Extraordinary document on one of the greatest Netherlandish humanists and poets
14. [Flemish school]
VAN VEEN, Otto (attributed to)
Oil on panel, each panel assembled from 3 or 4 parts. Left panel: 184,3 x 88,4 cm (visible), 206,5 x 108,8 cm (frame), on recto at top "INVENISTI ENIM GRA / TIAM APUD DEUM", on recto at bottom "QUEM VIRGO GENUIT MUNDI SALVATOR IESU, / SPERATUM DA FRATRIBUS HIS POST LAMPADA SOLEM / QUORUM IUNIOR HIC DESIDERAT ESSE SEPULTUS / TEMPLI HUIUS MORIENS CUM DESINET ESSE DECANUS", on verso at centre "NEC ENIM / ALIUD NOMEN / EST SUB CAELO / DATUM HOMI / NIBUS". Right panel: 183,8 x 78,9 cm (visible), 206,2 x 95,7 cm (frame), on recto at top "UTERO ET PARIES / FILIUM ET VOCABIS / NOMEN EIUS IESUM / LUC I CAP", on recto at bottom "SIC ERAT HOC LATE NOTUS LAMPSONIUS ANN[O] / DEFUNCTUS SENIOR QUA SANCTUS ALEXIUS HO[RA] / CUIUS HABET PRIMUM LATERIS LAEVI OSSA SA[CELLUM] / CUM FAMULIS QUI CHRISTE TUIS IN PACE QUIESCA[T]", on verso at centre "IN QUO / OPORTEAT / NOS SALVOS / FIERI / ACT. IIII. CAP" (losses, retouching, scratches, surface dirt, left panel with browned varnish and black paint to cover losses, right panel more fresh and losses visible, right panel sm. part cut at right edge, both sl. faded on verso, joints on verso strengthened with canvas or wood).
In later wooden frames. 1 with plate "OTTO VENIUS / Portrait de NICOLAS LAMPSON (†1635)", 1 with label of the Lambert Lombard exhibition and metal wire for hanging. Extraordinary document on one of the greatest Netherlandish humanists and poets.
The outside of the monumental wings shows a trompe-l'oeil of black and red marble with in 2 ovals a Latin citation from Acts 4:12 (the story of Peter and John before the Sanhedrin). The inside depicts 2 kneeling figures in prayer with a Latin citation from Luke 1:30-31 (the Annunciation) at the top. The man on the right is portrayed as a scholar and is wearing a black robe, a coat with fur and a ruff. He can be identified as the humanist, poet and painter Dominicus Lampsonius (Bruges 1532-Liège 1599). He strongly resembles the portrait engraving by Philips Galle's (1537-1612) workshop (New Hollstein (Philips Galle) IV, p. 119, fig. 29). The Latin text below him states: "So was, this year, the famous Lampsonius / who died the eldest on the same hour as St Alexius / the first chapel on the left contains his bones / Christ, may he rest in peace with your servants". The first 2 verses are a chronogram. The large Roman capitals add up to 1599 (MCCCCLLLXVVVVVVVIIII), the year of his death. The man on the left is portrayed as a clergyman and is wearing a white surplice with lace inserts while his fur collar is also visible. He can be identified as his brother Nicolas Lampsonius (d. Liège 1635), poet and dean of the Church of St Denis in Liège. The Latin inscription accompanying him reads: "Jesus, Savior of the world, to whom the Virgin gave birth / gives the hoped-for sun after the lamp to these brothers / of whom the youngest desires to be buried here / when, by dying, he ceases to be dean of this church". The devise "Post lampadem solem" ("After the lamp, the sun", i.e. "After the darkness comes the light") is incorporated in this Latin text. It is a pun on the Lampsonius family name and refers to the Resurrection of Christ and the afterlife. The inscriptions indicate the panels were part of the funerary monument of the Lampsonius family in the Church of St Denis in Liège. Given the references to the Virgin and Christ, the lost central panel probably depicted the Annunciation, the Nativity or the Madonna. Sources from the 17th and 18th c. confirm that Nicolas Lampsonius had erected a funeral monument for his brother and himself with the same chronogram in 1603.
In the past, the panels have been attributed to Otto van Veen (1556-1629), apprentice to Lampsonius and later tutor of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). Indeed, a poem by Nicolas indicates a painting of Christ by Van Veen was placed in front of the funerary monument in 1625. A drawing by Van Veen has also been used to support this attribution. It should be noted, however, that this is not a design drawing for the funerary monument, but rather a bust portrait of Dominicus in Van Veen's album amicorum from 1584 (Brussels, KBR, Ms. II 874, fol. VIII; see J. van den Gheyn (ed)., Album amicorum de Otto Venius. Reproduction intégrale en fac-similé, Brussels 1911, pp. 24-25, 85-87). While there are marked similarities, Dominicus appears older in the panel with grey hair and a slightly longer beard. It is remarkable that in the panels Nicolas directs his gaze towards the now lost central panel, while Dominicus self-consciously stares at the beholder. It has been suggested that this panel is possibly a self-portrait by Dominicus completed shortly before his death, but this pose can more likely be attributed to the use of an existing portrait as a model.
The panels were discovered by Professor Alphonse Roersch from Ghent University in a villa in Andoumont (near Liège), where they were used as doors in an attic. The paintings were then inherited by his daughter Marie-Antoinette-Josephine Roersch, the wife of Professor Pierre Martens from KU Leuven, and passed on to their children and grandchildren. Thus the panels were kept in the same family for 4 generations. The wings were included in exhibitions such as the prominent show on the age of Lambert Lombard in Liège in 1966. Since then, they have not been exhibited for half a century. With documentation including a conservation report of the right panel from 1996.
Ref. J. Casier & P. Bergmans, L'art ancien dans les Flandres (région de l'Escaut). Mémorial de l'exposition rétrospective organisée à Gand en 1913, Brussels-Paris 1922, III, pp. 74-77, cat. 296-297, pl. CCLVII, fig. 381-382. - J. Puraye, Dominique Lampson. Humaniste, [Bruges] 1950, pp. 21-22, pl. III. - Oude kunst uit Leuvens privébezit, exh. cat. Stedelijk Museum, Leuven 1964, pp. 106-107, cat. V/144-V/145. - Lambert Lombard et son temps, exh. cat. Musée de l'Art wallon, Liège 1966, pp. 57-58, cat. 150.
Prov. Villa in Andoumont (near Liège). - Alphonse Roersch (1870-1951), Ghent. - By descent to his daughter Marie-Antoinette-Josephine Roersch (1898-1978) and her husband Pierre Martens (1895-1981), Heverlee (near Leuven). - By descent to their children and grandchildren.
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