Who’s hiding 17th century Antwerp Brands?

Without considerable speculation, it is difficult to understand why someone would deliberately want to scratch away evidence of an Antwerp brand on the reverse of a 17th century panel. This is nevertheless what has happened to an oak panel intended for painting but which at some point became used for a marouflage (a technique for affixing a canvas painting to a rigid support) for a Portrait of a Man, possibly painted by Giulio Campi (1500 – 1572).[1]

Giulio Campi (?), Portrait of a Man. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, inv. NM 200. Photo: Cecilia Heisser, NM.
Detail of the centre of the panel with, to the right, the cloverleaf signature of Michiel Claessens.

A detail of the centre-part of the reverse of the panel reveals later criss-cross scratches labouring to remove completely an Antwerp coat of arms that was branded into the wood. Only small remains of the carbonised timer from the hot iron can be observed. The brand (possibly iron no 3, in use 1618-1626) was a sign of approval of the good quality of the panel made by a member of the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke.[2]

To the right of the scratching one observes a small cloverleaf (turned 90° to the left) stamped into the timber. This small leaf is the acknowledged house-mark used by the Antwerp panel maker Michiel Claessens (active 1590-1637).

Due to the marks we can now safely establish that the oak panel used for the marouflage was produced in Antwerp, more than a thousand kilometres North of the Italian Po Plain where the portrait may have been conceived and painted on a canvas sometime during second half of the 16th century. However, when was the painting marouflaged and did this take place in Italy or in the Netherlands? Why scratch away the Antwerp brand but leave the clover leaf of the panel maker intact?

At the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm further examination of the painting will in due course reveal more about its provenance, materiality and history.[3]

The above painting is, however, not unique in having a removed or obscured Antwerp Brand on the back. Two paintings at the SMK display the same fate – and again without a plausible explanation.

Jan Lievens’ (1607-1674) Self-portrait in Profile is one such.[4] It is signed ‘IL’ in ligature. The painting was copied a number of times by assistants or followers.[5] At least one of these copies seems to have occurred simultaneously with the master’s work painted shortly after his arrival in Antwerp in the mid 1630’s.

Jan Lievens, Self-Portrait in Profile. Statens Museum for Kunst, inv. KMSsp413. Photo: J. Skou-Hansen, SMK.

During examination, it appeared that Lievens’ autograph version on the back had a white patch of paint applied only at the centre of the panel. The paint seemed to cover-up a now hardly distinguishable monogram by an Antwerp panel maker.

Details of the back before and after cleaning of the white paint.

After removal of the overpaint, we could not only validate the monogram as that of Guilliam Gabron (1586-1674), but moreover that he used his second punch (datable 1626-1658) to ‘sign’ this panel. Secondly, also the completely obscured Antwerp Brand (no. 4) emerged under the white paint. This particular brand was in use 1619–1638.[6]

The answer as to why the maker’s mark and the Antwerp Brand were overpainted is hard to imagine. Did this happen in order to avoid confusing any 18th century collector about the attribution to Lievens? Would the presence of the Antwerp brand on the back of the Dutch master’s self-portrait cause confusion?

As mentioned, Lievens’ Self-portrait at the SMK was copied multiple times.[7] One of these, identically signed ‘IL’, appears to have both Gabron’s monogram and the exact identical Antwerp brand on the reverse.[8] In this case, the mark and brand were not painted over. The two panels therefore seem to have been produced by not only the same panel maker but also they were both part of the same batch that were approved and branded in the same session by the assay master of the Guild.[9] Subsequently Lievens executed his Self-portrait – which then was copied by another hand on the twin panel.

The dating of this self-portrait has been debated and it has been suggested that Lievens stayed in Antwerp as soon as 1625-26.[10] As Gabron’s second punch, stamped into the reverse, seems introduced in 1626, Lievens could have brought the two panels with him to Leiden. However, a dendrochronological examination suggests that the panel was available only after 1633.[11] As Lievens between 1632 and 1634 temporarily resided in London, the open question would be if the London art marked would have Antwerp panels ready for painting – just as was the case in Paris?[12]

Another possibility may be that this self-portrait by Lievens – and its copy – may be the earliest evidence we have of Lievens admitting an assistant in his Antwerp studio shortly after his arrival from London. We may even speculate that the assistant could have been the fifteen year old Hans van den Wyngaerde. On the 1st of March 1636, the notary Ghijsberti drafted a contract between Lievens and the young apprentice who was to receive training for the coming six years.[13]

If this suggestion is convincing, we may then assume that Lievens’ Self-portrait and its copy were both painted between March 1636 and sometime in 1638, the year in which the use of the Antwerp brand no. 4 seems to run out of use for branding panels. However, the riddle about why someone in the past tried to erase or obscure the presence of panel makers’ stamps and Antwerp brands on an unpainted panel-backing for an Italian portrait of the 16th century and on a Dutch master’s self-portrait of the 17th century still remains to find a plausible explanation…

[1] NM, inv. No. NM 200. Oil on canvas on panel, 72 × 54 cm. The painting is currently under examination by Sarah Ferrari and Martin Olin et al. within the ongoing research project on Italian Paintings at the Nationalmuseum, which aims to continue the catalogue raisonné. The first volume was published in 2015. See the online catalogue here: http://collection.nationalmuseum.se/eMP/eMuseumPlus?service=ExternalInterface&module=exhibition&objectId=3692&viewType=detailView

[2] J. van Damme, ‘De Antwerpse tafereelmakers en hun merken. Identificatie en betekenis’, in Jaarboek Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerpen 1990, p. 193-236.

[3] Italienskt Måleri I Nationalmuseum: Marknad, Musealisering, Materialitet / Italian Paintings At The Nationalmuseum: Market, Musealization, And Materiality. Further information on the project will soon be made available on the Nationalmuseum website.

[4] The painting is mentioned in the Danish Royal Collection, Kunetkammeret, already in 1737. SMK, inv. KMSsp413.

[5] The portrait is strikingly close to J.G. van Vliet’s etching/engraving after Rembrandt, Bust of a man in a gorget and cap with feather. Signed in the plate RHL. v Rijn. jn. 1631. JG v. vliet fecit. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. nr. PK-P-OB-33.369. An almost identical painting in reverse show a Profile of a man with feathered cap and long wavy hair. Monogrammed lower left RHL. Oil on panel, 23.8 x 18 cm. Germany, private collection. See more here: http://www.garyschwartzarthistorian.nl/323-the-r-k-czy-identity/.

[6] Jørgen Wadum, ‘The Antwerp Brand on Paintings on Panels’, in Looking Through Paintings, ed. E. Hermens, 11, pp. 179-198. Archetype Publications Ltd., 1998, p. 186, fig. 8, as brand no. 4.

[7] A cradled copy on panel, 51,2 × 37.8 cm, is in Weimar (Thüringen), Schlossmuseum Weimar, inv./cat. no. G 59.

[8] Sale Christie’s Amsterdam, 9 May 2000, lot 87, as from a private collection in Stuttgart. The painting is known to the author and currently in a private collection.

[9] See the Blog: https://jorgenwadum.com/2019/10/27/apostles-and-panels-in-the-dozens-thats-the-rule/

[10] B. Schnackenburg in cat. The Mystery of the Young Rembrandt, by E. van de Wetering & B. Schnackenburg et al., Staatlische Museen Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister & Museum Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam, 2001-02, p. 111. See also L. Bøgh Rønberg in cat. Rembrandt? The Master and his Workshop, by L. Bøgh Rønberg et al., SMK, 2006, pp, 212-213.

[11] Dendrochronological examination by P. Klein suggest most plausible availability after 1633. See https://rkd.nl/explore/technical/5006546.

[12] 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, Vol. 123, nr. 2 (2010), pp. 108-124. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/003067212X13397495480826

[13] For Hans van den Wyngaerde, see: K. de Clippel, ‘Adriaen Brouwer, portrait painter: new identifications and an iconographic novelty’, Simiolus, vol.  30 (2003), pp. 199-200. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3780916?seq=1. I am grateful to Piet Bakker for this reference.

A Star of a panel maker

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.[1]

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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]

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,[6] 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.

[1] https://rkd.nl/explore/images/242177

[2] 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.

[3] National Gallery, London, inv. NG72

[4] Formerly (1996) with Jack Kilgore, New York.

[5] Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, inv. KMSsp799 & KMSsp800.

[6] 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.

4/M/M – a North Netherlandish panel maker

Information on the activities of North Netherlandish panel makers is scant. Some evidence on one of these anonymous panel makers is presented below. It will become obvious that a focused research into the organisation and activities of panel makers in the Seven Provinces is urgent. The forthcoming Marks on Art database at the RKD will rely on this. [1]
A mark found several times on the reverse of North Netherlandish panels may be interpreted as composed of the cipher ‘4’ with below the two letters ‘M’ on top of each other: 4/M/M.

Artists using panels with this mark stamped or branded into the reverse are Herman Saftleven II (Christ Preaching from a Boat, dated 1642). Also the Rotterdam artist Jacob Lois (c. 1620-1676) painted on a panel marked with an identical monogram when he in 1647 signed his Baptism of Christ. Ten years earlier his city companion Jan Daemen Cool (1589-1660) painted a Portrait of a 36-year-old lady in 1632 on a 4/M/M-panel, so far the the panel maker’s earliest.

Also Simon Jacobsz de Vlieger (1600/1601-1653), Wybrand de Geest (1592-1661), Hendrick van Anthonissen (1605-1656), and Barend Avercamp (1612-1679) painted on boards provided by the same panel maker.

Finally, Bartholomeus van der Helst, born in Haarlem 1613 but moved to Amsterdam in 1636 where he practiced his art until his death in 1670. Here he portrayed Samuel van Lansbergen and his wife Maria Pietersdr. de Leest. Both paintings are signed and dated ‘1646’, and the panel used for the man is showing the panel maker’s monogram struck four times into the back, on the panel of his wife it’s only found once. [2] Another Portrait of an elderly lady with a ruff, aged 62 was painted by van der Helst in 1648, and the panel equally marked 4/M/M.

From the above it becomes apparent that all the artists are practising their art i the Northern Netherlands. Their panels are all machine sawn (contrary to the large majority of the Flemish panels that remained hand sawn), and were painted within a limited range of years from 1632 through 1648. However, the panels were not painted by artists working in the same city or region but as far apart as Leeuwarden in the north via Kampen, Zutphen, Amsterdam, and Utrecht down to Rotterdam in the south.

Was the panel maker with the enigmatic 4/M/M-monogram a Fleming that had fled to the North?

One such was the Antwerp frame maker Reynier Roovaert who in 1638 got permission to open a shop in Amsterdam where he would sell ‘all sorts of frames and panels, both of oak and other sorts of wood, including standard-sizes, to painters and other customers’. [3] We do not know if Roovaert issued a house-mark on his frames or panels, but we do know of several makers’ monograms on North Netherlandish panels that so far have no name associated to them. [4]

Further research into the frame and panel makers’ of the Seven Provinces would clarify their activities and practices and in this way add significant information about the complexity of the huge art market of the Netherlands in the seventeenth century.

[1] New MARKS ON ART database under construction. For more see here.

[2] Both oil on panel, 68 × 58 cm. Rijksmuseum, inv. SK-A-143, SK-A-144. The panel of the woman is dendrochronologically dated to after 1639 (P. Klein). Thanks to G. Tauber and M. van den Bichelaer, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, for drawing my attention to the marks; Oct.-Dec. 2019.

[3] ’alderley soorten van lysten ende panelen te mogen maken, zoo van Eycken als ander hout ende alsoo dosijnwerck aen de schilders ende anderen te vercopen’, J.G. van Dillen, Bronnen tot de geschiedenis van het bedrijfsleven en het gildewezen van Amsterdam, 3 dln., Den Haag 1929, 1933 en 1974, pp. 176-177, nr. 340. See also P.J.J. van Thiel & C.J. de Bruyn Kops, Prijst de Lijst, De Holælandse schilderijenlijst in de seventiende eeuw, Rijksmuseum 1984.

[4] You may download my poster Documenting North Netherlandish 17th Century Panel Makers’ House Marks (ICOM-CC 2014) here.

Hans van Haecht, panel maker and art dealer

Detail from the reverse of Jacob de Backer (Antwerp circa 1555–1585/90) The Baptism of Christ. Dorotheum, 22.10.2019

At the recent October Old Master auction at Dorotheum in Vienna, a Baptism of Christ, oil on panel, 75.5 x 107.5 cm, by Jacob de Backer (Antwerp c. 1555-1585/90) was presented as lot no. 18. The painting is dated to the 1580’s. [1]  

On the back is a stamp with what looks like an encircled St. Andrew’s cross with an additional horizontal crossbar. This mark, measuring about 20 mm across, is rarely found on panels and we only know of a few examples. One is on a painting depicting Our Lady in the Carmelite Convent in Sens (Yonne), and the other on a panel (reused more than a century after its fabrication) now kept in the National Museum in Gdańsk.[2] 

At current, we have no firm evidence of who of the many Antwerp panel makers was using this particular design for his stamp. However, on the list from 1617 the house-mark next to the name of Hans Van Haecht is drawn as a triple cross.[3] Hans Van Haecht came out of a large dynasty of painters, panel makers, carpenters and art dealers.[4] Although he is mostly known as an art dealer bills concerning deliverance of panels are known as well. He was active as a panel maker in Antwerp 1589-1621.

Further, we know of several seemingly identical marks to the one on De Backer’s panel, but they are all only half the size and appear on apparently later panels (?). Additionally we in at least two cases have observed the triple-cross written in red chalk on the back of panels.

More on all this on a forthcoming occasion …

    [1] Luuk Pijl and Nils Büttner has individually confirmed the attribution, provenance and dating of the present painting.

    [2] M. Schuster-Gawłowska, ‘Guild Marks on the Backs of Flemish Panel Paintings. An Attempt at Systematization and Documentation’, in Studia i Materiały wydziału konserwacji dzieł sztuki Akademii sztuk pięknych w Krakowie, Tom II, 1992, pp. 64-65.

    [3] Jan Van Damme, ‘De Antwerpse tafereelmak­ers en hun merken. Identificatie en betekenis’, in Jaarboek voor het Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerpen 1990, p. 195.

    [4] J. Van Roey, ‘Het Antwerpse geslacht Van Haecht (Verha­echt). Tafereelmakers, Schilders, Kunsthandelaers’, in Miscellanea Josef Duverger, vol. I, Gent 1968, p. 216-230.

Apostles and panels in the dozens, that’s the rule

Details of two panels with identical monograms of the panel maker (G+G) and of the Antwerp brand issued by the Guild of St. Luke, ca. 1618.

The combination of a panel maker’s mark and the Antwerp brand made it possible to deduct that eight out of the eleven panels of the Apostle-series from Van Dyck’s workshop must have been produced as one single batch; all are branded by the assay master from the Guild of St. Luke with the same branding iron.

The Antwerp brand is the same on all eight panels and so is the monogram of the panel maker, Guilliam Gabron (active 1609 to ±1660). From Gabron’s workshop we know of two distinct punches with his monogram, one is in use from 1614-1626 and indeed used for the Apostle-series.[1] The Antwerp brand itself is delicately crafted by the so-called ‘stempelsnijder’, the smith making punches and branding irons. The castle shows an abundance of details like windows, battlements, gates and towers. Above the castle we see the two hands with clearly defined fingers and thumbs pointing inwards. Both towers and hands were crafted in one single iron and after heating it in blazing coal it was pressed against the wood as a red-hot branding iron, leaving a clear black impression of the Antwerp coat of arms. The particular iron branding the eight panels has been found to be in use ±1618-1626.[2]

To read more about this fascinating example of the Antwerp mass-production of panels for Van Dyck’s commission for the Apostles-series in Munich, we refer to our essay (pp. 336-339) in the ‘VAN DYCK – Gemälde von Anthonis van Dyck’ exhibition catalogue (in German) at the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, until 02.02.2020. Hirmer Verlag (ISBN: 978-3-7774-3336-3)

https://www.pinakothek.de/en/vandyck #PinaVanDyck

[1] Guilliam Gabron’s second punch is reappearing from 1626 through 1658. See Wadum, J., ‘The Antwerp Brand on Paintings on Panels’, in E. Hermens et al. (eds.) Looking Through Paintings. The Study of Painting Techniques and Materials in Support of Art Historical Research. Leids Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek XI (1998), pp. 179-198, De Prom/Archetype.

[2] Op.cit., fig. 7.