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Cor­nelis Saftleven, Dutch, 1607-1681

Study of a Boy Carrying a Sack, 1654 

Cor­nelis Saftleven, like his equal­ly long-lived younger broth­er, Her­man Saftleven (1609– 1685), left behind a large body of draw­ings, many of which he signed and dated, and pre­sum­ably offered for sale to col­lec­tors.1

While Her­man moved to Utrecht as a young artist and estab­lished a career there as a land­scape spe­cial­ist, Cor­nelis remained in Rot­ter­dam (where both broth­ers were raised), paint­ing and draw­ing in a wide vari­ety of gen­res. In terms of his drawn oeu­vre, he is best known for his sin­gle fig­ure stud­ies like this one, which in total com­prise about a third of his near­ly 500 sur­viv­ing sheets.2

The date on this draw­ing has some­times been mis­read in auc­tion cat­a­logues as 1654, but Wolf­gang Schulz cor­rect­ly saw the last digit as an 8” in his study of the artist’s works.3

Saftleven reg­u­lar­ly dated his draw­ings through­out his five-decade career, but the year 1658 was pos­si­bly a par­tic­u­lar­ly active one for the artist as a drafts­man, since more sheets bear this date than any other, some thir­teen in total.4

Most of these are fig­ure stud­ies. In some of them, one can even rec­og­nize the same young model, who was like­ly a stu­dio assis­tant, and can be found, for exam­ple, stand­ing in prayer in a study in the Alberti­na Fig. 51.1.5

Cornelis Saftleven, Standing Young Man with Praying Hands
Fig. 51.1

Cor­nelis Saftleven, Stand­ing Young Man with Pray­ing Hands, 1658. Black chalk on paper, 282 × 150 mm. Vien­na, Alberti­na, inv. no. 9186.

The ulti­mate func­tion of these numer­ous stud­ies has resist­ed elu­ci­da­tion, since only a few have been iden­ti­fied as prepara­to­ry mate­r­i­al for Saftleven’s paint­ings.6

The most notable of these is a paint­ing in which the broth­ers teamed up, with Cor­nelis sup­ply­ing the fig­ure of a sleep­ing hunter and his dog, and Her­man the land­scape (clev­er­ly signed in the plur­al, Saft-Lev­ens).7

Most of his other unused stud­ies he may have kept in the stu­dio as poten­tial stock for future work, or as records of draw­ing ses­sions in which he worked out spe­cif­ic prob­lems and poses.

Given the large num­ber of these fig­ure stud­ies that sur­vive, how­ev­er, and that the boom­ing col­lec­tors’ mar­ket for draw­ings was on the rise in the 1650s, one can­not help spec­u­lat­ing that many of these sheets were designed to be vendible from the out­set. What impress­es the idea fur­ther is the almost humor­ous way in which the boy car­ry­ing the sack peeks back at the artist under his lock of hair, seem­ing­ly focused less on his pur­port­ed task than he is on the act of pos­ing itself, an inflec­tion that Saftleven may have even seized con­scious­ly. The sack itself comes across as lit­tle more than a pil­low­case stuffed with a few arti­cles, rest­ing with improb­a­ble light­ness across his head and shoul­ders, and there­by lend­ing vis­i­ble pre­tense to his stooped pos­ture while step­ping upward with a heavy load. One might be crit­i­cal of Saftleven’s han­dling of a fig­ure who is sup­posed to be under strain, but the prop­er solu­tion” to such an artis­tic prob­lem might never have been the point in the first place. Arguably detect­ed in the Alberti­na’s pray­ing fig­ure as well (and in other of his fig­ure stud­ies) is Saftleven’s seem­ing pro­mo­tion of the idea that draw­ings can give the appear­ance of being stu­dio mate­r­i­al with­out ever real­ly func­tion­ing as such, like­ly with col­lec­tors already in mind.

End Notes

  1. For Saftleven’s life and works, see Schulz 1978.

  2. Schulz 1978, 80 – 115, nos. 30 – 207. By far the greater major­i­ty of these depict male fig­ures, though Schulz also cat­a­logued twen­ty-eight female figures.

  3. Schulz 1978, 107, no. 170. The draw­ing is often found list­ed with the ear­li­er date in the deal­er and auc­tion cat­a­logues list­ed in the Prove­nance, above.

  4. For a com­plete list of Saftleven’s dated draw­ings, see Schulz 1978, 265.

  5. Schulz 1978, 102, no. 144.

  6. Schulz gives peri­od­ic exam­ples in his gen­er­al dis­cus­sion of the drawn oeu­vre; see Schulz 1978, 40 – 67.

  7. See the entries by W. W. Robin­son in Wash­ing­ton & Paris 2016 – 17, 175 – 77, nos. 68 – 67; and Ams­ter­dam, Vien­na, New York & Cam­bridge 1991 – 92, 158 – 59, no. 70.