Workshop(?) of HANS VAN AACHEN
Cologne 1552 — 1615 Prague
Holy Family with St. Anne and Two Angels
oil on copper. 111/16 x 81/2" (281 x 216 mm).
The present composition is derived from an engraving measuring 111/2 x 85/8" (292 x 219 mm) by Agedius Sadeler that was in turn derived from a design, presumably a small painting, by Hans van Aachen.1 Both works were probably executed in the decade of the 1590's. Several other painted versions are known. Though they are not of the quality of the present example, their existence is testimony to the popularity and appeal of the composition. A painting on metal, measuring 111/8 x 81/4" (283 x 210 mm), was sold at Sotheby's in London on 12 July, 1978. It was (erroneously) attributed to Hans van Aachen. In a sale at Christie's on 22 July 1988, another version measuring 101/2 x 8" (267 x 203 mm) was offered as circle of Calvaert. Richard Feigen had a third version which was given to Pieter van Veen. A larger oil on canvas, 40 x 32" (1010 x 810 mm), labelled follower of Hans van Aachen was offered by Sotheby's, lot #1 on 22 October, 1992. Also larger, 34 x 29" (860 x 730 mm), a painting catalogued as School of Prague, ca. 1580, was sold by Ader Tajan at Drouot on June 28, 1993, cat. #81. Similarly catalogued and of similar size, 34 x 30" (860 x 760 mm), Ader Tajan sold another version on 31 March, 1994, #57.
Calvaert arrived in Italy around 1560 and worked initially in Bologna with Prospero Fontana. In 1572, he went to Rome with Lorenzo Sabatini to work on the vast decorations of the Sala Reggia in the Vatican under Giorgio Vasari. Upon his return to Bologna in 1575, he founded a school which was a great success, influencing the development of Classicism and its prophets Reni, Domenichino and Albani. By the 1580's Calvaert's own Central Italian Mannerist style was tempered by the influence of Correggio and Barocci. The highly finished delicacy of the present painting is characteristic of Calvaert's work during the last decade of the 16th century when such small-scale private devotional pictures were very popular and often commissioned. Today the artist is still highly regarded. In a recent major exhibition of Emilian artists of the 16th century, his reputation was characterized succinctly: "Calvaert distinguished himself as a draughtsman and painter of the highest quality." 2
Comparable jewel-like paintings on copper by Calvaert are in the National Gallery of Scotland, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and Burghley House, to cite just a few.3
Hans von Aachen came from Cologne and married the daughter of Orlando di Lasso, a famous music composer from that time whose works are still performed to this day. He worked for many years in Italy, he was court artist to Havarian Duke Wilhelm V and he moved to Prague in 1597. Rudolf II showed him favour and elevated him in 1604 to the status of nobleman. Hans von Aachen was responsible for acquiring for Rudolf's collections the famous Classical torso of Ilioneus by Praxiteles which became a kind of memento of the Rudolfine collections. It remained at the Prague Castle until 1782 when it was auctioned off for thirty kreutzers by the offices of Josef II during the period of the Enlightenment. It is now housed at the museum of glyptic art in Munich. Hans von Aachen will be represented at the exhibition (Rudolf, 1997, Prague) by a number of oil paintings and drawings such as The Annunciation, in the ownership of the Prague Archbishopric, The Three Graces from the National Museum collections in Bucharest or Bacchus, Ceres and Cupid from the gallery of the Museum of Art History in Vienna.
Reproduced in Hollstein's Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts, ca. 1450-1700, Vol. XXII, Amsterdam, 1980, p. 19, cat. & fig. 79.
The Age of Correggio and the Carracci, Washington, 1986, p. 77.
See photographs at the Witt Library, Courtauld Institute of Art, London.