Flemish painting and De Jonckheere Gallery's old master paintings
Robert A.D. Fleming ;
J.E. Hope of Edinburgh ;
Sale, Christie's, London, 20 December 1929, lot 41, where it was acquired by Leggatt for Jervis Wegg, who bequeathed it to his godson John...
Robert A.D. Fleming ;
J.E. Hope of Edinburgh ;
Sale, Christie's, London, 20 December 1929, lot 41, where it was acquired by Leggatt for Jervis Wegg, who bequeathed it to his godson John Rickards, Private Collection.
Although the life of Lucas Gassel remains shrouded in some mystery, the works he leaves for posterity are evidence of the extraordinary quality of his art as a highly regarded artist in his day. Influenced by the work of Joachim Patenier, Gassel also brought a resolutely modern vision to his landscapes and courtly scenes. Thus, in this exceptional painting depicting The grounds of a Renaissance palace with episodes from the story of David and Bathsheba, an extensive landscape with mountains and a harbour beyond, the artist combines architectural beauty with the purest Flemish landscape tradition. As a painter, a draughtsman and creator of engravings published by Hieronymus Cock, Gassel unquestionably stands out for his avant-garde ideas and his perfect mastery of the painterly techniques of the period.
Beyond its beauty alone, this painting is also valuable for its history. It is one of a series of similarly constructed paintings, executed in Flanders by a group of artists between 1530 and 1560. The most famous of these, painted by Herri Met de Bles, is in the collection of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Three other landscapes attributed to Lucas Gassel are also held in prestigious collections: at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, in the collection of the Duke of Palmela in Lisbon, and a version that is monogrammed and dated "LG 1540" in the collection of Dr. Restrelli.
All of the versions are based on the same scene. According to tradition, landscapes with vanishing mountains and clear blue skies are always used to depict scenes from the Old and New Testament. Lucas Gassel makes no exception to this rule. Here, the artist presents several episodes from the story of David and Bathsheba. The port city visible in the distance can therefore be identified as Jerusalem. David, just like the great lords of the Renaissance, lives in a magnificent palace outside of the city, thus enjoying the delights of parks, garden mazes and other bucolic settings reserved for the diversions of kings and princes. According to the Second Book of Samuel in the Bible, the encounter between David and Bathsheba takes place during the Israelite siege of the city of Rabbah. The careful observer will be able to discern, at the back of the painting, the crucial moment at which the king first spies this beautiful woman bathing. Enchanted, David invites her to share his bed even though he knows she is married. As fate would have it, Bathsheba becomes pregnant. David calls her husband, Uriah, an officer away on a campaign, so that he may recognise the child. But respecting abstinence in a time of war, Uriah refuses to accommodate the King’s wishes and returns to the front. In anger, David has him sent to the battlefront in order to have him killed. Upon his death in combat, the king marries Bathsheba. In the foreground of the painting there is a depiction of the tragic moment at which David presents Uriah with the letter commanding him to join the front ranks.
Beyond the story that is told, Lucas Gassel makes use of the locations depicted to represent the pastimes of a royal court of the 16th century. Rich in detail, this painting is a veritable compendium of the games that were fashionable among the upper classes of the Northern Renaissance. In fact, it brings to mind Rabelais in the description of the gardens of the Abbey of Thelema in Chapter 55 of Gargantua. At the centre of the garden is a large labyrinth, a symbol of life’s finite nature and of the feminine. Up until the Renaissance, the labyrinth would only have been found in religious buildings and was a symbol of spirituality. It was the Italians who, in the 16th century, would begin planting hedge mazes in their gardens. From that point, they took on a profane and amusing meaning: why not get lost in it just for fun? This fashion, which spread throughout Europe, reached the Netherlands and became one of the favourite games of the gentry, displacing both hopscotch and the Game of the Goose. Here, rather, we see the labyrinth of love, which was at its most popular in the Elizabethan era. Couples would meet there for courtship, shielded from view, leading to many amorous intrigues. At the centre there is a tree, perhaps a linden tree, which in northern popular culture survives in the form of the maypole. In front of this labyrinth is a full garden in which young people practise archery, whilst a group of women refresh themselves beside an ornamental fountain. Finally, at left, there is a rectangular enclosure used for the game of Boule à l’Anneau (hoop ball), the aim of which is to use the wooden stick to propel a ball under arches: in short, the precursor of modern croquet! This game was highly popular in the Netherlands of the 15th and 16th centuries before being replaced by a new pursuit in the royal courts of Europe: real tennis ("jeu de paume"). In fact, the foreground of this composition contains one of the earliest representations of a tennis match. The rectangular shaped court is paved and divided by a rope across its centre. According to the 1539 description by the learned humanist Juan Louis Vives, the playing grounds also included galleries on the sides to accommodate spectators. The Italians were the first to depict the game of tennis; it has been suggested that this was pioneered by Donatello who introduced it into the background of one of the bronze bas-reliefs of the altarpiece in the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua. There is also record of a rectangular space intended for "giocare alla palla" in the work De re aedificatoria by Alberti. And let us not forget the magnificent panoramic landscape that stretches behind the Renaissance palace of King David, which in itself is worthy of our full attention. At the heart of a river valley, cities and villages have been painted with the minute detail characteristic of the artist’s best drawings. A drawing in the collection of the Louvre formerly attributed to Gassel has a similar composition which perfectly matches the subject portrayed. In the distance, the line of cliffs evokes the legacy of Herri Met de Bles, whilst the forest, which extends along the hills, incorporates a full palette of greens.
Noted for their rarity, the panoramic compositions by Lucas Gassel constitute the pinnacle in quality of the landscape of the northern Renaissance. This impressive landscape is eloquent testimony to his skill. The refinement of the figures, the chromatic intensity and range, the enamel-like surface and the confident draughtsmanship makes this painting a particularly dazzling example of the art of the 16th century.
Circa 1480 Helmont - Brussels 1570
Lucas Gassel was born ca. 1480 in Helmont, a village situated to the North of Antwerp. He had lived in Brussels where he died in 1570. We know his portrait from...
Circa 1480 Helmont - Brussels 1570
Lucas Gassel was born ca. 1480 in Helmont, a village situated to the North of Antwerp. He had lived in Brussels where he died in 1570. We know his portrait from an etching by Wierickz, showing an already ageing man. A friend of the humanist Lampsonius, Lucas Gassel seems to have had a very wide culture with an in-depth knowledge in a great variety of domains such as geography, botanics and sacred history. He reportedly stayed in Venice, which enables us to surmise that he went to Italy, there to complete his artistic education.
His work belongs to a trend pioneered by Joachim Patenier, who described likewise panoramic landscapes; yet his broader vision encompasses a more diversified description of the universe, the scientific knowledge of which was increasingly established in the XVIth century. The ideas, scientific and philosophical, commonly debated in the highly intellectual circles to which Gassel belonged inevitably opened new perspectives to landscape painting itself, which subsequently came to express the contemporary dreams of mankind such as a longing for the unknown lands called to mind by the great navigators' discoveries, a new keen interest for topography fostered by the printing of illustrated books, cosmic or celestial speculations in tune with the new dimensions of the planet Earth: all events which had indeed a decisive impact on the development of landscape painting.
Lucas Gassel is an important figure of the XVIth century painting. His works are rare and very much in demand.