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Lot 0018

(Brussels, 1663–1732)

Madonna and the Child

Oil on panel, 26,2 x 21,6 inches (65,5 x 55 cm), carved and gilt ancient frame, signed R. v Orley at right higher corner.

The sacred theme of the Madonna and Child here is reproduced in a secular, realistic version. The Virgin is just an ordinary woman, maybe a poor one. She is in three-quarter profile, half- length, holding the baby in her arms and breast-feeding him. The scene is immediate and spare, with the Mother at the centre. Her hair is blonde, curly and slightly ruffled, framing an attractive, oval face, while a striped veil (hinting at a dishcloth) partly covers the head. A dark tunic is thrown around her, and, covering the right shoulder is a bright pink garment which seems to melt into the cloth enveloping the Child, whose face, unusually, is out of sight.There is little to characterize the scene, no frills or furniture to contextualize the space surrounding the pair. The picture’s strength lies in the contrast of the woman’s sweet yet fearful gaze, addressed to the observer. She captures his attention in order to make him feel involved in the intimacy of that moment, acquainted with the mystery of the Nativity.

In these details it clearly recalls the Flemish practice that turned religious subjects into popular, everyday scenes: so the Madonna and the Child is at once a genre piece and a holy treatment, transcending time and space.This painting distinguishes itself by its sobriety and essentiality, as if the artist had preferred to focus on a deep psychological study, supported by a careful use of colours, rather than to linger on voyeuristic details.

Richard Van OrLey was a member of a bona fide artistic dynasty, the profession handed down from father to son over the centuries. Bernard (1488-1541) was the most famous of the family; Richard was pupil of his father, Pieter (1638-1708), and during his life he collaborated with his brother Jan (1665-1735) depicting mainly religious and mythological subjects. Schuckmann said of the two brothers’ work that «[it] marks the transition between the 17th century Baroque style and the classicism of the 18th century». Painter, draughtsman and engraver, like most of his contemporaries Richard travelled to Italy to complete his studies, as is suggested by a series of 67 drawings representing the Development of Rome (Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale Albert 1er). Other works by him are located in Ghent (drawings with Life of Charles V, Stadtbibliothek), in Antwerp (the only painting of the series with Life of St Norbert, created for the Abbey of Tongerlo, now in Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten) and in Brussels: these are mainly drawings, gouaches, tapestry cartoons or drawings for prints that he personally engraved (Ruins of Brussels, 1695). Less well-known are his paintings (for instance Les pierides changées en pies or Junon placant les yeux d’argus sur la queue de son paon in Ghent’s Museum voor Schone Kunsten).

An example of the latter is this work, which sheds valuable new light on his painting, and which shows us how the artist, probably at the beginning of his career, was influenced by the Naturalism of Utrecht’s Caravaggisti and byVeermer’s portraiture.


Provenance: Private Collection,Torino.

Literature: Schuckmann in The Dictionary of Art, edited by J. Turner, London, Grove, 1996, vol. XXXIII, p. 528; Allgemeines Lexicon der bildenden Künstler von der antike bis zur gegenwart, edited by U. Thieme and F. Becker, Leipzig, 1907-1950, vol. XXVI, 1932, p. 51; Catalogue du Musée des beaux-arts: maîtres anciens: peintures, dessins, gravures, Ghent, 1937, p. 102.

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Richard Van Orley the Younger, Madonna and the Child

Estimate €25,000 - €30,000Jul 9, 2014