This absolutely unknown masterpiece by Karel Du Jardin only recently came to light. Traces of the signature are visible in the upper left, and it is in keeping with the way Du Jardin signed his religious and historical subjects, namely in capital letters. Moreover, the facture, i.e., especially the way the hands are painted, highlights applied and cloth rendered are typical of the artist.
Du Jardin painted a number of significant history pieces in the 1660s
alongside his portraits and Italianate landscapes. Works such as The Conversion of Saul (1662, London, National Gallery), Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness (Sarasota, John and Mable Ringling Museum) or the Christ on the Cross (Geneva, Musée d'Art et d'Histoire) are characterized by their classicizing nature, exquisite handling, sensitive and sometimes unusual interpretation of the various biblical stories, and synthesis of international trends.
Particularly close to the Christ Crowned with Thorns is Du Jardin's Crucifixion of 1661 (Paris, Musée du Louvre). Noteworthy is the figure stripped to the waist and holding a staff with a vinegar-soaked sponge, all the way to the left in the Crucifixion. Du Jardin repeated this figure almost verbatim in the picture under discussion, substituting ropes for the sponge.
A possible compositional source for Du Jardin may have been one of the free copies Van Dyck made after Titian. Quite similiar is Van Dyck's Ecce Homo now in Princeton, The Art Museum.
The particular moment of the story is not recounted in the Bible, the closest version is told Matthew XXVII:27-30: "And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on his head, and put a reed in his right hand."
The small scale, half-length figures and contemplative mood leads one to think that this painting, which may well have been a commissioned work, was intended for devotional purposes. The russet-haired young man, with his somewhat exagerated features, almost seems to doubt the cruel task assigned him as he looks up at Christ, who, in contrast appears calm, resigned, almost meditative.
We would like to thank Drs Jennifer Kilian, who will include the work in her upcoming catalogue raisonneé on Karel Du Jardin, for her help in cataloguing this lot
See colour illustration