A Landscape with Studies of Dromedaries and their Keepers

Oil on Panel
13 7/8 x 20 11/16 inches, 35.3 x 52.6 cm
Essay: 

The reverse of this fascinating oak panel is stamped with the maker's mark of Michiel Vriendt. The earliest known panel mark dates from 1612 and is that of Guillaum Gabron. The Antwerp City panel mark only came into use in 1617, giving us a 'terminus ante quem' for this panel -a date confirmed by a dendrochronological report. The addition of material hanging straps on the reverse, which appear to be of the 17th Century, would suggest that the panel was hung without a frame. In all probability this panel was used as a study aid in Brueghel's studio for his pupils to follow and to use in their paintings. Some of the profiles and head-on views of these dromedaries are readily recognizable in paintings from both the studios of Jan Brueghel the Elder and the Younger, respectively. A fine example are the two dromedaries in Brueghel the Elder's picture "The Entry into Noah's Ark" (Ertz, cat no 273), of which many versions and variations exist.

A number of panels of animal studies of nearly identical size and style to this are known and previously formed part of the Gustav von Benda collection (now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna); notably one depicting studies of various dogs. The second panel includes donkeys, monkeys and cats. A third panel bearing a "D. Teniers" signature, but undoubtedly from the same group of study panels, appeared at auction with Sotheby's on October 12th 1983, lot 102. However, the appearance in our painting of the two handlers, stylistically very close to David Teniers, is puzzling until one examines infrared photography of the picture. This photograph reveals a number of further studies concealed under the landscape (some discernible with the naked eye) and this would suggest that the figures were added later in the 17th Century, probably to make the panel into a more commercially viable prospect than a mere studio study panel. Taking into account the original composition of the panel it fits considerably more readily with the other three study panels.

The dromedary was a rare beast in 17th Century central Europe and could only be seen in the flesh (which the dromedaries in this panel almost certainly were) in the most important menageries. Indeed, the most famous of menageries, that of Rudolf II, boasted only few. It may well be that a panel of dromedary studies was seen as eminently saleable by an opportunistic studio member.

Exhibitions: 

"Discoveries", Museum Het Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam, 1st May to 1st July 2012