Before purchasing, I inquired about provenance, age, etc. Information was small, so was the price. When the painting arrived I was surprised by it's features. The construction is Flemish technique, which is part of it's charm. I assumed because of the subject and a few passages in the painting that it had been made as a copy from a museum piece. When the painting arrived, the crafting was of higher quality than I originally guessed.
The painting was executed with perfect glazes and light scumbling over a soft pink ground. The ground shows through in various spots and was utilized in expert fashion to create the vibrant jewel like effect prominent in Flemish painting. There appears no over-painting nor restoration. The painting has a web of what looks to be authentic craquelure.
While the cradle attached to the back of the panel is newer wood, the panel itself is older. The panel is cut with beveled edges and has a dark golden glow. The front surface is uneven. The grain, corners, and nicks and gouges on the back have been worn smooth and hard with time and handling. It seems to be made of oak and measures approximately 9.5 x 7.75 inches.
There is a certain feeling I have about the painting. There is a "weight" to it in my hands. A perfection of form. The late Thomas Hoving, former Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and author of the book "False Impressions"(1996, Simon and Schuster), describes the feeling this way:
"The fakebusters I know all describe a mental rush, a flurry of visual facts flooding their minds when looking at a work of art. One fakebuster described the experience as if his eyes and senses were a flock of hummingbirds popping in and out of dozens of way stations." He describes this gut reaction, this immersed connoisseurship, as a key ability to determine a fake from an original work of art. This is clearly a copy of a famous painting, but for several reasons, I began to wonder about the impetus for this copies production, and from what specific source material it was actually made,
I'm not an expert on Early Netherlandish art. I do have a general understanding of the time and it's contributions, a few of the works, and a few of it's stars such as van Eyck and Memling. My knowledge lies more with Baroque and 20th Century painters, but I do know paint. I know line, value, color, form and a multitude of techniques for paint application. I've seen a lot of clunky copies, but this painting has unity, a delicate surety in execution. This fact and the craquelure make me wonder when this painting was actually made, and why it was made.
Most of all, because this is a copy of a famous painting ... I wonder why the very specific element that makes it famous, was changed!
The Mystery Escalates.
The copy(in front of me now as I type this) does not seem like student work. Nor was it rushed. It is finely and delicately constructed. The drawing matches the original too precisely to have been sight-sized at some distance from the original. This copy was likely was made from an underdrawing that precisely matched the original. An engraving? Etching? A drawing from some book? The provenance of the original painting is fairly direct, recorded first in the Medici collection in 1492, and entering the Prussian royal collection via Edward Solly in 1821. Below are more detailed images of the painting.