de jonckheere old masters

Abel Grimmer

Pair of months: The Month of September or the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree and The Month of October or the Parable of the Wicked Tenants

Panel: 25,8 x 35,2 cm
Inscription bottom right LVC. 13
Signed and dated Abel Grimmer Fecit 1611

Panel: 26 x 35,5 cm
Inscription bottom right MATT. 21


September and October by Abel Grimmer are variants of the panels in the series of the twelve months of the year, which are to be found at the Church of Notre-Dame in Montfaucon. For the cycle, the painter drew inspiration from the works of Hans Bol that were distributed through Adrian Collaert's engravings of the Emblemata Evangelica, published by the Sadeler family in 1585. Series of months or seasons are part of a pictorial tradition that dates back to early Christianity. This tradition can most clearly be seen in the miniature books of hours, so dear to the 15th and 16th centuries. A century later, fascinated by the theme, Flemish painters such as Brueghel the Elder and Lucas van Valckenborch transposed the miniaturists’ calendars to panels. Grimmer became the specialist in Antwerp. Through these two panels, Abel Grimmer reveals the vision of an authentic artist, interpreting the landscape as a stage where religious and profane scenes intermingle.

September: this autumnal scene depicts the work of the peasants: here, September has the place of honour. And the focus is on apple-picking. At the same time, Christ and his disciples are portrayed in the painting’s bottom right-hand corner. The inscription LVC.13 is a reference to the parable illustrated. A small group is portrayed in the foreground around Christ according to the traditional Jewish custom. This is what the parable says: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser: ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?' And he answered: ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
The other parts of the painting, such as the landscape dotted with figures and the small Flemish houses, are executed in the style particular to the painter’s era.

October is associated with the Parable of the Wicked Tenants in Chapter 21 of the Gospel of Matthew. A landowner plants a vine, surrounds it with a fence and protects it with guards. As he plans to travel, he entrusts the maintenance of his property to tenant farmers. When the time comes to harvest the grapes, the servants are sent to help gather the fruit, but the tenants turn out to be very wicked men who beat the servants. Others come but the same cruel fate awaits them. Finally, the owner’s son intervenes. This further arouses the hatred of the tenants who see this as an opportunity to seize the family’s property. The son is chased and killed. The parable ends with Christ’s question to the Pharisees: "Now when the owner of the vineyard returns, what will he do to those farmers?” They reply: “He will put those horrible men to a horrible death. Then he will lease the vineyard to other farmers who will give him his produce at harvest time.” Drawing inspiration from the holy text in “MATT. 21”, which he mentions here, Abel Grimmer places Christ and the two Pharisees on a small promontory in the foreground, the ideal location to carefully observe the drama taking place at their feet. Dressed in classical attire, they differ from the other characters portrayed in peasant clothing contemporary to the painter, except for the poor servant pursued by his impious torturers. Their position serves to divide the painting, with the biblical reference on the one hand and on the other, the panoramic landscape where the son being murdered by the farmers creates a dramatic transition.
These two parables illustrated in a large format allow us to admire the talent of Abel Grimmer as an artist and colourist, as well as his ease at relating figurative episodes from the bible that were well known in his day. The painter’s agile style and his harmonious palette enhanced with lively touches, guide the viewer’s gaze through these two emblematic paintings.

Provenance :
Private collection