Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Adoration of the Magi: An Old Master in Friesland

Peter Paul Rubens and Hans Witdoeck

Flemish Masters 

The property millionaire and racehorse owner Major Alfred Ernest Allnatt (1889-1969) bought this version The Adoration of the Magi by Flemish Master Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) at Sotheby’s in 1959 for a then world-record price of £250,000 from the estate of the Duke of Westminster. 

Two years later, in 1961 he offered the painting to King’s College, Cambridge. King’s College accepted “this munificent gift” with the intention of displaying the painting in the chapel, possibly as an altarpiece.

This version (he did 4) of The Adoration of the Magi was originally painted by Rubens in 1634 for the Convent of the White Nuns at Louvain in Belgium. It measures 4.2 metres high by 3.2 metres wide. In June 1974, the painting was damaged by vandals who used a coin to scratch the initials “IRA” in 2-foot-high (0.61 m) letters across the front.

The Chapel of King’s College is one of the most popular tourists attractions in Cambridge, and is known throughout the world for the Christmas Eve Service of Nine Lessons and Carols.

Hans Witdouck (Witdoek, Witdouc) (1605 – prob. around 1642) was an engraver and a student of Rubens, the two artists working closely together in Rubens Antwerp studio. Witdouck devoted his short life copying the Old Masters and Rubens in particular. It is suggested he died shortly after his marriage in 1642 because all traces of his stay on our planet end. The  engraved, and mirrored copy is dated 1638 so created very shortly after the painting was finished. 

This engraving (32 x 46 cm.) found its way to me not long ago. It looks almost new and very fresh and my first idea was it was a "Facsimile", or replica, using the original plate or maybe even digitally produced. But I could not find any examples of prints by Witdouck/Rubens produced in modern times or information about the whereabouts of the original plates used by Hans Witdouck. Many of his spectacular and very fine prints, admired in his life time engravings, can be found Googling, but not  this particular version of Rubens “Adoration”.

Closely examing the borders of the sheet and the indentation the plate left when it was pressed into the paper it is not showing the “grid” as in hand pulled sheets of papers of the period, another suggestion came to mind. Could the original print be professionally restored to its former glory and the original  paper “doubled” ? 

It is nice to see Witdouck stayed very close to the original but was allowed (by Rubens probably) to use a free hand making the best of Witdoecks extraordinary skills turning a color painting in a black and white tones engraving. 

I have no expertise in these old Matters & Masters but I love a good story and, a romantic by heart, I cherish this Old Master engraving now in my humble possesion until someone comes along who can tell me more, end the dream, or might be interested in trading or exchanging. If it has undergone restauration it must have been a costly affair ordered by someone who loved the engraving and/or knew its “value or importance". The old frame suggesting it may be done in the late 1970's.

This print has probably been in the possesion of Belgian Jesuit priest Jan Daeleman (Turnhout 1922 - 2014 Heverlee-Leuven). His name is related to several publications concerning Congo linguistic studies in the 1960-70's). Heverlee (B.) is the seat of the Evangelical Theological Faculty. 

From todays posting onward occasionally interesting prints may appear that may be available for suggestions of friendly exchange. The decision has been finally made to reduce my collection to works by German woman printmakers born in the 19th century. They are also the subject of the upcoming publication: some 400 short biographies of pioneering German women printmakers active 1900-1940. 


All pictures and information borrowed freely from the Internet for friendly, educational and non commercial use only.

All pictures embiggen by mouse-click. 

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