Circle of Artus Quellinus I (1609-1668), Flemish, Mid- 17th Century, The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian. Photo courtesy Sotheby's
with two old paper labels respectively inscribed in ink: 223 and 2.355; ivory; 42.5cm., 16¾in. Estimate 100,000-150,000 GBP
PROVENANCE: George Field collection, United Kingdom (recorded in 1862);
Christie's, London, 7 July 1987, lot 126;
on loan to Museum Schnütgen, Cologne, September 2009 to December 2012
EXHIBITED: London, South Kensington Museum (known today as The Victoria and Albert Museum), June 1862
LITTERATURE: J. C. Robinson (ed.), Catalogue of the special exhibition of works of art of the mediaeval, renaissance, and more recent periods on loan at the South Kensington Museum June 1862, exh. cat. Science and Art Department of the Committee of Council on Education, South Kensington Museum, London, 1863, no. 252
NOTE: This superb and exceptionally large ivory figure of St. Sebastian was catalogued as being 'by an Italo-Flemish ivory sculptor working in the style of Algardi, ca. 1650,' when it was exhibited at the South Kensington Museum, London, in 1862. A study of 17th-century Netherlandish ivories, however, would indicate a close relationship between the present carving and the work of Artus Quellinus I (1609-1668) and Lucas Faydherbe (1617-1697). In addition, the composition is clearly influenced by the oeuvre of François Duquesnoy (1597–1643), the Flemish sculptor, who was active in Rome during the first half of the 17th century.
Very few ivories are attributed to Artus Quellinus, the great Antwerp-born sculptor who was responsible for the sculptural programme at the Stadhuis in Amsterdam. The most significant ivories ascribed to Quellinus are carved on an even larger scale, his Mercury and Venus in the Hermitage in St Petersburg (56.5 and 54.5cm respectively; inv. nos. 12262 and 12261; the attribution was made by Alfred Schädler, see Feuchtmayr, op. cit., no. 140). The Mercury makes an interesting comparison with the present figure of St. Sebastian. Although, Mercury's disposition is altogether more serene than the anguished saint, certain correspondences can be observed. In particular, note the prominent curling strands of hair, the similarly idealised ephebic body, the detail in the sandal straps, and the seemingly wet drapery, which sits heavily on the body, but lifts as it terminates, as if caught by a breeze. The composition of the drapery, when seen from the reverse, is particularly close to that seen on the Venus, whose drapes fall behind her head in two distinct folds suspended from her hands above her head. This arrangement is analogous to the way in which the drapery is cast over the tree trunk in the present group, when seen from the back.
In addition to these ivory carvings, a comparison can be drawn with the marble relief representing Mercury by Quellinus and his workshop in the Stadhuis in Amsterdam (see Theuerkauff, op. cit., fig. 1). The low relief vines with trefoil leaves, which climb up the tree trunk behind Mercury, are very close to those seen on the trunk in the present group. Finally, it should be noted that Quellinus' nephew and student Artus Quellinus II was responsible for a large scale oak statue of St. Sebastian (La sculpture... op. cit., no. 119). Whilst this group is more Baroque than the present classicising figure, clear correspondences can be seen in the composition, musculature (particularly the bound proper left arm), the tree trunk with foliage, and the arrangement of the drapery.
The present group can also be linked to some of the ivory carvings attributed to another Flemish sculptor, Lucas Faydherbe, whose work is often associated with Quellinus stylistically. The Venus in the Hermitage was, in fact, ascribed to Faydherbe by David Jaffé in 1994 (Jaffé, op. cit., p. 53). Aspects of the physiognomy, such as the slender legs and carefully delineated feet, together with the presence of gesturing putti, are comparable with an ivory relief of the Deposition, which has been attributed to Faydherbe.
The figure of François Duquesnoy looms large over 17th-century Netherlandish sculpture. Artus Quellinus, in fact, worked in Duquesnoy's studio for five years after arriving in Rome in 1634. As a consequence, it is unsurprising that the present group shows Duquesnoy's influence. The idealised Sebastian compares with a large ivory bound Christ attributed to Duquesnoy, which was acquired by the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. (inv. no. 2007.67.1). Most strikingly, the putto, that reaches up towards the dying saint, closely resembles the figure of Cupid from a lost terracotta group by Duquesnoy, which is recorded as having been in the Girardon collection (M. Boudon-Machuel, op. cit., no. OE.60). Artus Quellinus also sculpted studies of putti, reflecting his tutor's work. These include an ivory sleeping putto in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, which is signed and dated: A. Quelinus 1641 (inv. no. 71.393).
RELATED LITERATURE: K. Feuchtmayr and A. Schädler, Georg Petel 1601/2-1634, Berlin, 1973, pp. 179-181, 186-188, nos. 140, 153, 154, pls. 232-233, 238-240, 245-249; La sculpture au siècle de Rubens dans les Pays-Bas méridionaux et la principauté de Liège, exh. cat. Musée d'art ancien, Brussels, 1977, pp. 158-159, no. 119; C. Theuerkauff, 'Enkele kanttekeningen bij Artus Quellinus en de 'antiche Academien', Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum, vol. 50, Amsterdam, 2002, pp. 308-319, fig. 1; M. Jaffé, 'Contributions to Lucas Faydherbe (1617-1697)', A. González-Palacios (ed.), Antologia di belle arti. La scultura. Studi in onore di Andrew S. Ciechanowiecki, vols. 48-51, Milan, 1994, pp. 53-58, figs. 1-3, 8; M. Boudon-Machuel, François du Quesnoy 1597-1643, Paris, 2005, pp. 226-227, 272-273, nos. In.10 dér 3, OE. 60; F. Scholten, Artus Quellinus beeldhouwer van Amsterdam, Amsterdam, 2010