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.

Guilliam Aertssen’s red chalk monogram

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Left: detail in ambient light. Centre: same detail under UV-light Right: tracing of a comparable red-chalk monogram

While examining panel paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries all sorts of inscriptions and marks may be encountered on the reverse side. Some of these inscriptions may be very hard to spot or even identify.

On the back of a broad single plank of oak, 54 cm across, painted and dated 1609 we discovered the faint traces of such an inscription. Due to conservation work in the past (20th century?) where small buttons were glued across a crack in the panel part of the original wood had been shaved slightly down.

However, the faint traces of a mark written in red chalk can be made more visible under UV-light.[1] Indeed it now became possible to identify the inscription as that made by the Antwerp panel maker Guilliam Aertssen, active from the 1590′ through 1638.

More information on Aertssen and his activities will be published in 2020.

1:  J. Wadum, ’17th c. Flemish Panel Makers’ Red Chalk Master Marks’, in Grimstad, Kirsten (ed.) ICOM-CC Preprints, 9th Triennial Meeting Dresden, vol. II, Los Angeles 1990, p. 663-666. ISBN: 0-89236-185-9.

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