26 May 2005, Professor Roethlisberger has noted that '...the motifs of the figures, trees, and landscape are extremely characteristic of Bloemaert's production. Female nudes are rare in his oeuvre, but the man leaning on his staff is reminiscent of his series of engravings of genre figures of the 1620s. It is a delightful composition, both realist and classical in the setting, literary in the theme, and gently moralising...It must for the aged artist have been a diversion from the large religious and royal commissions on which he worked at the same time.'
Of Spanish descent, Ortiz de Zervallos, Marchese de Torre-Tagle was one of the most important South American collectors of Old Master paintings in his time.