'Sterckheyt van Wij sheyt en Voorsichticheyt verwonnen': Overwegingen bij een Allegorie van Cornelis Ketel

in Oud Holland – Journal for Art of the Low Countries
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Abstract

During his sojourn in England, from 1573 to 1581, Cornelis Ketel received numerous portrait commissions, but did not paint many allegories. Van Mander gives a brief description of only one of them: Kracht door Wijsheid en 1 óorzichtzgheid overwonnen (Strength Conquered by Wisdom and Prudence, o.c. note 1, fol. 275 14-20). In 1986 an Allegory dating from the period in question (1580) appeared on the market. In a decor of captured weapons, it shows three nude men subjugated by a woman and tied up with snakes [figs. 1, 2). A number of circumstances preclude the conclusive identification of this painting as the one described by Van Mander: a) the woman with the snake might be Prudence, but Wisdom is missing; the reason for this might be that the canvas has been cropped, as is indicated by the absence of cusping; b) the attitude of Strength, the muscular man wearing a loincloth, is more consistent with the characteristics of Fury as described by Virgil, Cartari and Ripa (notes 7-9). A biblical source for this theme is Ecclesiastes 9:15-18, where Wisdom is rated higher than Strength and weapons of war. All sources associate Fortitude/ Fury with acts of war, so that a political connotation cannot be ruled out. In the Duke of Buckingham's collection was another allegory by Ketel representing victorious Virtues. This painting was not as tall as the work of 1580 published here (notes 13-19). The Duke of Buckingham's painting cannot be identified with the one for the Amsterdam jeweller Jan van Wely (Van Mander, fol. 275 r43 -275v30), as that painting was still in the collection of his family in 1670 (notes 17, 18). Iconographically, there is a remarkable correspondence with a work by Frans Floris, the subject of which has not been satisfactorily accounted for either (fig. 3, note 20). Pending a definitive identification, it seems to represent Fortitude/Mars/Fury rendered powerless by the loss of his weapons, and conquered by the female personifications of Wisdom and/or Prudence. Ketel was stylistically influenced not only by Floris (fig. 5, notes 23-25) but also by prints after Maarten van Heemskerck and Michelangelo (figs.6, 7). There is something of the Venetian style in the manner of painting. Ketel was acquainted with this style from an altar-piece by Dirck Barents, in the St. Janskerk in Gouda (note 29). It should be stressed that Ketel was unable to find a market for his allegories in England (cf. note 30), as may also be deduced from Van Mander. At the Tate Gallery's exhibition Dynasties 1530- 1630 (1995/96, note 32), Ketel's Allegory of 1580 contrasted starkly with the other exhibits: at the time when he was in England, the delicate subtlety of painters like Hilliard and Oliver was more to the British taste. Their manner was a far cry from Ketel's boldly painted allegory with its large figures. Not until some fifty years later, when the Venetian School, Rubens and Van Dyck were gaining ground, was Ketel duly appreciated in England.

'Sterckheyt van Wij sheyt en Voorsichticheyt verwonnen': Overwegingen bij een Allegorie van Cornelis Ketel

in Oud Holland – Journal for Art of the Low Countries

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