The Musée Plantin-Moretus Acquires Ten Drawings by Vrancx


30/5/13 - Acquisitions - Antwerp, Musée Plantin-Moretus - Today, we know of sixty-five drawings attributed to Sebastian Vrancs recounting the incidents in the Aeneid. Fifty-nine of them resided in a private collection until 9 October 1981 when they were auctioned off at Drouot, Paris. Some of these now find themselves in various museums, the Fogg Art Museum, the Yale University Art Gallery, the Pierpont Morgan Museum, the Metropolitan Museum as well as the Louvre. The rest are on the art market and notably at the Antwerp gallery of KD Art-Lowet de Wotrenge Fine Art [1] which offered no less than ten from this series, acquired just recently by the Musée Plantin-Moertus. Until now, this establishment held only one drawing by the artist, though he was born in Antwerp.


1. Sebastian Vrancx (1573-1647)
Aeneas Hunting after Landing in Libya, c. 1615 or 1625
Brown Ink and Wash, Black Pencil - 11.5 x 15.7 cm
Antwerp, Musée Plantin-Moretus
Photo : KD Art-Lowet de Wotrenge Fine Art

2. Sebastian Vrancx (1573-1647)
Venus Tells Juno of her Worries for her Son
Juno sends Mercury to Dido
, c. 1615 or 1625
Brown Ink and Wash, Black Pencil - 11.5 x 15.7 cm
Antwerp, Musée Plantin-Moretus
Photo : KD Art-Lowet de Wotrenge Fine Art


Most of the scenes represented occupy the upper half of the sheet, the lower half being reserved for the text from the Aeneid, but the latter has at times been cut off leaving only the illustration. Whatever the case, the different compositions present a similar size. The handwritten narration is a Dutch translation of Virgil ; we do not know if it is by Vrancx himself, who was a member of the Saint Luke Guild in Antwerp, as well as the rhetorical chamber of Violieren and composed poems as well as theater plays. This translation was probably meant to be published and the illustrations engraved, a project which was apparently never carried out.
The attribution of these works to Sebastian Vrancx was suggested by Ruth Muthmann and Andrew Robison in 1983 ; the ensemble of known drawings was analyzed by Louisa Wood Ruby [2] ; according to her, they were produced around 1615, but the museum is proposing a later date, about 1625-1630. Previously, certain sheets such as the ones at the Metropolitan and at Yale had been attributed to Hendrick Goltzius. Vrancx is often presented as the first 17th century painter of battles and his drawings reveal a taste for narration, notably in his choice of multiple figures. Rubens owned some of his paintings and perhaps saw his illustrations of the Aeneid, which possibly inspired him. Both painters trained in the studio of Adam van Noort, then Sebastian Vrancx traveled to Italy around 1595-1597 where he met Paul Bril.


3. Sebastian Vrancx (1573-1647)
Venus Appears to Aeneas Disguised as a Huntress
and Shows him the Road to Carthage
, c. 1615 or 1625
Brown Ink and Wash, Black Pencil - 11.5 x 15.7 cm
Antwerp, Musée Plantin-Moretus
Photo : KD Art-Lowet de Wotrenge Fine Art

4. Sebastian Vrancx (1573-1647)
The Storm. The Union between Aeneas and Dido in the Caves
c. 1615 or 1625
Brown Ink and Wash, Black Pencil - 11.5 x 15.7 cm
Antwerp, Musée Plantin-Moretus
Photo : KD Art-Lowet de Wotrenge Fine Art


The ten sheets recount Aeneas’ arrival along with his companions on the Lybian coast after enduring a storm set off by Juno ; the hero kills seven stags which he distributes to the seven crews of the ships which survived (Book I, 157-22) (ill. 1). Worried about her son, Venus pleads with Juno who sends Mercury to Carthage to convince Dido to welcome the Trojans (I, 223-296, 297-304) (ill. 2). In a third drawing, Venus appears to Aeneas and Achates disguised as a huntress. Without revealing her identity, she tells them the story of Carthage and shows them the road leading there (I, 305-417) (ill. 3). We then move on to the fourth book and the passion between Dido and Aeneas. Juno provokes the union of the two lovers in a cave where they shelter themselves from a storm (IV, 129-172) (ill. 4). Fame then reveals the affair between the queen and the Trojan ; the news reaches Iarbas, Dido’s rejected lover who, now angry, prays before Jupiter’s altar. This god dispatches Mercury to Aeneas to remind him that his fate does not lie in Carthage (IV, 173-218, 219-237) (ill. 5).


5. Sebastian Vrancx (1573-1647)
Fame Announces the Union of Dido and Aeneas
Jupiter Sends Mercury to Aeneas
, c. 1615 or 1625
Brown Ink and Wash, Black Pencil - 11.5 x 15.7 cm
Antwerp, Musée Plantin-Moretus
Photo : KD Art-Lowet de Wotrenge Fine Art

6. Sebastian Vrancx (1573-1647)
Alecto Sows Discord between Latinus and Amata, c. 1615 or 1625
Brown Ink and Wash, Black Pencil - 11.5 x 15.7 cm
Antwerp, Musée Plantin-Moretus
Photo : KD Art-Lowet de Wotrenge Fine Art


The seventh book narrates the Latium wars. The Fury Alecto sows discord between king Latinus and Amata who reproaches him for having married their daughter Lavinia to Aeneas, a foreigner, rather than to Turnus (ill. 6). Then Alecto manages to have Ascanius, who went hunting, wound the stag tamed by Sylvia and Tyrrhus, the master of Latinus’ herds. The perfect excuse has been found, Tyrrhus’ men attack the Trojans. Vrancx represents Juno next to her peacock while Alecto wears a crown of serpents (ill. 7). The eighth book tells the story of the war in Latium. The god of rivers Tiberinus appears to Aeneas in his dream to reassure him and offer advice ; the artist’s choice of setting in an interior is very surprising as Virgil describes the hero sleeping along the Tiber (VIII, 1-101) (ill. 8). Jupiter then calls for the gods to assemble, ordering them not to interfere further in the disputes opposing the Latins and the Trojans. Venus pleads in favor of the Trojans (X, 1-162) (ill. 9). In this composition, the deities are represented with an abundance of details and they can be easily identified, while on earth, the Latins and the Trojans face off in battle. In the last drawing acquired by the Antwerp museum, Jupiter and Juno discuss the fate of the two nations (XII, 791-842). (ill. 10).


7. Sebastian Vrancx (1573-1647)
Ascanius Kills Silvia’s Stag
Fight between the Latin Shepherds and the Trojans
, c. 1615 or 1625
Brown Ink and Wash, Black Pencil - 11.5 x 15.7 cm
Antwerp, Musée Plantin-Moretus
Photo : KD Art-Lowet de Wotrenge Fine Art

8. Sebastian Vrancx (1573-1647)
The God of Rivers, Tiberinus, Appears to Aeneas in his Dream
c. 1615 or 1625
Brown Ink and Wash, Black Pencil - 11.5 x 15.7 cm
Antwerp, Musée Plantin-Moretus
Photo : KD Art-Lowet de Wotrenge Fine Art


The gaps in this comic strip epic can be filled by checking auction catalogues where sheets from the series can sometimes be found, for example at Christie’s or Sotheby’s. A painting by Sebastian Vrancx residing at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon provides us with a fitting conclusion to this picture narrative : Aeneas Reunited with his Father on the Elysean Fields.


9. Sebastian Vrancx (1573-1647)
The Gods Assembled on Olympus, c. 1615 or 1625
Brown Ink and Wash, Black Pencil - 11.5 x 15.7 cm
Antwerp, Musée Plantin-Moretus
Photo : KD Art-Lowet de Wotrenge Fine Art

10. Sebastian Vrancx (1573-1647)
Jupiter and Juno Discuss the Fate of the Latins and the Trojans
c. 1615 or 1625
Brown Ink and Wash, Black Pencil - 11.5 x 15.7 cm
Antwerp, Musée Plantin-Moretus
Photo : KD Art-Lowet de Wotrenge Fine Art


Version française


Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, lundi 3 juin 2013


Notes

[1] The information in this article is based on the catalogue published by the gallery, Sebastiaen Vancx (Antwerp, 1573-1647). Drawings from Virgil’s Aeneid, Lowet de Wotrenge Fine Art, 2012.

[2] Louisa Wood Ruby, Sebastiaen Vrancx as Illustrator of Virgil’s Aeneid, Master Drawings 28, 1990, 1, pp. 54-72).



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