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A Magus at a Table

Jan Lievens (Leyden 1607 – Amsterdam 1674)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

circa 1631

Materials

Oil on panel (oak)

Measurements

559 x 486 mm (22 x 19 1/8 in)

Place of origin

Netherlands

Order this image

Collection

Upton House, Warwickshire (Accredited Museum)

NT 446728

Caption

This painting by Jan Lievens depicts a priest, or magus, standing before a table. Artefacts such as a skull cap and books suggest that he is a scholar, but the gold gown and gold brocade are unusually opulent. The strange canopy of green fronds and the circular insertion in the floor suggest overtones of magic or alchemy, which is why the term ‘magus’ has been used in its current title. The painting was once thought to be one of a number of copies, made after a lost original produced by Lievens in 1630. One of these copies was listed in the inventory taken of Rembrandt’s possessions in 1656, where it was described as 'One priest after Jan Lievens'. Dendrochronology (tree-ring analysis), undertaken in 1983, had suggested that board on which the Upton version is painted dates from after 1660. However, in recent years, the accuracy of this dating has been questioned, and it is now thought that the work is not a later copy, but is in fact an autograph work by Lievens, painted in 1631/2.

Summary

Oil painting on oak panel, A Magus at a Table, by Jan Lievens (Leyden 1607 - Amsterdam 1674), circa 1631; signed and dated, on parcel, bottom left: Rembrandt f. 16 . . [last two numerals indistinct]. The priest has the features of Rembrandt's father. He stands in profile to the left before an altar, wearing a golden robe and writing in a book which he supports on his left forearm; on the altar table, covered by a gold cloth, a large volume rests on part of a print {the print appears to show a bust-length figure, en face, with an aureole of light behind his head - almost as if it were a representation of Christ as the Saviour. "Eine männliche Halbfigur" is likewise apparently visible on Norblin's engraving of the Wawel version, but no longer in the original (J. Bialostocki & M. Walicki, Europaïsche Malerei in Polnischen Sammlungen, 1957, p. 530)}, which is suspended over the edge; in the background, right, a chair is placed beneath the heavy folds of a dark-green curtain; the scene is lit by two candles placed on the altar.

Provenance

According to H. de Groot, the picture was in a sale at Amsterdam, 7 Sept. 1803, lot 139 (Schmidt sale), and probably in the van Roothaan sale, Amsterdam, 29 March 1826, lot 52, as by Lievens. Possibly lot 93 in William Seguier's posthumous sale at Christie's, 4 May 1844 as "Rembrandt. A Jewish Priest in his robes, standing before a table". [bought by Yates]. It was included in the sale of the late Miss Maria Chippindall of Croftlands, Lancs., Christie's, 28 May 1903, lot 154; bought by Nicholson (H. de Groot, who omits the Chippindall provenance, gives the ownership of T. Humphrey Ward and J. Walter of Bearwood); Arthur Walter of Bearwood; his sale, Christie's, 18 June 1937, lot 84, repd. (giving provenance from Miss Chippindall, but making no mention of T.H. Ward or J. Walter); bought by Barnes', for 2,730 Barnes' was probably the name of the clerk acting for Lord Bearsted at the sales {cf. the Duyster and Rembrandt's Father's Mill'. A note in the clerk's copy of the catalogue in Christie's archive puts Bodkin' [= Sir Thomas?] alongside as the underbidder.}, since Christie's forwarded to the latter a letter from François de Pulaski of the Polish Library in Paris, asking for details of the picture [Pulaski himself owned a version of it]

Credit line

Upton House, The Bearsted Collection (National Trust)

Marks and inscriptions

Rembrandt f. 16 (signed and dated, last two numbers indistinct)

Makers and roles

Jan Lievens (Leyden 1607 – Amsterdam 1674), artist attributed to Jan Lievens (Leyden 1607 – Amsterdam 1674), artist previously catalogued as attributed to Rembrandt van Rijn (Leiden 1606 – Amsterdam 1669), artist

Exhibition history

New Light on Old Masters, Squash Court Gallery, 2013

References

Hofstede de Groot 1911/12 H. de Groot, 'Nieuw Ontdekte Rembrandts (II)', Onze Kunst, XXII, 1911/12, p. 177 Hofstede de Groot 1907-28 C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, 8 vols., London, 1907-28, vol. VI, No. 71 Valentier 1921/23 W.R. Valentier, Rembrandt: Wiedergefundene Gemälde, 1921/23, p.xvi, Nr.18 Schneider 1932 H. Schneider, Jan Lievens, 1932, p. 97 Gelder 1953 Jan Gerrit van Gelder, 'Rembrandt and his Circle', Burlington Magazine, XCV, 1953 Bauch 1960 K. Bauch, Rembrandt, 1960, p. 266, no. 186, and 1967, p. 166 & fig. 8 Gore 1964 F. St John Gore, Upton House, The Bearsted Collection: Pictures National Trust, 1964, p.36, no.123 Sumowski 1983-1990 Werner Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, Landau/Pfalz, 5 vols 1983-1990, vol. III (1983), p. 1796, No. 1241 Prized Possessions: Dutch Paintings from National Trust Houses (exh. cat.), Holburne Museum, Bath 25 May - 16 Sep 2018; Mauritshuis, The Hague, 11 Oct 2018 - 6 Jan 2019; Petworth House, West Sussex, 26 Jan - 24 Mar 2019., pp. 128-31, no.14

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