A recently found drawing by Lucas de Leyde acquired by the Met

Lucas de Leyde (circa 1494-1533)
The Angel Gabriel, c. 1520
Pen and brown ink, heightened with
New York , Metropolitan Museum of Art

12/8/08 — Acquisition — New York, Metropolitan Museum — At the end of July, the Metropolitan Museum announced the purchase of a rare unpublished drawing by Lucas de Leyde, one of 28 which carry the artist’s signature, and the only one in the United States. The work represents the Angel Gabriel (ill. 1) [1]. According to Philippe de Montebello, the director, this acquisition successfully completes the museum’s efforts to enrich its holdings of Nordic drawings over the last fifteen years. This latest addition will be presented this fall in the exhibition organized in his honor for his departure [2] (see news item of 10/1/08).

The provenance of the work will be recounted often and is sure to set dealers and amateurs alike dreaming. The drawing went unnoticed at a Christie’s sale in South Kensington on 12 June 2005. It had been included in an album of landscapes by the British watercolorist William Frederick Witherington (1785-1865). The catalogue description indicated that the album also contained a sketch by an old master. The lot was sold to an unidentified buyer for 216 pounds (including charges) [3]. Wishing to keep only the views and seascapes, he resold the Angel to a third party who noticed the inscription in black pencil on the back, L. van Leyden, with the initial L at the bottom center. This new acquirer asked Sotheby’s drawing department for an opinion and they in turn consulted the experts at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The latter confirmed the drawing’s authenticity.

The work can be related to another representing a seated Virgin looking over her book which is held at the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin, also bearing a monogram and considered to be one of the master’s best. The ornamentation of the Berlin sheet makes it seem likely that these were models for stained-glass windows [4]. They date from around 1520, a crucial period in Lucas de Leyde’s short career, when he met Durer in 1521 [5] and then traveled with Jan Gossaert the following year. Although influenced early on by his master Cornelis Engelbrechtsz and the Antwerp Mannerists, he then achieved a monumental quality and a naturalism which is closer to that of the Renaissance spirit. According to George R. Goldner, chairman of the Department of Drawings and Prints at the Met, “The fact that the archangel is an ordinary-looking person and not an idealized boy is typical of the artist. So is the incredibly elaborate drapery, which is full of different pen strokes and wonderful movement.”

Version française

Michel de Piles, mardi 12 août 2008


[1] The purchase was negotiated by Sotheby’s and was made possible thanks to different museum funds as well as a donation by Debra and Leon Black.

[2] The Philippe de Montebello Years : Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions, Metropolitan Museum, Tisch Galleries, from 24 October 2008 to 1 February 2009

[3] The sale is still available on Christie’s website, lot 209.

[4] A painting by Lucas de Leyde representing the Annunciation, but with a different composition, is held at the Alte Pinacothek in Munich

[5] On this occasion, Dürer, although his eldest by more than twenty years and already considered the best living engraver, bought all his engraved work.

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