A Flemish ivory inlaid ebony, ebonised and tortoiseshell cabinet inset with painted panels, in the manner of Hendrik van Balen (1575-1632), Antwerp, second half 17th century - Photo Sotheby's

of architectural form, the raised top lifting to reveal a panel depicting, `The Flight into Egypt', above a pair of cushion moulded and ripple-cut doors, the inside of the right door depicting, `The Marriage of the Virgin' , the left door depicting, `The Education of the Virgin', after Peter Paul Rubens, enclosing two rows of four drawers and a niche with a further drawer above and below with painted panels depicting scenes from the Life of Christ and the Virgin after van Balen, the door enclosing mirrors and a bone and ebony inlaid floor, the sides with four ripple-cut panels with an iron handle, on an ebonised later stand with a frieze drawer on turned tapering legs terminating in toupie feet; Cabinet 75cm. high, 92.5cm. wide, 41cm. deep; 2ft. 5½in., 3ft. ½in., 1ft. 4¼in., cabinet on stand 140cm. high, 92.5cm. wide, 41cm. deep; 4ft. 7in., 2ft. ½in., 1ft. 4¼in. Estimation: 30,000 - 50,000 GBP

Comparative Literature: Bettina Werche, Henrick Van Balen (1575-1632), ein Antwerpener Kabinettbildmaler der Rubenszeit, Vol. II.,Brepols,
2004, p. 337, A29 and A30.
R.A.M. Stevenson, Peter Paul Rubens, London, 1898.

This beautifully painted cabinet depicts scenes on the inside of both doors after Peter Paul Rubens, although the former is not known to have painted cabinets, many Antwerp 17th century cabinets are inset with paintings after Rubens. His influence can be seen on the inside of the right door of this cabinet with the `The Marriage of the Virgin' after a painting of his which is now lost. It depicts the interior of a classical building with the holy union of Mary and Joseph, with a priest in the act of placing the marriage ring upon the finger of Mary, with onlookers in the background. 

The left door depicts `The Education of the Virgin', by Rubens, now in the Antwerp Museum, illustrated by Stevenson, op. cit.,.

The inside of the top depicts a scene after a follower of van Balen of, `The Flight into Egypt'. The central door is after van Balen, illustrated by Werche p. 339, A32, `Christ and Mary Magdalene' (Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris). The second drawer down on the right, see Werche, B8g, `The Rest during the Flight into Egypt' and the bottom drawer on the right is illustrated by Wercher, B8d, `The Visitation'. The bottom left drawer is illustrated by Werche, p. 337, A30, of `Mary Magdalene the Penitent'.

Painted cabinets in Antwerp:
Antwerp became the leading international centre for the manufacture of cabinets in the 17th century. One of its specialities was cabinets decorated with small oil paintings most of which were influenced in style by the celebrated Flemish artist Rubens who came from and flourished in Antwerp.

In the late 16th century cabinets were already being made in Antwerp. It is however with a unique type of cabinet that Antwerp dominated the market, which was the ebony veneered cabinet decorated with oil paintings, which exploited the city’s fame as the foremost centre for artists. Dealers played an important part in the dissemination of these cabinets to an international market. The most renowned dealer from the 17th century was Melchior Forchondt (d. 1633) whose business survived for three generations and archival records still exist. He was an ebony worker initially and setlted in Antwerp in 1600. Ebony was introduced in the late 16th century to Antwerp via Cadiz and other Spanish ports. 

Although many of the painted panels are after Van Balen, they are probably a little later in date-circa 1640-50. There is plenty of evidence that the Van Balen workshop, perhaps under the direction of his son Jan van Balen continued to produce Van Balenesque pictures, including the personages in landscapes by others, and probably also including Rubens copies, until well past the mid-century.

Henrik van Balen I (b. 1575 –d. Antwerp 1632):
He was a master of the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke in 1592-3. Between 1595 and 1600, he travelled to Italy and upon his return became a member of the Guild of Romanists, so by implication he must have also visited Rome. Three of his sons also became painters and he ran a successful studio for thirty years and had many pupils including Anthony van Dyck in 1609. In 1613, he travelled with Rubens and Jan Breughel the Elder to the Northern Netherlands, but otherwise he remained in Antwerp. At the outset of his career, he executed a large number of altarpieces such as the Resurrection, in St. Jacobskerk, Antwerp. His later altarpieces were in richer more subtle colouring painted after van Dyck joined his studio. He is however, best known for his paintings on cabinets often of mythological subjects. 

Van Balen often collaborated with other artists on these cabinets frequently with his friend Jan Breughel I, for whom he provided figures for landscapes and for fruit and flower garlands. The former also worked with Josse de Momper, Lucas van Uden, Jan Wildens, Frans Snyder and after the death of Jan Breughel the elder, Jan Breughel the Younger. 

A related cabinet probably attributed to the same artist was sold in these Rooms, 25th May 2001, lot 36, (£50,000). another example was sold in these Rooms, Art of Flanders sale, 30th October 2012, lot 47 (£40,000). Also see a cabinet with paintings attributed to Hendrik van Balen, sold Sotheby's, New York, 3rd November 1989, lot 89, ($209,000).

Sotheby's. Arts of Europe. London | 04 déc. 2012 www.sothebys.com