Anton Mozart, The Tower of Babel. Oil on copper, 43 x 56 cm. Signed centre left: AM (ligatured, on the cottage). Lot 1021 / Result € 305 000. Photo courtesy Lempertz
Provenance: Klinkosch collection, Vienna 1889. - Sigmund Weiner collection, Vienna 1903. - Kofler collection, Lucern. - With art dealer D. Koetser, Zurich. - Private collection, Belgium.
Literature: H. Minkowski: Turm zu Babel, 1991, p. 85 and 209, no. 339 (as M. van Valckenborch). - M. Rudelius-Kamholz: Der Augsburger Meister Anton Mozart, Dissertation Cologne 1995, p. 67, 129, a. 183.
In comparison to his Augsburg contemporaries, such as Hans Rottenhammer, Johann König or Mathias Kager, the work of Anton Mozart is still somewhat unknown. He was praised by Philipp Hainhofer however as being an "outstanding landscape painter" (Rudelius-Kamholz). Hainhofer himself was not only a famous cabinet maker but also a successful art agent, mediating works by Mozart to clients such as the Duke of Pomerania-Stettin and Maximilian I of Bavaria amongst others.
Our painting has only recently been identified as a work by Mozart. Marion Rudelius-Kamholz expressed in her dissertation that it could indeed be an image from an Augsburg painter and rejected the former attribution to Marten Valckenborch (op. cit. H. Minkowski), as did Alexander Wied. In the painting she recognised the prototype for Mozart's designs but did not venture to confirm such an attribution after having only seen illustrations of the work (op. cit. p. 129).
In the 1600s the theme of the Tower of Babel, a symbol of hybris and divine punishment, was widely popular and can be seen in Mozart's oeuvre on four occasions. Apart from one painting on wood with similar dimensions (now in unknown private possession, cat. no. 1 A20), the paintings are all smaller than our work. All of the variations depict two conspicious ramps leading up to the higher floor of the tower. The fore and middlegrounds of the compositions feature kilns, mills, building sheds, carts and mules along with a plenty of workmen handling wood and stone. On a hill to the right of this picture King Nimrod sits on a horse, accompanied by servants holding a sunshade over him. Before him an architect shows him the plans for the tower.
Out of all of Mozart's variations on the theme, a tempera on parchment work in the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett (27 x 32 cm, signed, dated 1606, KDZ 17 904) is most similar to ours. The main difference lies in the range of hills in the background of the Berlin composition where, in our painting, the landscape opens to the sea. It is this area that reasons for Mozart's reputation as an outstanding landscape painter. Painted extremely delicately and with a bright colour palette Mozart picks out the distant ships and the shore. A small island to the top of the work is reminiscent of Venice, where a stay at some point is suspected although not yet confirmed. His fellow painters Rottenhammer and König were however active in the lagoon. Also evident in the painting is the Dutch influence and particularly that of Pieter and Jan Brueghel the Younger and Lucas Valckenborch. It is clear however that Mozart combined these influences with his own developing signature style.
The attribution of this painting will hopefully bring to light works by Mozart formerly attributed to another hand. His monogram is usually cleverly hidden in the composition; here, it is the large A inserted with the smaller M in the rooftop arch of the building shed