(1593 - Antwerp - 1678)
Two Studies of a Male Nude, c. 1615-20
Oil on paper, laid down on canvas, 42.5 x 49 cm
Hôtel Drouot, Kahn-Dumousset, Paris, Sale, 10 July 2015, no. 27: After Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
In this painting, human flesh is celebrated at its fullest. A strapping man with a thick patch of dark hair and a bushy beard, wearing nothing but a loincloth, is presented to the viewer in two different contorted poses. On the left, we see him from the front, his right arm behind his back while he turns his torso in the other direction, his left arm strongly foreshortened. On the right, we see him from behind, bending forward slightly and with his arms flung to the left. We therefore gain nearly entire access to his robust male body. Particularly revealing is the back of his loincloth, one string of which disappears in between his buttocks, and the other tied so tightly around his waist that it partially disappears under the flesh that is bulging over it as a result of the figure’s gyration towards the left. Seen from the front in the depiction on the left, his fleshy belly also seems to pour over the top of the loincloth in a full-fledged celebration of his corporal form.
At the bottom center of the composition is a modest fire, with several smoke plumes rising above it. In the background at bottom left and right are two figures, which appear on either side of the man’s plump legs. Judging from their build and features they seem to be young, possibly children. The one on the left is clothed and appears to be a girl. The one on the right is too cursorily indicated to make any assumptions about gender and attire. In the upper left and right there appear to be trees. Those on the left in yellow and orange tones are reminiscent of autumn, and the ones on the right are a dark, mossy green.
Exploring the brushwork in this painting is a true feast for the eyes. Jordaens executed the fleshtones of the figures with virtuosic bravura, applying green-browns smoothly blended with peachy pinks for the legs and buttocks and a thick, impasto ochre for the highlights on the skin. He applied this deep yellow on most of the figure’s back on the right, and also along the figure’s left thigh and stomach on the left. With a bold, single stroke of black, he added a shadow all along the sides of the loincloth on the right. He executed the faces and hair of the men with a broad brush. A great detail is the large area of pink on the man’s left cheek, applied with a single stroke. Equally marvelous is the contrast between the neck of the man on the right, covered in thickly applied highlights, and the neck of the man on the left, executed by simply leaving the pinkish middle tone exposed.
Jordaens paid a great deal of attention to the reflections of light. Apart from the strong highlights on the flesh of the two figures, he applied a deep pink to the inner right calf and thigh of the figure on the left to suggest the reflection of the fire’s flames. In a similar way, he used subdued pinks and browns for the face of the left background figure facing the fire, thereby convincingly rendering the glow emitted by the flames. The figure in the right background emerges from the shadows in predominantly brown tones, with two black dots for the wide beady eyes.
When studying this superb oil study, the main question that presents itself is whether Jordaens meant to depict a narrative, compositional scene, or whether he created a partial study or even separate studies on the same sheet. The blatant nudity of the figures and their vicinity to a fire immediately recall the subject of the Forge of Vulcan, in which the husband of Venus and his three muscular Cyclopes are forging armor in an underground smithy, often in the presence of Venus and Cupid. Jordaens would certainly have been aware of the subject’s rich pictorial tradition, especially well-known from prints. One prominent example is the 1546 engraving by Cornelis Bos after Maarten van Heemskerck, inspired by Baldassare Peruzzi’s famous chimneypiece in the Villa Farnesina in Rome (fig. 1).1
Although Heemskerck’s and most other depictions of the subject take place in a cave, there are a few that are set in an outdoor grotto, often with trees or vegetation in the back- ground. A particularly interesting example is the painting by Frans Floris (1519/20-1570), one of the great sixteenth-century Antwerp artists that preceded Jordaens (fig. 2).2 The man seen from the back in the foreground has a similar pose to the man on the right in our painting, as he clutches his long hammer with both hands, ready to strike. Though it is unlikely that Jordaens knew this particular painting, its composition does help us to understand the activities that Jordaens might have intended for his male figures.3
No depiction of a Forge of Vulcan by Jordaens is known today, although a Parisian auction catalogue of 1813 listed a painting by him with the description “Un grand Jacques Jordans, représentant Venus, Vulcain, Mars et les ciclops.”4 If the present work does relate to a depiction of the Forge of Vulcan, perhaps even the one sighted in 1813, we must interpret it as being a partial study, and not a compositional sketch. The painting does not contain enough male figures and the fire would normally be depicted off to the side, leaving the central space for the large anvil. Furthermore, a closer look at the relationship between the figures on the painting would even seem to suggest that Jordaens depicted two separate studies. Although the two men are facing each other, they do not appear to be looking at each other or interacting. Moreover, the lack of compositional harmony is emphasized by the fact that the light of the flames is only reflected on the skin of the man on the left, not the one on the right. In fact, both figures are lit from different sources altogether: the one on the left is lit from the upper left, and the one on the right from a frontal light source.
It appears that Jordaens had a larger composition in mind, in which the figure on the left, perhaps intended to be Vulcan, was standing towards the back, in front of the fire in which he had just dipped his hammer. The second figure study on the right would have been for one of the men standing in the foreground, probably one of the Cyclopes. It is unclear how the two children fit in. Although the Forge of Vulcan does call for a little Cupid, the girl on the left is not a likely candidate and both children are situated at a lower vantage point than the two strong men. Perhaps the children were part of an earlier composition that Jordaens kept in order to extend his study of light reflections beyond the two main protagonists.
Preparing paintings with oil sketches was not an unusual part of Jordaens’s practice. For his prestigious 1628 painting the Martyrdom of St Apollonia for the Church of St Augustine in Antwerp, an oil sketch of the whole composition exists, as well as a partial, isolated oil study of the head of the tortured saint.5 In other cases, it is not clear whether Jordaens had a specific painting in mind. A wonderful example is a sheet with Two Studies of the Head of Abraham Grapheus dating to ca. 1620-21 and preserved in the Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Ghent (fig. 3).6 Abraham de Graef (Latinized Grapheus) was the secretary of the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke whose expressive head fascinated several artists in Antwerp. In the Ghent sheet, Jordaens painted Grapheus’s head twice from two slightly different perspectives. The expressive impasto brushstrokes are similar to those in our Two Studies of a Male Nude, though they are applied even more loosely and boldly. The absence of any other elements on this sheet suggests that Jordaens made these studies without necessarily having a painting in mind, but rather to have in stock. Indeed, he incorporated the head on the right into two later paintings. Jordaens used it for a satyr in his 1623 painting Homage to Pomona in Brussels and for one of the evangelists in a painting from ca. 1625-30 at the Louvre in Paris.7
The present work probably dates to a few years earlier than the Two Studies of the Head of Abraham Grapheus. The figures in Two Studies of a Male Nude appear to relate directly to a group of chalk drawings with similar bearded, muscular, male nudes in loincloths from ca. 1615-20 that have intrigued art historians for decades. Six of them are in the Hessisches Landesmuseum in Darmstadt, seven in the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf, one in the British Museum in London (fig. 4), and one in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne.8 Another one recently appeared on the New York artmarket (fig.5).9 Especially this last drawing is very close to Two Studies of a Male Nude in the modeling of the flesh and the figure’s beefy neck and stocky appearance. Compared to those two works, the figures in the rest of the group seem more tight-skinned and leanly built, perhaps with the exception of the London drawing in which the man’s flesh is bulging over his loin cloth as he leans back.
The authorship of these sheets (all but the one discovered in 2011) has been subject to a certain amount of dispute. The group was traditionally thought to be by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), before it was given to Jordaens by Michael Jaffé in 1968.10 This attribution was adopted by R.-A. d’Hulst in his monumental 1974 catalogue raisonné of Jordaens’s drawings.11 In 1987, Hans Vlieghe gave all the drawings except for the one in London, in which he recognized Jordaens’s hand, to the relatively unknown workshop assistant of Rubens, Arnout Vinckenborch (1590-1620).12 In 2012, Nico van Hout was critical of Vlieghe’s attribution and suggested that the whole group should remain in Jordaens’s name.13
Although it is true that there are differences in execution and perhaps even quality in this group, for the purpose of this study it suffices to say that there are several visual correspondences between the drawings and paintings from Jordaens’s early years.14 As has long been noted, for example, one of the drawings in Düsseldorf, the Male Nude Seen from Behind (fig. 6), is similar to a man in the foreground of Jordaens’s Saints Paul and Barnabas in Lystra of ca. 1616 in St Petersburg.15 The drawings also relate to several chalk studies by Rubens and Van Dyck of around the same time, in which male nudes are depicted in different poses. A study by Van Dyck from ca. 1618-20 shows a nude man kneeling down on one knee, wearing a loosely tied, broad loincloth similar to the one in Jordaen’s Düsseldorf drawing (fig. 6).16 An important and influential Rubens drawing for both Jordaens and Van Dyck is the Study of a Kneeling Man from ca. 1609-10 (fig. 8), which Jordaens used even much later in his career, in a painting of ca. 1650.17
All these drawings of male nude models originated in the large Antwerp workshop of Rubens and are revealing of this great master’s working method. Although there is no documentary evidence, visual and stylistic evidence strongly suggest that Jordaens spent time in Rubens’s atelier between 1615, the year in which his training ended with Adam van Noort (1562-1641), and about 1620.18 The young rising star, Anthony van Dyck, worked in Rubens’s atelier between 1618 and 1620.19 Rubens is known to have had models pose for him in his studio in all sorts of positions. Sometimes he appears to have had a specific pose in mind for a particular painting he was working on. Other times he seems to have been creating a collection of drawings he could use later.
Rubens, of course, also created many oil sketches, and this practice no doubt greatly influenced the young Jordaens.20 Indeed, it was precisely during the 1610s that Rubens executed numerous oil studies of heads, which he would sometimes use years later.21 As Adam Eaker has recently pointed out, this practice in turn can be traced back to Frans Floris, who, according to Van Mander, would tell his apprentices working on large figural compositions to “Put in these or those heads.”22 The example of Jordaens’s Two Studies of the Head of Abraham Grapheus certainly attests to his incorporation of Rubens’s methods. An interesting difference between the approach to oil sketches by Rubens and Jordaens is the medium. Rubens almost exclusively painted his oil sketches on panel, whereas Jordaens frequently resorted to paper.23 As Michael Jaffé already noted in 1969, Jordaens’s relationship to and even his manipulation of paper is a topic much in need of further examination.24
Although it is difficult to date oil sketches, especially when there is no painting that corresponds to it, it seems entirely plausible that Jordaens executed this powerful study of two male nudes during the time that he was with Rubens in Antwerp between ca. 1615-20. Perhaps he wanted to work out some of the drawings he made after live models and capture the light reflections in color. Perhaps he was already working with a specific painting of a Forge of Vulcan in mind. To be sure, this spectacular discovery is not only a testimony to Jordaens’s artistic development, but also to those extraordinary years in the second half of the 1610s, when the three giants of Flemish Baroque painting, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Jordaens were working together and learning from each other under the same Antwerp roof.
1 For a discussion of the print as well as Heemskerck’s painting, after which Bos produced this print, see Veldman 1973.
2 Frans Floris, Venus and Cupid in Vulcan’s Forge, oil on panel, 170 x 231 cm, Staatliche Museen, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. See Van de Velde 1975, pp. 275-276, no. 134.
3 Van de Velde 1975, pp. 275-276, no. 134, suspected that Floris’s painting was in the collection of Rudolph II in Vienna and Prague until at least 1621.
4 Sale, Paris, Claude Louis Chariot, 7-9 December 1813, lot 145, sold to Pierre-Josephe Lafontaine.
5 For a discussion of this painting and all its preparatory works, see Paris 2013-2014, pp. 128- 136.
6 Jacob Jordaens, Two Studies of the Head of Abraham Grapheus, ca. 1620-21, oil on paper, laid down on panel, 45.2 x 52 cm, Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Gent, inv. 1899B. See R.-A. d’Hulst in Antwerp 1993, pp. 96-99, no. A21.
7 See R.-A. d’Hulst in Antwerp 1993, pp. 96-99, no. A21 for these observations and illustrations of the paintings.
8 See D’Hulst 1974, vol. 1, pp. 105-114, nos. A8-A21. For the Cologne drawing, which depicts only the head of a similar bearded man and was discovered after D’Hulst’s publication, see Vlieghe 1987, fig. 13.
9 Jacob Jordaens, Study of a Man Seen from Behind, black, red, and white chalk on light brown paper, 46.3 x 31.1 cm, auctioned at Christie’s New York, 26 January 2011, lot 282.
10 Ottawa 1968-1969, pp. 146-47, nos. 122-124.
11 D’Hulst 1974, vol. 1, pp. 105-114, nos. A8-A21.
12 Vlieghe 1987.
13 Nico van Hout in Brussels/Kassel 2012-2013, pp. 55-73, nos. 18-26.
14 The New York and London drawings compare most to our Two Studies of a Male Nude and are stronger than the Darmstadt and Düsseldorf ones. The contours are less stiff and more care is taken to render the musculature. Nico van Hout in Bussels/Kassel 2012-2013, pp. 55- 73, nos. 18-26 suggests that the “lack of subtlety” in the German drawings should be regarded in the context of Jordaens’s early career. It is possible that the German drawings were executed slightly earlier than the New York and London ones, or perhaps we should nevertheless consider the possibility that they were made by a different hand.
15 This was most recently pointed out by Nico van Hout in Brussels/Kassel 2012-2013, pp. 57- 58.
16] Meij & De Haan 2001, pp. 209-212, no. 56.
17 Meij & De Haan 2001, pp. 86-91, no. 11. Jordaens incorporated this figure in his painting Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, ca. 1650, Musée du Louvre, Paris.
18 For a compelling survey of the visual evidence linking Jordaens to Rubens’s workshop during those years, see Schaudies 2007, pp. 77-117.
19 For a recent discussion of Van Dyck’s time in Rubens’s atelier, particularly in relation to (nude) modeling, see Eaker 2015.
20 See Held 1980 for the monumental catalogue of Rubens’s roughly 450 oil sketches. For a discussion of the the different types and functions of Rubens’s oil sketches, see Van Hout 2004- 2005.
21 See Eaker 2015, esp. pp. 174-175.
22 Eaker 2015, p. 174.
23 See Held 1980. Of the roughly 450 oil sketches by Rubens listed, only a handful was executed on paper, none of which during the time that Jordaens was working with Rubens: the head study Head of a Turbaned African, ca. 1609, paper, laid down on panel (cat. no. 433); the title page for Balthasar Corderius, Catena Sexaginta Quinque Graecorum Patrum in S. Lucam, 1628, oil on paper, laid down on canvas (cat. no. 303); Portrait of Albert II, 1634, oil on paper, laid down on panel, whereabouts unknown (cat. no. 153); the Landscape with a Wagon Fording a Stream, ca. 1635, oil on paper, laid down on canvas, National Gallery, London, inv. 948 (cat. no. 453); the composition study The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, ca. 1635-38, black chalk, pen and ink, and oil paint on paper, laid down on canvas, National Gallery, London (cat. no. 336), and composition study The Raising of the Cross, ca. 1637-38, oil on paper, backed by canvas, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (cat. no. 351).
24 Jaffé 1969, pp. 5-6. After the monumental 1968-1969 Jordaens exhibition in Ottawa, Jaffé, who was also the curator of the exhibition, published an article in the Bulletin of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa with addenda, additional remarks and observations that arose during the exhibition, among which some remarks on Jordaens’s use of paper.