The Paintings of Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588-1629). Catalogue raisonné.

In January 2009, the Bagpipe Player (ill. 1) by Hendrick ter Brugghen (see news item, in French, of 13/3/09) set a record price of $10,162,500 at a Sotheby’s auction in New York [1]. This spectacular event speaks worlds of the long road traveled in finally recognizing an artist who, fifty years ago, had been totally forgotten, or almost. Benedict Nicolson was responsible for the renewed interest in this painter who is today considered one of the most important artists of the Utrecht school. As part of the rediscovery of Caravaggio and his followers first started by Roberto Longhi, Nicolson published a monograph and a first catalogue raisonné in 1958 on the work of ter Brugghen [2], a pioneering endeavor which he continued to update with additional articles until he passed away in 1978 [3]. Since then, numerous contributions [4] have added to knowledge of the artist and his corpus, making it useful, nearly fifty years after Nicolson’s death to establish a "progress report".

1. Hendrick Ter Brugghen (1588-1629)
Bagpipe Player, 1624
Oil on canvas - 101 x 83 cm
Washington, National Gallery of Art
Photo : Sotheby’s

This ambitious task was in fact undertaken by Leonard J. Slatkes [5],who would have undoubtedly succeeded had he not in turn also passed away unexpectedly in 2003. The current publication is therefore the work of two scholars, the other being Wayne Franits, a former student and friend of Slatkes, who accepted to take over the manuscript in progress and finish it. He thus wrote two of the introductory essays - on ter Brugghen’s life and his contemporaries’ reactions to his work - as well as an update of the critical apparatus after 1990 along with the index and corresponding tables for Nicolson’s catalogue.

In 1958, Benedict Nicolson described Hendrick ter Brugghen as a Catholic artist born near Deventer. Of a melancholy nature [6], after having learned painting in Abraham Bloemaert’s workshop he apparently left at an early age, at around fifteen, for a ten-year stay in Italy [7]. There are no identified works remaining from this first period of his life. In 1616, he was a member of the Saint Luke Guild in Utrecht but his first known work, The Crowning of Thorns (Copenhaguen, Statens Museum for Kunst / A13), dates only from 1620.
Although it is true that we (unfortunately) still do not know of any work from the artist’s first Italian period, the general outlines and dates of this famous trip are now more clear [8]. Hendrick ter Brugghen was in fact most certainly Protestant [9]. He was probably born in 1588 at The Hague, where his family is recorded as being present from 1585 to 1602 [10]. Sources are unanimous in listing Abraham Bloemaert as his first master, a very likely fact although there is no documented proof. It was long believed that the artist left young and early on, around 1604, for Italy. However, it would seem that he can be identified with a young person of the same name mentioned in 1607 who was in the army of Count Ernest Casimir de Nassau [11]. He could not therefore have reached Rome before 1607-1608, more probably in 1609, year of the Twelve Year Truce signed with Spain liberating him from his military obligations and facilitating his travel plans. He could thus not have met Caravaggio, as some had imagined but, at most, might have run into Rubens. The information concerning his return remains unchanged. He was in Milan in the autumn of 1614 and in Utrecht in April of 1615. The next year, in 1616, he became a member of the painter’s guild and also contracted marriage. The chronology of his artistic activity and known works begins as of this date. Slatkes and Franits divide it into three periods : the return to Utrecht (1616-1621) ; his collaboration with Baburen and the stylistic maturity of the artist (1621-1627) ; the last works (1627-1629).

2. Hendrick Ter Brugghen (1588-1629)
The Adoration of the Magi, 1619
Oil on canvas - 132.5 x 160.5 cm
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
Photo : All rights reserved

The first period inevitably raises the question of which was the first painting produced by ter Brugghen. As of 1971, when the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam acquired The Adoration of the Magi (A10) (ill. 2), signed and dated 1619, this canvas assumed the distinction, before The Crowning of Thorns from Copenhaguen. Fifteen years later, one of the (many) innovative elements of the extensive exhibition of 1986-1987 was to offer another possibility [12] : Christ at Emmaus from the Toledo museum (A22) which would seem to reveal a signature and the date of 1616. During this same exhibition, although it does not appear in the catalogue, a Saint Peter in Penance (Utrecht, Centraal Museum /W9) hanging in the same room showed the artist’s signature and a date which would seem to read 1616. Specialists debated the question and took sides. On the one hand, some alongside Slatkes, considered Christ at Emmaus as an acknowledged work by the artist and the Saint Peter as a workshop copy after a lost original (this is how it is presented in the catalogue). On the other, alongside Van Thiel, the opposite argument was put forth so that, in fact, today the Adoration of the Magi remains the first dated work to be unanimously accepted as such. Slatkes and Franits nevertheless place four other canvases before it : The Vocation of Saint Matthew from the museum in Le Havre (A33) (ill. 3) ; Democritus and Heraclitus from the Koelliker collection (A39) ; Pilate Washing his Hands from the Lublin museum (A12) ; and Mucius before Porsenna (whereabouts unknown / A43). Except for the last one (is it really a ter Brugghen ?), all of these paintings seem convincing both in the attribution and chronology. They reflect a characteristic already observed by Nicolson, that is, the archaist Northern European note in all of them, for example transferring the formula of Caravaggio’s Vocation of Saint Matthew to a follower of Reymerswaele or, in the case of Democritus and Heraclitus, to a disciple of Ketel. This choice can no doubt be explained by the weight of an artistic tradition which was still very much alive and in practice as well as by the taste of the local clientele, not yet ready for full-fledged Caravaggism [13].

3. Hendrick Ter Brugghen (1588-1629)
The Vocation of Saint Matthew, c. 1618-1819
Oil on canvas - 152 x 195 cm
Le Havre, musée André Malraux
Photo : All rights reserved

4. Hendrick Ter Brugghen (1588-1629)
The Vocation of Saint Matthew, c. 1621
Oil on canvas - 102 x 137 cm
Utrecht, Centraal Museum
Photo : All rights reserved

Regardless, a stylistic turn did come about and it took place in 1620-1621. As first postulated by Roberto Longhi [14], some historians theorized that ter Brugghen took a second trip to Italy thus explaining the pronounced Caravaggesque direction of his works after this date and the affinity with the styles of such artists as Serodine and Strozzi. It would seem however that such a journey is out of the question for chronological reasons. Nevertheless, Franits brings up the possibility of a meeting between Fetti and ter Brugghen which could have happened in Mantua, establishing a basis for the spreading of a style which went as far as Serodine and Strozzi resulting in the production of, among others, the Christ at Emmaus from Vienna (Kunsthistoriches Museum / R28), formerly attributed by Nicolson to ter Brugghen and an anonymous artist from Northern Italy. Since there is no documentary proof, this seems highly speculative to us, as does the idea that the artist traveled to the southern Low Countries (due to the ties with Van Loo’s art), even if, from a strictly stylistic point of view, the theory is very attractive indeed [15]. In point of fact, the evolution of ter Brugghen’s works towards a more pronounced Caravaggism can be clearly explained, as demonstrated by the authors here, by the return of Honthorst and Baburen [16] to Utrecht as of 1620. In this light, the Vocation of Saint Matthew of the Utrecht museum (1626/A34) (ill. 4) reflects the extent of the artist’s evolution since the painting from Le Havre towards a greater degree of monumentality and sophistication.
The bold theory presented by Slatkes and Franits for this second period of ter Brugghen in Utrecht (1621-1627) is that he shared a workshop with Dirk van Baburen. In fact, the latter did introduce, modernize and establish the trend of representing musicians, flute, lute and bagpipe players, a genre in which ter Brugghen was just as skilled as he was. Furthermore, ter Brugghen’s Annunciation (pr. Coll. /A8) was inspired directly by a lost Baburen work, known thanks to a copy by Jan Janssens (Ghent, musée des Beaux-Arts). More obviously, the stylistic affinities between the two artists are far from negligible. These facts convinced Nicolson as far back as 1958 to suggest the possibility of their collaboration, an idea presented later in the current catalogue. Such a workshop might indeed have existed [17], thus explaining the impressive number of replicas and copies. Janssens could have even passed through at some point, resulting in his copy of the Annunciation. We would however be more cautious in accepting Slatkes and Franits’ analysis of the monogram “tH” which might be a mark of this common workshop as opposed to the usual and more complete ter Brugghen signature as seen on his other works.

5. Hendrick Ter Brugghen (1588-1629)
The Annunciation, c. 1624
Oil on canvas - 104 x 84 cm
Whitfield Fine Art Ltd
Photo : Whitfield Fine Art Ltd

Baburen died in 1624 and ter Brugghen ran the workshop by himself until he in turn passed away, probably from the plague. The last years reveal a renewed interest in light, perhaps influenced by Honthorst and no doubt Bassano who clearly inspired him in Esau (Berlin/A1) [18]. This period also includes what is probably his masterpiece, Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene (Oberlin, The Allen Memorial Museum of Art/A38), a clearly Caravaggesque theme, and a rare work, Lazarus and the Rich Man (Centraal Museum , Utrecht), with an iconography which is unique in Caravaggism and thus proof that ter Brugghen did not lack creativity as later described, particularly by Sandrart. Another original work from this last period represents a woman with a candle and a cross, her eyes turned up to the sky (A23). Published by Balnkert in 1991 [19] as an allegory of Faith, Slatkes sees in it the death of the Virgin whereas Franits cautiously suggests an illustration of the parable of the sane and the crazy Virgins.

In comparison to the 77 entries of acknowledged works set down by Nicolson in 1958, Slatkes and Franits extend ter Brugghen’s oeuvre to 89 – numbered A – to which must be added two compositions known through x-rays (sic) – numbered RA. These are followed by a subtle – too subtle for our taste ! – classifying system which distinguishes the works from the ter Brugghen workshop (W), those on which he worked directly (TW) and those from the common workshop with Baburen (WTBVB). Finally, besides the lost works (L), there is an extensive catalogue (142 – numbered R) of rejected works, a useful tool for looking at all the works which, however remotely, were at one time considered as being by ter Brugghen.

Although there is a considerable effort in the documentation work and the thorough critical apparatus provided by Wayne Franits, we nevertheless observed a certain number of weak points which undermine an otherwise invaluable publication.
The first of these, and the main one, lies in the very context surrounding the elaboration of this monograph. Franits is to be highly commended for accepting to finish the work started by Slatkes but we regret that, due perhaps to his modesty and no doubt his friendship, he did not personally assume the subject completely, one that he in fact knows quite well. The catalogue therefore reflects Slatkes’ opinions, exactly as he left them. Thus, readers will not find entries for works if not written by the late master himself (this is the case for the following entries : A3, A4, A10, A29, A63, A73, A74). Moreover, in some cases, Franits does not share the conclusions, either stylistic or iconographic, of his former professor. He points out his disagreement in footnotes at the bottom of the page with the initials WF. The result is at times unfortunately incoherent. For example, in Christ at Emmaus from Toledo which Slatkes considers ter Brugghen’s first work, Franits only sees it as being a workshop copy. In the same way, Saint Peter in Penance from Utrecht is rejected by Slatkes while Franits identifies it as being a workshop copy [20]. The result is paradoxical. As the ultimate authority behind this publication, Franits is after all responsible for the catalogue, and considers two works as both being workshop copies when in fact neither one is listed in this category here, the first being in the authentic works and the second in the rejected ones. It would have been preferable - thus opening the way for treating the subject in the future – to write an essay with a well-deserved tribute to Slatkes for his very important work but assuming scholarly responsibility for the catalogue, since obviously Wayne Franits can today be considered one of the foremost specialists on ter Brugghen and for ongoing research. The solution of a footnote would have been more convenient for providing readers, in a more intelligent manner, Slatkes’ opinions.
In a more general way, we would remain wary concerning possible ties with Theodore van Loon. Although stylistic parallels between various works might be well founded, there is no documentation of any meeting in Rome, nor Bruges for that matter, where the painting Christ at Emmaus, quoted in the text as being by Van Loon, is reproduced with a possible attribution to Gerrit de Deurs. There is however proof that the artists succeeded each other for the commissions from the Diest convent (beguinage).
Finally, we regret the choice of presenting the catalogue in iconographic order, making it difficult to follow the suggested evolution of the painter’s style, really fundamental if one is to understand his artistic personality.

Despite these few bits of criticism, the catalogue by Slatkes and Franits remains the essential reference work on ter Brugghen, reestablishing and renewing our vision of the artist since Nicolson’s original research. Although expensive (340€), this is an ambitious and important publication for future knowledge of Dutch painting and what is known as “international Caravaggism”.

Leonard J. Slatkes and Wayne Franits, The Paintings of Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588-1629). Catalogue raisonné, ed. John Benjamins Publishing Company, coll. Oculi : Studies in the Arts of the Low Countries, vol. 10, Amsterdam/Philadelphia, 2007. 471 pages, ill. : 204 b/w ; 17 colour. ISBN : 978 90 272 4961 6. Euros 340.00 / USD 510.00. Version française

Jérôme Boronali, lundi 1er mars 2010


[1] Lot n° 40, Sotheby’s New York, sale n°8516 of 29 January 2009, first session. The painting was among the works seized by the Nazis during WWII. Since 1983 it had been placed on deposit at the Walraff-Richartz Museum in Cologne until it was reclaimed by the legitimate identified heirs. The painting was bought by the art dealer Johnny van Haeften (London).

[2] Benedict Nicolson, Hendrick Ter Brugghen, London, 1958.

[3] Benedict Nicolson, “Second Thoughts about Terbrugghen”, The Burlington Magazine, n° 692, vol. CII, November 1960, pp. 465-473 ; Benedict Nicolson, “Terbrugghen Since 1960”, Album Amicorum, J.G. van Gelder, The Hague, 1973, pp. 237-241.

[4] To refresh our memories let us also quote : Benedict Nicolson, Caravaggism in Europe, London, 1979 ; Nieuw lict op de Gouden Eeuwen. Hendrick ter Brugghen en tijdgenoten, exhbtn. Ca. (Utrecht, Centraal Museum, 13 November 1986 – 12 January 1987/Brunswick, Herzog Anton-Ulrich Museum, 12 February 1987 – 12 April 1987), Utrecht, 1986 ; Leonard J. Slatkes, “Bringing Ter Brugghen and Baburen up-to-date”, Bulletin du musée nationale de Varsovie, 37, 1996, pp. 199-219.

[5] Leonard J. Slatkes wrote his doctoral dissertation at the University of Utrecht on Dirck van Baburen, published in 1965 (Dirck van Baburen (c. 1595-1624), a Dutch painter in Utrecht and Rome, Utrecht, 1965). That same year, he was one of the curators for the exhibition Hendrick Terbrugghen in America (Dayton Art Institute, 15 October 1965 – 28 November 1965/Baltimore Museum of Art, 19 December 1965 – 30 January 1966) then, in 1986-1987 the one in Utrecht and Brunswick (Niew Licht … cf. note 4).

[6] Here, Nicolson asserts a statement put forth by Sandrart in his Teutsche Academie (1675).

[7] This same number of ten years can be found in all of the old sources (Cornelis De Bie, Het Gulden Cabinet …, 1661) ; Cornelis de Bie, Den Spiegel …, 1708 ; Arnold Houbraken, De Groote Schouburgh, 1718-1721) as well as in the famous Notificatie by the artist’s son, Richard Brugghen, trying to reinstate his father’s legacy after Sandrart’s publication.

[8] See : Marten Jan Bok and Yoriko Kobayashi, “New Data on Hendrick ter Brugghen” ; Hoogsteder-Naumann Mercury, 1, 1985, pp. 7-34.

[9] Horst Gerson had already pointed it out in 1959 (“Benedict Nicolson, Hendrick Terbrugghen. London, Lund Humphries, 1958”, Kunstchronik, 1959, pp. 314-319).

[10] His father, Jan Brugghen, worked for the Prince of Orange, William the Taciturn.

[11] See page 4, note 12 of this work.

[12] Niew licht … cf. note 4.

[13] Nicolson had slightly underestimated this last aspect.

[14] “Review of Caravaggio en de Nederlanden”, Paragone, 33, 1952, pp. 105-116.

[15] The Christ at Emmaus from the church of Notre Dame in Bruges (in the catalogue attributed at one point to Theodor van Loon, at another to Gerrit van Deurs !) is in fact very close to the paintings in Toledo and Vienna, the first being highly debated and definitely rejected for the second.

[16] The date of Baburen’s return is less certain, due to the parallels of his Jesus Among the Church Doctors (1622) with the same subject treated in Rome in The Master of Solomon’s Judgement (today identified with Jusepe Ribera) for the Marquis Giustiniani.

[17] Objections were made based on the fact that guild rules usually forbid this type of collective workshop. However, the authors rightly point out that during those same years, in Leyden, there is a record of Rembrandt and Lievens sharing a workshop.

[18] It was even thought that he might have owned another version.

[19] Albert Blankert, A newly discovered painting by Hendrick ter Brugghen, Zwolle, 1991.

[20] However, it is difficult for us to draw any conclusion on the issue, not having seen the paintings themselves and not having colour reproductions in the catalogue of these works which are in fact fundamental for understanding the artist. We continue to wonder why Saint Peter Penitent was reproduced (France, priv. coll. / W10) in colour rather than the Utrecht painting, since the first one is unanimously considered as being an old copy.

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