Oil on copper. Flanders, mid-17th century, workshop of Jan Brueghel the Younger.
In a lush lakeside landscape with bluish reflections, a faun pursues a young damsel with her clothes undone. This lustful creature, straight out of Ovid's Metamorphoses, is none other than the Greek god Pan, son of Hermes and a nymph. This half-man, half-human being is trembling at the idea of capturing the nymph Syrinx. While trying to escape him, the latter is stopped by the river Ladon. As the beast gains ground, the fate of the nymph seems sealed. She then begs her sisters to turn her into a reed - which they do. Thus the artist represents Pan embracing reeds, materializing the removal of his prey, like the water game that we see flying towards the outer edges of the composition. The next moment, sighing in pain at the reeds, the faun will produce a sweet melody that will give him the idea of assembling them to make a flute allowing him to converse with Syrinx. Of this double metamorphosis of the nymph into a reed, then of the reeds into a flute, the artist represents the first part. In doing so, he composes a brilliant allegory of envy and frustration that Pan will later succeed in transcending into music.
Conceived as a compilation of legends recounting the metamorphoses of gods and mortals, Ovid's poems delighted the elite of the Grande Siècle who drew inspiration from them for their lyrical works. From then on, many artists seized the figure of the satyr, which offered them a license to represent erotic and subversive situations. Thus, Peter Paul Rubens, in collaboration with Jan Brueghel the father and then his son, represented several times the legend of Pan and Syrinx; the first being in charge of the figures while the second treated the landscape. Our painting is a workshop replica of a version Rubens executed with Jan Brueghel II around 1626-28, which is kept in the Schwerin Museum. The more regular style of drawing in our composition and the touch of the figures indicate a work from Brueghel's workshop rather than a work in which Rubens collaborated directly. It is a typical example of the production of this workshop, which specialized in replicas and variants of the same subject. It is hardly surprising to see the Brueghel workshop repeating this subject, the popularity of which is attested in Cabinet de collectionneur with an allegory of painting in which Cornelis de Baellieur depicts Jan Brueghel II's Pan and Syrinx hanging on the wall. Nevertheless, our painting differs from this 1626-28 version by deploying an extra blue tint in the greens of the landscape, thus reinforcing the marshy aspect of the setting and conferring a dreamlike atmosphere to the whole.
We have chosen to present this precious cabinet painting in a Dutch blackened wood frame with a reversed profile.
Dimensions: 19,5 x 28,5 cm - 46,5 x 50,5 cm with frame
Jan Brueghel II or the Younger (Antwerp 13 Sept. 1601 - id. 01 Sept. 1678) was a Flemish painter who began his apprenticeship with his father, Jan Brueghel the Elder (known as Brueghel de Velours), before traveling to Italy with his childhood friend, Anthony van Dyck. Faced with the sudden death of his father in 1624, he returned to Antwerp where he took over the family workshop and was appointed master of the guild of Saint Luke. Completing his father's current commissions, he specialized like his father in landscape painting, which gave him the opportunity to collaborate with Peter Paul Rubens. No less appreciated than his father, Jan Brueghel II painted for the courts of Austria and France in the 1650s.
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- LAVOCAT, Françoise, La Syrinx au bûcher?: Pan et les satyres à la Renaissance et à l'âge baroque, Geneva, Droz, 2005.
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