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  • SEBASTIAN VRANCX (1573-1647)




    Inscribed l.l. Deslong [?]

    Pen & ink, with brush & wash and black chalk 

    18 x 24 cm





    The present work is the original study for a print, made by Willem van Nieuladnt II (1582-1635), titled Een Smederij (The Forge). Although the print's original design was credited to Willem's teacher Paul Bril (1554-1626) in the publication, as were the other etchings in the series, this was false in several instances. The reason behind the credit to Bril for those works which were not based on his drawings may in fact have been a subtle marketing ploy by the younger artist to attract attention off the back of his mentor's fame and reputation; or, alternatively, it may have indicated that van Nieulandt wished to express that the subjects and compositions were derived from Bril's teaching (1) (2). Recent research has revealed that a number of Van Nieulandt's prints from this series were in fact based on drawings by Sebastian Vrancx, a fellow student of Bril's in Rome, with this sheet a newly-discovered and hitherto unpublished example from that group. 




    Sebastian (sometimes spelled Sebastiaen) Vrancx was born in Antwerp, the son of a local merchant. He began his artistic training in the workshop of Adam Van Noord (1561-1641), who also taught Vrancx’s contemporaries Rubens and Jacob Jordaens. Vrancx visited Italy shortly after his apprenticeship was completed (in c.1595/96), and a remarkable album of topographical drawings from this trip can be found in the Devonshire Collection at Chatsworth (inv,. No.1282-1326). During this trip, ‘Vrancx was rapidly to adapt a highly mannered style in landscape, idiosyncratic within the style formulated by Paulus Bril’ (3), having no doubt already been familiar with the older artist’s printed oeuvre from his time in Van Noord’s studio. 


    Vrancx returned to Antwerp in 1600, whereupon he was made a master in the Guild of St Luke; however, his Roman and Italianate subjects had a profound influence on one particular artist, Willem van Nieulandt II, who became a student of Bril’s in 1602 (in Rome). Both artists borrowed each other’s drawings, both to study and from which to produce printed material (as in the case of the present sheet). A number of drawings by the two demonstrate this clearly, with subtly different perspectives, compositions and staffage differentiating each artist’s treatment of the same subjects.



    From the time of his return in Antwerp, the palpable influence of Bil on the young artist's style began to dissipate, and he began to focus more on battle scenes, a genre for which he swiftly gained a considerable reputation. Over the course of his career - spent almost entirely in his hometown - he would also paint numerous landscapes imbued with religious and mythological material; seasonal allegories; both urban and rural genre scenes; and elegant banquets, often framed by ornate architecture and gardens. 


    He was invited, in 1610, to join the Confrerie of Romanists, an exclusive society of Antwerp humanists and artists, whose condition of membership was that one had travelled to Rome itself. Soon after this Vrancx was elected to the Deanship of the painter’s chamber of the Guild, and was even the district head of his local civil militia. Such was Vrancx’s reputation in this latter role, that the mayor of Antwerp created him captain of the whole civic guard itself, which role entitled him to bear a sword at all times (Van Dyck's portrait of Vrancx from this time shows this symbol of his stature prominently).


    Vrancx’s numerous positions within the Guild and civil society more broadly established him as one of the most important and respected Flemish artists of his day; however, he kept only a very small studio, according to an account by Jan Brueghel II, and less than a handful of his pupils are known today (Peter Snayers, Pieter Molenaer, Juan de la Corte, and Balthasar Courtois). 



    • NOTES

      (1) L. Ruby Woods, Paul Bril: The Drawings, Brepols (1999), p.47 and note 398 (p.147)

      (2) W.A. te Slaa, 'Willem van Nieulandt II as Printmaker', in Print Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 4 (December 2014), pp.389-392

      (3) (3) The Devonshire Collection of Northern European Drawings (ed. M. Jaffé), vol. II (2002), p.251

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