This hitherto unknown painting by Jacob de Wit, an allegorical composition depicting the triumph of love, is a key work in the oeuvre of the artist. It is one of only a few paintings that have come down to us from his Antwerp period. After he had finished his training in that city, he became a master in 1714, but moved back to his native Amsterdam at the end of 1715.
The painting bears a false date of 1725 which is incongruent with the characteristics of De Wit's style of that period. The present painting should be dated to circa 1715 and can be considered his first known work with a profane subject.
In this large scale allegory, the young artist shows his ambitions as a history painter in the Antwerp tradition. The elaborate composition with putti in all shapes and positions; the rich and warm colours and the use of trompe l'oeil effects, are all characteristics that De Wit's paintings were to become famous for. In addition, the use of the marble bust of Venus and the smoking altar urn point ahead to his later grisaille paintings.
The young artist's ambitions also become apparent in the way he signed this work. A putto on the left holds a scroll that reads: Door my I.DeWit Dese Stucken Geinventeert en Geschildert (By me, I DeWit, these pieces were invented and painted). Never again was he to sign any work as conspicuously as the present lot. This possibly points to the fact that he considered the work a way to demonstrate his wide ranging skills.
The plural stucken (pieces) in the inscription implies that the painting had a pendant or even was part of a series, possibly as an ensemble for a private house in Antwerp. In addition, the present canvas appears to have been extended at the upper corners and could have had a shaped top as was typical for 18th Century wall decorations.
Jacob de Wit established his name after his return to Amsterdam and became one of the most sought after Dutch decorative painters of his age. The Flemish masters remained his most important source throughout his career, in addition to the work of Rococo painters, such as Antonio Pellegrini, who worked in Holland briefly. De Wit's fame even earned him the nickname Amsteltitiaan, the Titian of the Amstel.
As kindly pointed out by Mr. Guus van den Hout, an early drawing by Jacob de Wit in a private collection (see fig. 1), showing the same marble bust of Venus, can now be identified as a preparatory drawing for the present painting. This signed drawing in pen and ink can be dated to 1714-5.
We are grateful to Mr. Guus van den Hout for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.