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A Children’s Bacchanal in a Wooded Landscape: Bacchus Brought up by Satyrs and Maenads



Victor Wolfvoet, The Younger (1612-1652)
A Children’s Bacchanal in a Wooded Landscape: Bacchus Brought up by Satyrs and Maenads
oil on copper
AGLC 382 @ A.G Leventis Gallery

In this handsomely coloured painting, a scene from ancient mythology is represented. We see how a satyr sporting vine leaves in his hair, together with a maenad, holds up a little boy with a tambourine in his hands. Behind them a young satyr plays on a flute. On the extreme right, the head of an older satyr is visible, while the rest of his body is cut off by the edge of the image. On the left, another six young children are preoccupied with the pleasures of wine. A somewhat larger boy holds his arms stretched out towards the child with the tambourine. This youngster also has a vine around his head and may therefore be identified with the young Bacchus, the god of wine. This identification makes it very likely that the education of Bacchus by satyrs and maenads is represented. Maenads are the nymphs who nursed and cared for the young Bacchus and continued to worship him as he became of age. In the upbringing of Bacchus the old satyr Silenus played an important part; perhaps he is the one who observes the scene from the right. This painting was previously attributed to the Antwerp master Hendrik van Balen (1575-1632). However, for stylistic reasons this picture ought to be dated around 1640-1650, thus after van Balen’s death. The beautiful composition, coupled with a fine feeling for colour, nevertheless demonstrates that we are dealing with the work of a supremely talented artist: Victor Wolfvoet the Younger. The work is an unsigned, somewhat larger version of a work which he signed in full as v.wolfvoet. The signed version is also on copper, which seems to have been Wolfvoet’s preferred support, as most of his presently known works are executed on copper. These works include a Bacchanal in a Wooded River Landscape, which is also fully signed. Both bacchanals are original compositions by the master. In other works he made his own small-scale versions of compositions by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), like the paintings in Dresden, Paris and The Hague. Victor Wolfvoet was a painter of religious and mythological subjects and, like his eponymous father, was an art dealer. Victor II was baptized on 4 May 1612 in Antwerp. In 1639 he married, but his wife died in childbirth in 1641. Around 1644/5 he registered in the Antwerp Guild of St Luke.

Approximately two years later, in 1647, he became a member of the well-known chamber of rhetoric, De Violieren, which had ties to the artists’ guild. He died on 23 October 1652, leaving one daughter. His career as an independent artist lasted only seven years, which accounts for the scarcity of his works. Apart from an altarpiece of the Visitation on canvas dated 1639in the Church of St Jacob in Antwerp – his only dated picture – only a few works on panel and on copper are known.   

Wolfvoet must also have been very active as an art dealer and he was related to the Goetkint family of art dealers and merchants. In the inventory of his estate, nearly 600 art works are listed, among them paintings by Adriaen Brouwer, David Teniers, Frans Francken II, Anthony van Dyck and especially Peter Paul Rubens. More than 25 originals by Rubens were registered in Wolfvoet’s possession, a fact that undoubtedly explains his orientation towards the work of the master.

 

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About the artist

He was a painter of religious and mythological subjects, active in Antwerp. Only a few works on panel and on copper are known. He was also an art dealer, and his estate inventory listed c. 600 artworks, including paintings by Frans Francken II, Anthony van Dyck and, especially, Rubens.

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