Adriaen van der Werff and Henrik van Limborch (Dutch
Kralingen 1659 - 1722 Rotterdam; The Hague 1681 - 1759 The Hague)
Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph, before 1722 - completed 1728
Oil on panel
24 1/16 x 18 11/16 in. (61.1 x 47.5 cm)
Mrs. F. F. Prentiss Fund, 1963
Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph was begun by Adriaen van der Werff and completed after his death by his former pupil, Henrik van Limborch. The painting exemplifies the meticulously detailed fijnschilder technique and cool, classicizing style that were especially popular among collectors and connoisseurs during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
Van der Werff has interpreted the biblical scene of Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph quite literally; the classical restraint of his composition underscores the sober drama of the moment (compare West's Jacob Blessing Ephraim and Manasseh of 1766, AMAM inv. 61.70). Jacob's muscular bared torso recalls van der Werff's use of engravings after classical statues as sources for his heroic figures; although an exact model for the figure of Jacob in this painting has not been identified, it is reasonably close to an engraving after a Roman statue of the Tiber, published in François Perrier's Icones et segmenta nobilium signorum et statuarum (Paris, 1638).1 The technical virtuosity exhibited in the minute detail and enamel-like surfaces of the Oberlin painting exemplifies the conscious refinement of Dutch fijnschilder (literally, "fine painter") paintings, prized by collectors and connoisseurs throughout Europe during the late seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth century.2
Consistently catalogued since the eighteenth century as a work by Adriaen van der Werff and acquired by the museum as such in 1963, more recent publications have raised doubts about the authorship of the Oberlin painting. Snoep accepted the painting as by van der Werff, but noted that it was neither signed nor dated (an unusual feature in van der Werff's oeuvre), and did not appear in the detailed list of autograph works that the artist made between 1699 and 1722.3 On stylistic grounds, Gaehtgens proposed van der Werff's pupil, Henrik van Limborch, as the author of the piece, citing the distinctive facial types, poses, and handling of the drapery as more characteristic of van Limborch than of his master.4 The publication of van Limborch's studio diary Notitie der dagelijxe schilderoeffening (Memorandum of Daily Painting Practice) proves that the Oberlin painting was one of ten works begun by van der Werff and completed after his death by his former pupil.5 Although not an unusual practice for this period, such meticulous documentation is rare.
In his memorandum book, covering the years 1716 to January 1732, van Limborch described all the paintings he worked on and the time spent on each; he may have gotten the idea from a similar record kept by van der Werff.6 Van Limborch worked on the Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph for a total of thirty-two and one-half days between 28 March 1727 and 1 May 1728; and on the pendant, Hagar Humbling Herself before Sarah and Abraham, for thirty-one days between 27 March 1727 and 19 May 1728.7 What is not clear is how much of the actual painting had been completed by van der Werff before the panel passed into van Limborch's hands. The seamless execution of Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph asserts van Limborch's conscious "matching" of his technique to that of his master.
The later date now given to the painting--completed in 1728, rather than the former terminus ante quem imposed by van der Werff's death in 1722--is also significant in terms of the use of Prussian blue pigment in the curtain at upper left. First discovered by a German chemist in 1704, the pigment seems to have been for sale in Berlin by 1710, and was certainly available in Amsterdam by 1722. Richard Buck stated that the appearance of Prussian blue in Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph could constitute the earliest documented use of the pigment, and suggested that van der Werff's ties with the German court may have given him access to the pigment at an early date.8 By 1727-28, however, when the Oberlin painting was completed by Henrik van Limborch, Prussian blue pigment was readily available commercially.
M. E. Wieseman
Son of a well-to-do miller and city alderman, Adriaen van der Werff was born in Kralingen, now part of Rotterdam, on 21 January 1659. He was apprenticed to the painter Cornelis Picolet in 1669-70, but his study with the fijnschilder ("fine painter") Eglon Hendrik van der Neer (ca. 1634-1703) between 1671 and 1676 had a more visible impact on his art. The artist married Margareta Rees in 1687. He served as dean of the Rotterdam St. Luke's Guild between 1691 and 1695, and held several important civic posts between 1706 and his death in 1722. From 1696 to 1716 van der Werff was employed by Johan Willem, Elector Palatinate, in Düsseldorf, although he continued to reside in Rotterdam. He was richly rewarded for his services; he was made court painter in 1697, and knighted in 1703.
During the early part of his career, van der Werff painted fashionable genre scenes and portraits; his meticulous and refined technique earned him the patronage of many influential collectors. From the mid 1690s he painted an increasing number of history paintings--including large decorative works--in a more classicizing style. Among van der Werff's pupils was his younger brother Pieter (1661/65-1722). A studio journal kept by the artist records the hours he and his brother worked on individual paintings, including copies after Adriaen's original compositions.9
Henrik van Limborch was born in The Hague, the second son of a prosperous lawyer. He was a pupil of Robert Duval (1644-1732) and Jan de Baen (1633-1702) in The Hague, then studied with Adriaen van der Werff in Rotterdam from 1699 to 1702. He returned to The Hague in 1702 and lived there, unmarried, until his death in 1739. Van Limborch painted primarily portraits and history paintings, both small cabinet pictures and large-scale decorative works. In addition to his own paintings, van Limborch added figures in landscapes by Johan van Gool (1687-1763), and completed pictures by his former master Adriaen van der Werff after the latter's death in 1722.
Gaehtgens, Barbara. Adriaen van der Werff. Munich, 1987.
Sale Hoogeveen et al., Amsterdam (Van der Linden & De Winter), 5 June 1765, lot 5 (ƒ560, to de Winter; with pendant, lot 6)
Possibly offered for sale by Mettra, Paris (1767) for 10,530 livres, with pendant10
Bildergalerie, Sanssouci, Potsdam (by 1770), with pendant
Königliche Museum (later the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum), Berlin (ca. 1837-1906), with pendant
Returned to the private collection of the Princes of Hohenzollern (1906-1925), with pendant
Private collection, London
Purchased sale London (Christie's), 24 May 1963, lot 152
The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1973. Dutch Art and Life in the Seventeenth Century. 10 July - 2 September. No cat.
Milwaukee Art Museum, 1976. The Bible through Dutch Eyes. 9 April - 23 May. Cat. no. 26.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 1976. The Eye of Thomas Jefferson. 5 June - 6 September. Cat. no. 336.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 1980-81. Gods, Saints and Heroes: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt. 2 November - 4 January (also shown at The Detroit Institute of Arts, and Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum). Cat. no. 72.
Hoet, Gerard, and Pieter Terwesten. Catalogus ofte Naamlyst van Schilderyen, met derselver prysen.... Vol. 3. The Hague, 1770, p. 451.
Oesterreich, M. Beschreibung der Königlichen Bildergallerie und des Kabinetts im Sanssouci. Potsdam, 1770, p. 112.
Decker, C. Arrangement du Cabinet à coté de la Grande Galérie Royale des Tableaux de Sanssouci. Berlin, 1773.
Nicolai, Friedrich. Beschreibung der Königlichen Residenzstädte Berlin und Potsdam. 2d ed., vol. 2, Berlin, 1779, p. 924; and 3d ed., vol. 3, Berlin, 1786, p. 1121.
Rumpf, J. F. D. Beschreibung der äussern und innern Merkwürdig-keiten der Königlichen Schlosser in Berlin, Charlottenburg, Schönhausen, in und bey Potsdam. Berlin, 1794, p. 178.
Smith, John A. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters. Vol. 4. London,1833, p. 212, no. 114 (as at Sans Souci). Vol. 9. London, 1842, p. 558, no. 30 (as in the Museum at Berlin).
Parthey, Gustav. Deutscher Bildersaal: Verzeichniss der in Deutschland vorhandenen Ölbilder verstorbene Maler aller Schulen. Vol. 2. Berlin, 1864, p. 768, no. 15.
Hofstede de Groot, C. Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhundert. Vol. 10. Esslingen and Paris, 1928, p. 241, no. 17.
Henschel-Simon, E. Die Gemälde und Skulpturen in der Bildergalerie von Sanssouci. Berlin, 1930, n.p.
Stechow, Wolfgang. "Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 22, no. 2 (Winter 1965), pp. 69-73.
Buck, Richard D. "Adriaen van der Werff and Prussian Blue." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 22, no. 2 (Winter 1965), pp. 74-76.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 159-60, fig. 81.
Stechow, Wolfgang. "Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph, from Rembrandt to Cornelius." In Festschrift Ulrich Middeldorf, Berlin, 1968, pp. 460-65.
Bader, Alfred. In The Bible Through Dutch Eyes. Exh. cat., Milwaukee Art Museum, 1976, pp. 62-63.
Adams, William Howard. In The Eye of Thomas Jefferson. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1976, p. 193.
Snoep, D. P. In Gods, Saints and Heroes: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980-81, pp. 250-51.
Waterhouse, Ellis. The Dictionary of British 18th Century Painters. London, 1981, p. 406, ill.
Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, p. 212.
Gaehtgens, Barbara. Adriaen van der Werff. Munich, 1987, pp. 140-41, 422-23, cat. no. C 7 (attribution doubtful).
de Vries, Lyckle. Diamante gedenkzuilen en leerzaeme voorbeelden: Een bespreking van Johan van Gool's "Nieuwe Schouburg". Groningen, 1990, p. 113, fig. 18.
Jansen, Guido M. C. "De Notitie der dagelijxe schilderoeffening van Henrik van Limborch (1681-1759)." Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum 45 (1997), pp. 37-39, 60.
Hoffmann, Roald, and Shira Leibowitz Schmidt. Old Wine, New Flasks: Reflections on Science and Jewish Tradition. New York, 1997, pp. 96-100.
The oak panel is slightly chamfered on all sides. There is a split 8.2 cm (3 1/4 in.) long extending up from the bottom edge, about 2 cm (3/4 in.) from the right side of the panel. The panel is covered by a thin ground, composed of three layers: a bottom layer of light brown, then a light pink layer (possibly ochre and lead white), and a top layer of brown. The ground is covered by an opaque paint layer. The oil medium used for both the ground and paint layers probably contains some resin, making both layers easily soluble. The blue pigment used in the curtain at upper left has been identified as Prussian blue, and was previously thought to represent one of the earliest known uses of this pigment in the Netherlands.11 Infrared examination reveals changes in Joseph's proper left hand and in Manasseh's robe; no underdrawing is visible. A few small, scattered flake losses in the paint surface have been inpainted. Surface grime was removed and the varnish reformed in 1990; although the varnish is somewhat yellowed, the solubility of the paint and ground preclude more thorough cleaning. On the verso of the panel is the wax seal of the Königliche Museen, Berlin.
1. On van der Werff's use of classical models, see Barbara Gaehtgens, "Paradigmata Graphices: Adriaen van der Werff and the Model Books of Jan de Bisschop and François Perrier," Print Review 5 (1976), pp. 44-57. Van der Werff used Perrier's engraving of the river god as a model for the figure of Abraham in two versions of Sarah Presenting Hagar to Abraham, the first done in 1696 (St. Petersburg, Hermitage, inv. 1064) and the second in 1699 (Schleißheim, Staatsgalerie, inv. 261), a composition closely related to Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph. See Barbara Gaehtgens, Adriaen van der Werff (Munich, 1987), pp. 138, 270-71 and 279, cat. nos. 45 and 51.
2. The work of the fijnschilders and the regard for their paintings among contemporary and later collectors is discussed by Eric-Jan Sluijter, "Schilders van 'cleyne, subtile ende curieuse dingen': Leidse 'Fijnschilders' in contemporaine bronnen," in Leidse Fijnschilders: Van Gerrit Dou tot Frans van Mieris de Jonge 1630-1760 (exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum "de Lakenhal," Leiden, 1988), pp. 15-55; and by Peter Hecht, in De Hollandse fijnschilders (exh. cat., Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1989).
3. D. P. Snoep, in Gods, Saints and Heroes: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt (exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980-81), p. 250.
4. Barbara Gaehtgens, Adriaen van der Werff (Munich, 1987), pp. 141, 422-23.
5.Guido M. C. Jansen, "De Notitie der dagelijxe schilderoeffening van Henrik van Limborch (1681-1759)," Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum 45 (1997), pp. 26-67, esp. pp. 37-38, 60.
6.Published in Barbara Gaehtgens, Adriaen van der Werff (Munich, 1987), pp. 442-44, doc. 6.
7. Guido M. C. Jansen, "De Notitie der dagelijxe schilderoeffening van Henrik van Limborch (1681-1759)," Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum 45 (1997), pp. 38, 60. The Oberlin painting appeared together with the pendant mentioned in Limborch's memorandum book, Hagar Humbling Herself before Abraham and Sarah, in the sale Hoogeveen et al., Amsterdam (Van der Linden & De Winter), 5 June 1765 (see Provenance). Both works entered the collection at Sanssouci before 1770; by the early nineteenth century the pendant seems to have become misidentified as Isaac Blessing Jacob (oil on panel, 61.3 x 47 cm; formerly Bildergalerie, Sanssouci, Potsdam [lost World War II]; Barbara Gaehtgens, Adriaen van der Werff (Munich, 1987), p. 421, cat. no. C 6). While endorsing this identification of the subject of the pendant, Stechow nonetheless noted that it was a "very unusual interpretation" of the theme (Wolfgang Stechow, "Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 22, no. 2 [Winter 1965], p. 72).
8. Richard D. Buck, "Adriaen van der Werff and Prussian Blue," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 22, no. 2 (Winter 1965), pp. 74-76.
9. Published in Barbara Gaehtgens, Adriaen van der Werff (Munich, 1987), pp. 442-44, doc. 6.
10. See Wolfgang Stechow, "Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 22, no. 2 (Winter 1965), p. 70; and Georg Poengsen, "Die Bildergalerie von Sanssouci und Adriaen van der Werff," Jarhbuch für Kunstwissenschaft (1930), p. 184.
11. Richard D. Buck, "Adriaen van der Werff and Prussian Blue," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 22, no. 2 (Winter 1965), pp. 74-76.