Was it a star that lead the shepherds to discover a newborn in a stable more than 2000 years ago, then another star is tantalising us on the reverse of Antwerp panel paintings from the 17th century. My first encounter with this particular star, finely crafted with its six points, goes back to 1984 when I examined the unique Winter Room at Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen.
The six-pointed star was found stamped into the reverse of a Winter landscape with skaters and sledges on the ice, tentatively attributed to Salomon van Ruysdael (c. 1600-1670). Next to the small star is the Antwerp brand of a design that appear to have been introduced c. 1638.
We know of several dozens of panels ornated with the six-pointed star, the large part painted by Antwerp artists like Hendrik van Balen, Frans Francken II, David Teniers II, P.P. Rubens etc. The earliest dated painting with the star on the reverse is a Music Making Party in an Inn attributed to Anthonie Palamedesz. (1602-1673), signed D. […] 1619. Other paintings with the star on the back are dated from 1621 and well into the 1650’s.
When we look at the Leiden-born artist Jan Lievens we know of his Antwerp sojourn (1635-1644) where he painted a Landscape with Tobias and the Angel, dated 1640-1644. Naturally he would acquire his panel by a local panel maker so no surprise to find the six-pointed star on the back of this work.
What becomes striking when looking at the entire group of artists who purchased panels by the Star-maker is that – like Salomon van Ruysdael – they are not all Antwerp residents. Although born in Mechelen, Balthasar Huys (c. 1590-1652) settled in Rotterdam possibly as early as 1628 and that is where he in 1650 signed and dated a Still Life with Flowers and Fish. From approximately the same year we find the star on the reverse of A Guardsroom with an Officer, allegedly painted by Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684) in Delft.
Further, the Danish Court painter Karel van Mander III (1609-1670) a created a series of images representing the five senses. An old man wearing glasses (sight) is signed ‘K.V.Mander 1639’ and the pendent (hearing) is depicting and old woman with a flute – and she on the back has the six-pointed star struck into the wood of the panel that was painted in Copenhagen.
A preliminary conclusion on the activities of the panel maker using the fine six-pointed star as his trademark is that he was active in Antwerp 1619 through 1650’s or beyond. Like his colleague Melchior de Bout, who delivered ready-made panels for the Paris art marked, also the panels marked by the six-pointed star appear partly produced for the export marked. His panels were allegedly available for artists in both the Dutch Republic and as far away as in Denmark.
Like the star from two thousand years ago, the one on the back of panel paintings produced in Antwerp in the 17th century has had an influence on the art marked still to be fully understood.
 J. Wadum, ‘The Antwerp Brand on Paintings on Panels’, in E. Hermens (red.), Looking Through Paintings. The Study of Painting Techniques and Materials in Support of Art Historical Research. Leids Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 11 (1998), pp. 179-198, fig. 18.
 National Gallery, London, inv. NG72
 Formerly (1996) with Jack Kilgore, New York.
 Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, inv. KMSsp799 & KMSsp800.
 A. Koopstra, ’De Antwerpse ’witter ende paneelmaker’ Melchior de Bout (werkzaam 1625/26-1658): leverancier van ’ready-made’ panelen voor de Parijse markt’, in Oud Holland (123) nr. 3 (2010), pp. 108-124.