Arnout Fredericksz. Vinckenborch
(Alkmaar c. 1590 - 1620 Antwerp)
The Rising of Lazarus, c.1617/20
Oil on panel, 107 x 148 cm
On loan to the Angermuseum in Erfurt from 2009 to 2019
Hans Vlieghe: Rubens’ beginnende invloed: Arnout Vinckenborch en het probleem van Jordaens’ vroegste tekeningen, in Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, 38/1987, p. 383-396.
We are greatful to Dr. Wolfram Morath-Vogel for his text on Arnout Fredericksz. Vinckenborch:
It is very rare to come across paintings by Vinckenborch. This has to do with the fact that a very significant part of the artistic output of this Northern Netherlandish artist lies tucked away in the paintings made by Peter Paul Rubens in his early Antwerp years. Vinckenborch was a capable artist and Rubens not only welcomed him as a collaborator in his first studio (before being joined by van Dyck), but also exerted a decisive influence on his painting technique and artistic development. In addition to working for Rubens Vinckenborch painted pictures of his own, as did other assistants in the studio. Born in Alkmaar around 1590, he grew up in Amsterdam and shortly before 1614 settled in Antwerp, where he became an independent master in 1616. His premature death limited his oeuvre to a handful of paintings.
The scene depicts a major event in the life of Jesus on his last journey to Jerusalem before the passion he endured which is recounted in Chapter 11 of the Gospel according to St. John. This event was the raising of Lazarus, which was the immediate cause of the decision taken by Jesus’ opponents to plot his death (John 11:53). Before the raising of Lazarus from the dead – “Sir, by now there will be a stench; he has been there four days” (John 11:39) – comes Jesus‘ self-testimony to Martha, the dead man’s sister, the truth of which is confirmed in the subsequent miracle: “I am the resurrection and I am life. If a man has faith in me, even though he die, he shall come to life; and no one who is alive and has faith shall ever die. Do you believe this?“ (John 11:25f.). The theme of the painting, which extends beyond the literal depiction of the event, is the resurrection of the flesh in the overall context of Christ’s message. The painter of the Baroque period – aptly described by Herder as an “emblematic age” – combines the physically manifest clarity of the biblical scene with numerous allusions to its relevance, which transcends the visible. But that requires an ability to both see and read.
In adhering to the biblical story Vinckenborch concentrates on its sensory aspect (which is to be transcended). A disciple is ostentatiously holding his nose; Martha’s sister Mary sits crouched at Jesus’ feet gazing up at him and listening with rapt attention, while the more practical Martha does the most obvious thing, which is to lend a helping hand to her brother as he regains his senses and lifts himself out of his grave. The ingenious composition portrays Martha’s action as an extension of Christ’s gesture of power. The Apostle Peter responds by removing the shroud from the resurrected Lazarus. This subsidiary action is an allusion to Jesus’ famous meeting with the sisters Mary and Martha related in Chapter 10 of St. Luke’s Gospel. Vinckenborch thus moves beyond the miraculous event to direct the cognizant observer’s attention to the age-old hierarchical dispute between vita activa and vita contemplativa, which – given that “the part that Mary has chosen is best” (Luke 10:42) – involves a subtle hint concerning the legitimisation of the picture and of art itself.
Vinckenborch is at one with his great master in making use of imprimatura, a technique otherwise unique to Rubens. It is particularly evident in the heads of the two witnesses to the event stood on the left behind the kneeling nude figure seen from the rear. The artist is also particularly Rubens-like in the corporeal pathos, which is an integral part of the topic of Lazarus. Even before Jacob Jordaens, Vinckenborch emulated the pronounced three-dimensionality of Rubens’ early Antwerp style with its references to the canonical models of classical antiquity, the Italian Renaissance and the innovative works of Caravaggio. Right down to individual aspects of his painting technique Vinckenborch followed his great model so meticulously that his paintings and drawings have occasionally been attributed to Rubens. “One can detect … the influence of Michelangelo in the powerful physical shape of many of his figures, which are also to be found in identical compositions by Rubens. Another characteristic feature of Vinckenborch’s style … are the large landscape formats with their colossal figures” (Axel Heinrich). The didactical layout of the painting is also reminiscent of Rubens. Lazarus’ deathly pallor contrasts effectively with the healthy skin of the man kneeling on the left of the picture; the upright stance of Christ, who brings the dead man back to life with an imperious gesture, is counterposed to the figure of Mary crouching at his feet. In both form and colouring the composition paraphrases a depiction by Rubens on the same theme in portrait format; the rear view of a man kneeling can also be found in the central panel of Rubens’ design for the Ghent Altar (National Gallery in London). In the first publication on the painting he attributed to Vinckenborch, Hans Vlieghe correctly observed that the figure of Lazarus goes back to an invention on the same theme in Rubens’ large-scale Last Judgment in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. It is conceivable that Vinckenborch’s Lazarus, together with the almost identically sized Healing of a Man Sick of the Palsy (formerly in the Messerschmidt Collection, Basel; fig. 8 in Vlieghe 1987) and other paintings might have formed part of a series of pictures depicting the miracles of Christ.
The Raising of Lazarus is one of the most ambitious and best preserved examples of his art. To date no more than around ten autonomous paintings by his hand have been identified. Together with Rubens, Jordaens, van Dyck and other Antwerp painters Vinckenborch was involved in painting the Fifteen Mysteries of the Holy Rosary, which still hangs in St. Paul’s Church in Antwerp today; two large wood panel paintings are in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. His oeuvre awaits further discovery.