This large format, 203 x 258 cm, offers the spectator a scene of cat hunting. The chosen subject requires a representation highlighting the movement of this dynamic activity, in which each element of the work participates. Indeed, a great agitation emanates from this painting, confusing animal aggressions and human attacks. This peculiarity of confusion and effervescence of actions is further accentuated by the illogicality of the characters represented together, that is, two substantially contemporary horsemen wearing a tack, three Ottoman-type riders wearing turbans and finally two men in tunics, with an antique look and on foot unlike the other five. In addition, three types of felines are remarkable, a lion, a leopard and two tigers. Finally, in addition to this pictorial agitation, there are multiple, highly contrasting colours and a great expressive power. The work is a grandiose demonstration of plastic virtuosity and in-depth study of the animals represented in movement and individualized.
We owe the creation of this subject, and by extension of this model, to Peter Paul Rubens. The so-called "most Flemish of Dutch painters" was born in Siegen (Westphalia) in Germany in 1577. He first apprenticed with Tobias Verhaecht, a landscape painter, and then studied in Antwerp with two history painters: Adam Van Noort and Otto Venius. The young painter spent four years with each of them, according to Roger de Piles, based on the Life of Rubens by Philip Rubens (his nephew). In 1598 he joined the Guild of St Luke, also in Antwerp, before leaving at the age of 23, in 1600, for Italy, where he stayed for eight years. During this journey he acquired a real visual culture, which combined with his plastic talent and the knowledge he acquired during his studies that preceded his entry into the studio, made him a complete artist, which Marie-Anne Lescouret presents as follows: "A painter, humanist and diplomat, Rubens is the man of the transition between Italy and Flanders, the Renaissance and the Baroque.
Rubens' prestige can be seen in the commissions he received, among them a series of four paintings commissioned by Maximilian I of Bavaria between 1615 and 1616. This decorative ensemble comprises four works on the theme of hunting: the boar hunt, the crocodile and hippopotamus hunt, the lion hunt and finally the tiger hunt (also known as the tiger, lion and leopard hunt). This last painting, kept at the Musée de Rennes, has an excessively narrative pictorial language, quite characteristic of the painting, imbued with drama and expression, of Rubens in the 1610s.
The work is considered to be particularly demonstrative of Rubens' ability to create animal paintings. Indeed, Rubens was one of the first to take an interest in the representation of the animal world for something other than scientific research and to make it a subject in its own right. An account book by Rubens shows the purchase between 1613 and 1617 of a number of zoological books. With the help of these, the painter was able to create documented and therefore realistic works. In addition, the Flemish zoos of the 16th and 17th centuries housed many of the lions, so it is very likely that Rubens was able to observe some of them in Ghent. On the other hand, the presence of tigers is much less frequent or even non-existent, which explains why there is no anatomical distinction in the representation of the three feline types.
It is quite possible that Rubens called upon Snyders, an animal painter, for the realization of these figures. Snyders, who was a member of Rubens' studio but not one of his students, was often asked to make models for his hunting pictures. As far as horses are concerned, especially the one shown rearing in the centre, Rubens draws directly from the works of his predecessors. In this case, the painter seems to have been inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's Battle of Anghiari, a drawing of which Rubens himself drew in 1603.
Rubens' ability to observe and renew thus allows him to create new subjects, and to revolutionize animal painting by giving it a new capacity, free of its initial decorative value, to achieve, through study, the individualization of animals, to whom expressiveness is offered. ?Moreover, Rubens manages to elevate animal painting to the rank of history painting by using a format of considerable dimensions, normally reserved for the noble genre.
For all these reasons, Rubens's work was a great success, as evidenced by the presence of this painting in one of Jan Brueghel the Elder's paintings from 1617, The Allegory of Sight. This popularity of the reception is also confirmed by the numerous orders for "copies" based on this model. Arnout Balis, in 1986, lists 21 of them in the catalogue Corpus Rubenianum. These copies are scattered among different museums and private collections. In view of the quality of our work, we can submit the hypothesis that it is one of the 21 paintings listed. After studying the catalogue, two works (n°18 or n°20) have missing information, leading us to suppose that our piece could correspond to one of them. Moreover, these two paintings were last seen in Belgium, and our work itself comes from a private Belgian collection.
Both paintings are attributed to Rubens' studio and are a testimony to the power of Rubens, because one of the reasons for Rubens' immense success and posterity is the importance of his studio. Indeed, the prestige of the orders as well as the fame of Rubens attracted many young talents to work alongside the master, giving the workshop a real prestige, particularly due to its organisation and speed of execution. This system allowed for a large production to meet the expectations of the clients and to produce a large number of works to which the origin of Rubens' workshop conferred a certain authority. It should be remembered that the principle of copying was fully assumed by Rubens, who himself had established five categories of tariffs for works from his studio: from those made by his own hand, the most expensive, to "legitimate copies" made by his students or collaborators, without any retouching by his hand. It is thus in this last category that our work falls.
Our painting therefore stands out for many reasons. It comes from one of the greatest artist's workshops of the 17th century, that of Rubens, but it is also produced with great care, as shown by its format and the precision of its pictorial treatment. Finally, it testifies to the craze in Europe at that time for representations of hunting scenes, highlighting the animal.
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34 000 €