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Nico­laes Maes, Dutch, 1634-1693

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Sketch of St. Matthew and the Angel, c. 1652-53 

Nico­laes Maes trained with Rem­brandt before return­ing to Dor­drecht to become an inde­pen­dent mas­ter in 1653. This draw­ing shows Maes’s engage­ment with bib­li­cal sub­ject mat­ter before he turned exclu­sive­ly to por­trai­ture in the 1660s. It like­ly depicts an angel inspir­ing the evan­ge­list Matthew at work on his gospel, a scene com­mon­ly illus­trat­ed by Rem­brandt and his fol­low­ers. With broad, ener­getic lines, Maes explores Matthew’s reac­tion to a pres­ence that is heard, but per­haps not seen. Details such as the turn­ing of Matthew’s head, his out­ward gaze, and his hand raised to his beard sug­gest a spir­i­tu­al inter­ac­tion. A study of a man, per­haps anoth­er bib­li­cal fig­ure, is locat­ed on the reverse of the sheet.

After a peri­od of train­ing with Rem­brandt in Ams­ter­dam, Nico­laes Maes returned to his home­town of Dor­drecht to set up as an inde­pen­dent mas­ter in 1653.1

He spent the remain­der of the 1650s paint­ing inno­v­a­tive scenes of domes­tic every­day life, for which he is best known today, along with a num­ber of reli­gious sub­jects. From the early 1660s onward, how­ev­er, he aban­doned these more cre­ative-mind­ed gen­res to devote him­self entire­ly to por­trai­ture, an activ­i­ty that he car­ried out exclu­sive­ly for the rest of his long and suc­cess­ful career. There are only around 110 sur­viv­ing draw­ings that can be ascribed to Maes with con­fi­dence, almost all of which appear to date to the 1650s, and thus from his ear­li­est and most inven­tive phase.2

The Peck draw­ing was once part of the Dal­housie album, a bound group of eighty-four sheets by Rem­brandt and his fol­low­ers that remained with the Scot­tish Earls of Dal­housie for almost two cen­turies before being sold and dis­persed in the 1920s.3

The earls’ dis­tinc­tive mark of the let­ter D with a crown, seen here in the lower left cor­ner, can still be found on many of the sheets. Wil­helm Valen­tin­er quick­ly rec­og­nized that a num­ber of the draw­ings in the Dal­housie album must be by Maes, since sev­er­al clear­ly served as com­po­si­tion­al stud­ies for some of his works from the 1650s, such as his well-known eaves­drop­per” paint­ings.4

William Robin­son con­vinc­ing­ly estab­lished that at least thir­ty-four of the draw­ings from the Dal­housie album are by Maes, includ­ing the present work.5

Other artists rep­re­sent­ed in the album were like­wise some of Rem­brandt’s most famous pupils, includ­ing Fer­di­nand Bol (1616 – 1680), Govert Flinck (1615 – 1660), Samuel van Hoogstrat­en (1627 – 1678), Willem Drost (1633 – 1659), and Philips Kon­inck (1619 – 1688).6

Wern­er Sumows­ki, who first pub­lished this draw­ing, iden­ti­fied the sub­ject as Eli­jah and the Angel.7

In this Old Tes­ta­ment episode, the despair­ing prophet Eli­jah is awok­en in the wilder­ness by an angel who pro­vides him with food and drink (1 Kings 19:5 – 7). It was a sub­ject occa­sion­al­ly treat­ed by Rem­brandt and his pupils, and also Maes in a draw­ing in Frank­furt Fig. 40.1.8

Nicolaes Maes, Elijah and the Angel
Fig. 40.1

Nico­laes Maes, Eli­jah and the Angel. Pen and brown ink with bluish and red­dish wash­es on paper, 181 × 148 mm. Frank­furt, Städel Muse­um, inv. no. 13055.

The Peck draw­ing, how­ev­er, does not fit the iconog­ra­phy of such a scene very well, lack­ing signs of a wilder­ness set­ting, Eli­jah hav­ing been asleep, or food and drink. Far more like­ly is that the sketch depicts St. Matthew and the Angel, show­ing the evan­ge­list at work on his Gospel while receiv­ing inspi­ra­tion from an angel. This was also a pop­u­lar sub­ject among Rem­brandt’s fol­low­ers, and Rem­brandt paint­ed his own cel­e­brat­ed ver­sion of the sub­ject in 1661 show­ing the angel gen­tly whis­per­ing inspi­ra­tion into the ear of the writ­ing saint, who strokes his beard Fig. 40.2.9

Rembrandt, St. Matthew and the Angel
Fig. 40.2

Rem­brandt, St. Matthew and the Angel, 1661. Oil on can­vas, 96 × 81 cm. Paris, Musée du Lou­vre, inv. no. 1738.

An even more com­pelling com­par­i­son with Maes’s sketch can be found in a paint­ing cur­rent­ly attrib­uted to Karel van der Pluym (1625 – 1672) in the North Car­oli­na Muse­um of Art that shows Matthew turn­ing his head slight­ly in the direc­tion of the angel, whose pres­ence is heard and felt but per­haps not seen Fig. 40.3.10

Attributed to Karel van der Pluym, St. Matthew and the Angel
Fig. 40.3

Attrib­uted to Karel van der Pluym, St. Matthew and the Angel, c. 1655 – 60. Oil on can­vas, 106.6 × 108 cm. Raleigh, North Car­oli­na Muse­um of Art, inv. no. 59.35.1.

Work­ing out the ethe­re­al nature of the inter­ac­tion may have been Maes’s pri­ma­ry con­cern in the Peck draw­ing, cap­tur­ing the nature of divine man­i­fes­ta­tion and presence.

Many paint­ings by Rem­brandt and his fol­low­ers depict­ing evan­ge­lists and apos­tles seem to have been pro­duced as stand-alone works (rather than made and sold in series).11

Maes paint­ed indi­vid­ual apos­tles on at least two occa­sions, though nei­ther depicts St. Matthew.12 One is his St. Thomas in Kas­sel.13 The other is a sim­i­lar­ly scaled St. Andrew that emerged on the art mar­ket in 2011.14

Although doubts about Maes’s author­ship of these two works have been expressed in the past, Ari­ane van Suchte­len recent­ly accept­ed both with­out reser­va­tion in the major 2019 – 20 exhi­bi­tion devot­ed to Maes.15

Despite the fact that the Peck draw­ing can­not be con­nect­ed to any known paint­ing, it might be a com­po­si­tion­al sketch or primo pen­siero for a paint­ing that never came to fruition, or has sub­se­quent­ly been lost. He could have also just drawn it for exer­cise, as was like­ly the case for a num­ber of his other loose sketch­es uncon­nect­ed to paint­ings. Sumows­ki sur­mised that the Peck draw­ing might have been made around 1652 – 53, but a slight­ly later date should also be con­sid­ered given that the St. Thomas in Kas­sel is dated 1656, and that the evan­ge­list and apos­tle theme only seems to have become pop­u­lar among Rem­brandt and his fol­low­ers begin­ning in the late 1650s.

The sketch on the verso, unknown to Sumows­ki, is pub­lished here for the first time. It shows an old man hold­ing one arm to his chest and reach­ing out with the other one for sup­port. It is pos­si­bly a study for the fig­ure of Jacob, who reacts with pro­found grief when he is shown the blood­stained cloak of Joseph, and believes his son to be dead (Gen­e­sis 37:31 – 34). The intense drama of this moment fre­quent­ly served as sub­ject mat­ter for Rem­brandt and his fol­low­ers, includ­ing Maes. His draw­ing of the sub­ject in the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art depicts a sim­i­lar­ly beard­ed Jacob who also holds his hand to his chest Fig. 40.4.16

Nicolaes Maes, Jacob Receiving Joseph's Blood-Stained Cloak
Fig. 40.4

Nico­laes Maes, Jacob Receiv­ing Joseph’s Blood-Stained Cloak, c. 1653. Pen and brush in brown ink over red and traces of black chalk on paper, 220 × 302 mm. New York, Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art, inv. no. 2005.418.12.

End Notes

  1. For Maes’s life and works, see espe­cial­ly The Hague & Lon­don 2019 – 20; Krem­pel 2000; and Robin­son 1996.

  2. For Maes’s draw­ings, see Sumows­ki Draw­ings, vol. 8 (1984); Robin­son 1989; Robin­son 1996, 96 – 149; and M. Schapel­houman in The Hague & Lon­don 2019 – 20, 183 – 97. Defin­ing Maes’s drawn oeu­vre remains prob­lem­at­ic. Sumows­ki cat­a­logued 265 draw­ings by Maes, but Robin­son argued that around 100 of his attri­bu­tions are wor­thy of rejec­tion on styl­is­tic grounds, and that a fur­ther fifty-seven works, those that fall into the so-called Pseu­do-Vic­tors group, should also be removed from his oeu­vre; see Robin­son 1996, 97 – 99. For a recent recon­sid­er­a­tion of the Pseu­do-Vic­tors group, named for its early but reject­ed attri­bu­tion to Jan Vic­tors (1619 – 1676/77) and later con­sid­ered the work of Maes’s step­son, Jus­tus de Gelder (1650 – 1707), see M. Schapel­houman in The Hague & Lon­don 2019 – 20, 188 – 91, who argues that this group is indeed the work of a very young Maes.

  3. For the Dal­housie album in gen­er­al and a recon­struc­tion of its con­tents, see Robin­son 1996, 315 – 27. For the Earls of Dal­housie, see Lloyd Williams 1992, 163; and the entries under Lugt 717a (www​.mar​ques​decol​lec​tions​.fr). The fam­i­ly actu­al­ly pos­sessed two albums of draw­ings: the one under dis­cus­sion, and anoth­er con­tain­ing Ital­ian draw­ings dis­persed at the same time. The albums appear to have been already formed before they were acquired, prob­a­bly by George Ram­say (1739 – 1787), the 8th Earl of Dal­housie, but their ear­li­er prove­nance remains a mystery.

  4. Valen­tin­er 1923.

  5. Robin­son 1996, 318 – 21, nos. 1 – 34; and for the Peck draw­ing, idem, 318, no. 5. Sev­er­al of Maes’s draw­ings for­mer­ly in the Dal­housie album are now in the Muse­um Boi­j­mans Van Beunin­gen, Rot­ter­dam; see Giltaij 1988, 222 – 34, nos. 112 – 13, 115 – 21. Many of the rest remain in pri­vate hands.

  6. For the draw­ings attrib­uted to other artists for­mer­ly in the Dal­housie album, see Robin­son 1996, 324 – 26, nos. 56 – 74.

  7. Sumows­ki Draw­ings, vol. 8, 4130 – 31, no. 1842x.

  8. Sumows­ki Draw­ings, vol. 8, 4114 – 15, no. 1834x.

  9. Rem­brandt Cor­pus, vol. 6, no. 289. See also A. Blankert in Mel­bourne & Can­ber­ra 1997 – 98, 161 – 63, no. 22; and A. K. Whee­lock in Wash­ing­ton & Los Ange­les 2005, 92 – 98, 134, no. 7.

  10. Weller 2009, 162 – 64, no. 35.

  11. These por­traits” of evan­ge­lists and apos­tles were the sub­ject of Wash­ing­ton & Los Ange­les 2005. Note that Matthew (along with John) is one of the four evan­ge­lists who also counts among the twelve apostles.

  12. A. van Suchte­len in The Hague & Lon­don 2019 – 20, 28 – 29, figs. 8 – 9.

  13. Nico­laes Maes, St. Thomas, 1656, oil on can­vas, 120 × 90.3 cm (Kas­sel, Gemälde­ga­lerie Alte Meis­ter, inv. no. GK 246). See Schnack­en­burg 1996, vol. 1, 176; and A. van Suchte­len in The Hague & Lon­don 2019 – 20, 46 – 49, no. 4.

  14. Nico­laes Maes, St. Andrew, c. 1656, oil on can­vas, 107.1 × 84.5 cm (sale, Sothe­by’s, Lon­don, 7 – 8 Decem­ber 2011, lot 207, as attrib­uted to Maes”).

  15. The Hague & Lon­don 2019 – 2020, 46 – 49, no. 4, and 205, note 14.

  16. For anoth­er draw­ing by Maes of Jacob Shown the Blood-Stained Cloak of Joseph with a sim­i­lar beard­ed fig­ure, see the sheet in Edin­burgh, Nation­al Gallery of Scot­land, inv. no. D2865; Andrews 1985, vol. 1, 49, no. D2865, vol. 2, 79, fig. 327.