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Two Men in the studio

Heimbach Wolfgang

(Ovelgonne 1613-15 - after 1678)

Once ascribed to Gerrit van Honthorst, this canvas was attributed to Wolfgang Heimbach by Roberto Longhi, in part on the basis of his reading of the artist’s monogram ‘W.H.B.C.H.’ in the lower right-hand corner. The painting was purchased by Prince Marcantonio IV Borghese in 1783, as is documented by a payment receipt for both this work and the Man with a Candle (inv. no. 251); the identical dimensions, the same nocturnal, interior setting and the similarities in their compositional arrangements suggest that the two canvases were conceived as pendants.

 


Object details

Inventory
257
Location
Date
1645 circa
Classification
Period
Medium
oil on canvas
Dimensions
cm 44 x 35
Frame
 ‘800 (con cordicella) cm. 55,5 x 48 x 4,5
Provenance

Purchased by Prince Marcantonio Borghese from Girolamo Rovinelli, 1783 (through the intermediation of Antonio Asprucci); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, p. 33, no. 24. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.

 

MOSTRE

1959 Bordeaux, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Exhibitions
  • 1959 Bordeaux, Musée des Beaux-Arts 
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1936 Augusto Cecconi Principi e Carlo Matteucci (cleaning)

Commentary

The canvas Two Men in the Studio is by the German artist Wolfgang Heimbach, the deaf and dumb painter who focused mostly on genre painting and portraiture. His monogram – ‘W.H.B.C.H.’ – is visible in the lower right-hand corner of the work, a detail which eventually enabled critics to establish the attribution.

Two men are shown seated around a table in a studio reading a letter. In the background, we see another room, where a woman dressed in white is offering something to drink to a man wearing dark clothes and a hat; the gesture of his raised hand seems to indicate that he is refusing the offer. The only two sources of light come from candles: the flame of the one in the foreground, which allows one of the seated men to read the letter, can just be glimpsed, while the one in the background illuminates the two figures, although it is not visible. Both the dress of the four persons and the furnishings of the studio suggest a bourgeois milieu; the walls are decorated with paintings, two of which seem to be family portraits while the other may depict a mythological or Biblical scene.

The circumstances which led to the entry of the two works into the Borghese Collection are known. A payment receipt in the family archives in fact reads as follows: ‘I have received 70 scudi in cash from His Excellency Prince Don Marc’Antonio Borghese through his representative Mr Antonio Asprucci as the price agreed upon for two small Flemish paintings, one depicting a solicitor’s studio and the other a man holding a lit candle in his hand as he prepares to go to bed. Both works are candlelit nocturnal scenes. Rome, on this day the 28th of January 1783. Girolamo Rovinelli’ (quoted in Della Pergola 1959a, p. 269).

The canvas, then, was purchased by Prince Marcantonio IV together with another work of the same dimensions – probably intended as its pendant – which still forms part of the Borghese Collection (inv. no. 251). The two paintings are night scenes illuminated by candlelight, a motif with which Heimbach often experimented. This circumstance in fact probably explains the confusion on the part of the compiler of the 1833 Inventario Fidecommissario, who ascribed both works to Gerrit van Honthorst, a master in this type of representation who in fact earned the nickname ‘Gherardo delle Notti’ (‘Gerard of the Nights’). The inventory of that year indeed notes a ‘small painting – an imitation – by Gerardo, 1 span 7 inches wide, 2 spans high’, corresponding to the work in question, as well as a ‘portrait – an imitation – by Gerardo’ of the same dimensions, which refers to the pendant Man with a Candle, the second work indicated in the payment note.

The attribution of Two Men in the Studio to Gerrit van Honthorst was accepted by Giovanni Piancastelli (1891, p. 404) but did not persuade Adolfo Venturi (1893, p. 138), who pointed out the monogram on the canvas; nonetheless, he was not able to provide an accurate reading of the initials and thus failed to connect the work to Heimbach. The error was corrected by Roberto Longhi (1928, p. 200): on the basis of both the monogram and an oral opinion given by Stechow, Longhi rightly attributed the painting to the German artist and further pointed to its stylistic similarities to the Man with a Candle.

The attribution of both works to Heimbach was confirmed by subsequent critics (De Rinaldis 1939, p. 42; Della Pergola 1959b, p. 164; Martin-Méry 1959, p. 41; Morsbach 1999, p. 127; Stefani 2000, p. 359; Herrmann Fiore 2006, p. 84). In the case of Paola Della Pergola, we should note that she accepted the name of German artist with reservations: while taking into account the monogram and the compositional affinities between the two canvases, she maintained that the coarser rendering of the scene in the studio gave rise to the possibility of the participation of a follower or collaborator of Heimbach during his Roman period. The painter was in Rome around 1645, the year which provides the point of reference for dating the two small works. This stay in the Eternal City followed a period of training in the Low Countries and preceded his move to Denmark in the early 1650s, where he was appointed court painter. In the course of the following decade he returned home, where he remained until his death in 1678.

Pier Ludovico Puddu




Bibliography
  • X. Barbier de Montault, Les Musées et Galeries de Rome, Rome 1870, p. 364.
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 404.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 138.
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 200.
  • P. Della Pergola, Un acquisto di opere fiamminghe per la Galleria Borghese, in “Mededelingen van het Nederlands Historisch Instituut te Rome”, X, 1959, p. 269 [Della Pergola 1959a].
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 164, n. 237 [Della Pergola 1959b].
  • G. Martin-Méry, in La découverte de la lumière des primitifs aux impressionistes, catalogo della mostra (Bordeaux, Musée des Beaux-Arts), a cura di G. Martin-Méry, Bordeaux 1959, p. 40, n. 76.
  • C. Morsbach, Die Genrebilder von Wolfgang Heimbach (um 1613-nach 1678), Oldenburg 1999, p. 153, n. AI 17a (con bibliografia precedente).
  • C. Stefani in P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 359, n. 15.
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 86.
  • French Dutch and Flemish Caravaggesque Paintings from the Koelliker Collection. Part II, a cura di W.E. Franits, London 2007, p. 36.