Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert

(1614 Bergen op Zoom – 1654 Antwerp)

Pan plays to the dance of the putti

Oil on canvas, 35 x 51 cm

Provenance: Belgium, Private Collection

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The oil sketch shows a flute-playing man with dark curls sitting at the left edge of the picture in a recess draped with cloth. In the lower left corner, a fallen bowl with leaking water can be seen. The right half of the picture shows a circle of five dancing putti, whereby the left putti can be recognized as a satyr due to the goat legs. The background is dominated by a dark mountain landscape. In the sky a rising or setting sun can be guessed. It is possible that the flute player represents Bacchus, the god of wine and ecstasy. This fits with the flute as a symbol of celebration, as well as the bowl of water, which could refer to Bacchus‘ mother, Lethe. Lethe is a river in the underworld, which at the same time symbolizes „oblivion“. Thus, the spilling water bowl is not only a reference to this river, but it also symbolizes „oblivion“. Moreover, Bacchus is usually depicted with satyrs in his retinue, which would explain the putto with goat legs. However, the interpretation of the flute player as the god Pan would be possible. He is usually shown with his flute and associated with dance. Moreover, he is native to the mountainous landscape of Arcadia.

The present work is an oil sketch, i.e. a preparatory study. This is suggested by the partly unfinished parts, as well as the structure of the picture. Some parts are already almost completely laid out, such as the flute player, while others, for example the horizon and also the figures of the putti, are only sketched in outline.

The painting is clearly attributed to the Baroque painter Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert. This attribution was confirmed by Prof. Hans Vlieghe. The expert and author of the catalogue raisonné of Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert, Dr. Axel Heinrich, also confirmed Bosschaert’s authorship. He described it as a particularly beautiful and convincing work of the artist.

Bosschaert lived and worked in Antwerp with Peter Paul Rubens and Anthonis van Dyck, among others. He studied with Gerard Seghers and probably also with Van Dyck. In 1637 he joined the St. Luke’s Guild. His work is characterized by a large number of religious and historical paintings. He worked for Prince Frederick Henry of Orange and Prince William II of Orange, among others.
The present oil sketch is a smaller version of the „Children’s Bacchanal“ by Bosschaert in Kassel. This painting shows a multitude of putti surrounding and celebrating with the drunken boy Bacchus. The basic compositional structure, as well as the design of the putti, shows a great closeness to the oil sketch. The „Cupid with tamed lion (Amor Triumphans)“ also shows great similarities in structure and style. In Bosschaert’s oil sketch „Venus Holds Back Mars – Allegory of War“ we find, among other things, the standing putto, facing the viewer.
The present oil sketch will have served as a preparatory study for a larger history painting. This working practice is often attested for collaborators or the circle of Peter Paul Rubens and Anthonis Van Dyck.

Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert was particularly influenced by Van Dyck. This is also evident in this work, as comparable putti are depicted in Van Dyck’s „Triumph of Bacchus“, for example. The concentration of the figures on the right side of the picture, a similarly yellowish sky and various pictorial elements such as the fallen bowl (albeit filled with fruit) are also found there. Van Dyck’s „Rest on the Flight into Egypt“ is also very similar in pictorial composition. On the right side we see the dancing putti in a circle. On the left side, however, instead of the flute player, there is the Holy Family.
A model or inspiration for the present work could have been an engraving by the Italian Giulio Carpioni (1613-1678). The composition (though mirrored due to the copper engraving) is very similar, showing dancing putti on the left and a flute player with buck legs and curls on the right. In addition, one of the putti is also marked as a satyr with goat legs.
The present oil sketch from the hand of Bosschaert is an interesting addition to his oeuvre and illustrates not only his creative style but also his stylistic proximity to Van Dyck.

Literature:
Axel Heinrich, Thomas Willeboirt’s Bosschaert, Turnhout 2003, vol. I, cat A 58, fig. 88.

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