This lot depicts the curious legend of the baker of Eeklo, which was popular in the Netherlands during the 16th century. According to the story, those who wanted to change their appearance or revert the effects of time on their faces could go to the town of Eeklo, where they could have a new head baked for them. The head would be carefully cut from the trunk, kneaded, glazed and placed into the oven. In the meantime, a green cabbage was placed over the trunk, symbolically "replacing" the head. Once the new head was baked, it was sown in its place on the trunk. However, the new head could fail to bake, or it could over bake, resulting in deformed or deficient heads. This story would be used as a cautionary warning to those who were dissatisfied with their appearance.
There are about 10 extant versions depicting this interesting subject, with differing compositions. The best known is a small panel in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, on display in the Muiderslot, which is labelled in the 1976 Rijksmuseum catalogue as 'Copy after Cornelis van Dalem and Jan van Wechelen'. Others are, for example, in the museums in Leipzig and Turin, Sabauda. The existence of these many versions attest to the popularity of the story and the influence of the image. The background is also depicted in a gallery interior by David Teniers the Elder (see E. Duverger/H. Vlieghe, David Teniers der Aeltere, Utrecht 1971, fig. 47).
The present lot relates closest to the panel in the Rijksmuseum, and Dr Luuk Pijl has suggested a tentative date of c.1570-80 on stylistic grounds, on the basis of photographs. It is a probable hypothesis that this and the Rijksmusum version relate in turn to a prime version by Cornelis van Dalem and Jan Van Wechelen, which remains so far unknown.
We are grateful to Prof. Koenraad Jonckheere and drs. Luuk Pijl for their thoughts on this picture.