Completed Continental European after 1800, Continental European before 1800 36 Could this be a work by Nicolaas Verkolje?

Topic: Artist

Could this be a work by Nicolaas Verkolje?

Guido Jansen and Robert-Jan te Rijdt inform me they think this painting is by Nicolaas Verkolje. It certainly has that look about it.

Bart Cornelis, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Thank you for contributing to this discussion, which is now closed. Unfortunately, from July 2024, Art Detective is being paused until further notice due to insufficient funding to continue running the service. All 887 discussions and more than 22,000 individual submissions remain accessible on the Art UK website, but no new comments can be accepted. This discussion may potentially be re-opened in due course.


Al Brown,

It would be useful to clarify the subject.

As the NICE records "Although Jupiter was a notorious philanderer, he did not have a relationship with Venus, a fact that rends the exact nature of this scene obscure". Which makes one wonder whether the female depicted here is actually Venus: the male figure's thunderbolt seems to provide proof he is Zeus/Jupiter.

Al Brown,

A further thought: as this is seems to be a seduction scene featuring Zeus, there's only one common myth - as far as I am aware - in which he appears, as here, as himself and not in disguise.

Could the female figure be Semele then? Who was tricked into asking the god to appear to her as himself and died as a result.

Toby Campbell,

It certainly looks like it and a very good one too.

This is an interesting painting, but without more evidence it seems premature to ascribe it to Nicolaas Verkolje. The painting of the drapery has something of his manner, but I can't find convincing comparisons for the overall treatment of the composition and the scale of the figures within the picture space. As has been observed, the canvas is larger than he usually produces. The suggestion that the subject is Jupiter and Semele seems quite possibly correct.

The PCF's digital image is very deceptive. I finally got to see this painting, yesterday, in store at Huddersfield -- thanks to Grant Scanlon. With his permission, and for reference purposes only, I attach a snap I took, which gives a much more accurate impression of the work's colouring and tonality.

At 1.5 metres in height, this is a large painting. The (unlined) canvas and supporting stretcher look nineteenth-century, as does the neo-Rococo, swept-style frame with composition ornament. The frame, which gives every impression of being original to the work, bears a tablet saying ‘French School’.

In my view, this painting has nothing to do with Verkolje. Rather, I suggest it is by, or possibly after, a French academic artist of the nineteenth century – one of the ‘Pompiers’ -- which is where our search should now be directed.

1 attachment
Jade Audrey King,

This discussion is now also assigned to the Continental European after 1800 group.

Kieran Owens,

Only because of the report's appearance in the Huddersfield Chronicle, of Saturday 30th July 1853, and the relative proximity of Saddleworth, Bagshaw, Kirklees, Huddersfield and Manchester to each other, might the attached cutting be of any help in identifying this discussion's work? It comes from a description of an art exhibition at the Saddleword Mechanics' Institute. The writer states that the painting of Jupiter and Semele "is said to be a Guido", and comparisons with certain paintings by Guido Reni do suggest a similar use of vibrant yellows, reds and turquoise colours. Who Mr. (William) Townsend was might be of importance, especially if it can be shown that he was in some way connected to the eventual donation of this painting to what became the Bagshaw Museum (which was named thus in November 1927, having previously been known as Wilton Park, Batley). The portrait of Charles Swain that is mentioned in the article was donated by William Townsend to the Salford Art Gallery in 1854.

Kieran Owens,

Attached, for comparison, is a composite of two known works by Guido Reni, one on either side of this discussions subject.

1 attachment
Howard Jones,

Could this be the death of Semele?

Some time later after the seduction Semele asks Zeus to appear to her in all his Glory. Having made a sacred promise on the Styx he has to comply although he knows it will prove fatal. One version suggests that she is only shown a small part of the God's thunder bolt but she is still consumed by fire. See Semele, Wikipedia.

Kieran, as explained above following first-hand inspection of the work in store at Huddersfield, the Art UK image gives a very distorted impression of the original -- considerably heightening the colouring. The digital snap I took and posted, for all its limitations, gives a far more accurate rendition. Even allowing for the fact the the Kirklees picture would benefit from cleaning, I would be wary of discerning in it 'vibrant yellows, reds and turquoise colours' which bear comparison with the works of Guido Reni.

The Kirklees painting is on a lightweight canvas, unlined, on what appears to be its original keyed stretcher. All of this looks decidedly nineteenth-century -- not seventeenth-century.

The work could, of course, derive from or be inspired by Guido or one of his contemporaries and it is not impossible that it is the exhibit referred to by the Huddersfield Chronicle in 1853 as 'said to be a Guido'. The two supposed Paninis mentioned as being lent by the Earl of Carlisle are presumably the undoubted, and very fine, architectural capricci which hang at Castle Howard today.

I agree that the painting illustrates the story of Jupiter and Semele. It captures the moment before Semele's death when Jupiter appears before her in all his glory, at her request. Jupiter knows that the moment she glances at him she will be consumed by fire, even though he deliberately carries only a small thunderbolt.

Howard Jones,

Thank you Richard. Assuming this is the death of Semele, the infant would presumably be Dionysus who would become the God of Wine. At Semele's death the infant, or unborn child, is rescued by Zeus. One version says the unborn child was transferred to and stitched within the thigh of Zeus. Dionysus Son of Zeus would have been a demi-god and so could survive such traumas, but the artist is depicting him as an infant.

Howard Jones,

The child or cupid appears to be enfolded in the green caper worn by Semele which might suggest it is her child. However I am not sure that a can find another winged picture of Dionysius/Bacchus. Perhaps there is some ambiguity but the wings might point more towards Richard's suggestion of a cupid.

The two alternative photos of the painting look completely different in terms of colour. If the painting was restored and cleaned the shadowy figure of Zeus might be a little clearer.

Jacinto Regalado,

Not sure why the image won't display by clicking on the link, but if you copy and paste the URL address, it shows up.

Jacinto Regalado,

Nicolaas Verkolje's female figures, particularly in mythological subjects, tended to be more delicate and lithe, or less fleshy and fulsome, than the Semele here.

Howard Jones,

Does the design of the foot stool under the bed give a clue to the country of origin, and is Semele concealing something under her left hand. There may be some flowers and something more metalic between the two ribbons or bows.

Kieran Owens,

The attached image shows a close-up of the items in the bottom right-hand-corner of the painting. It does appear as though there is something hidden under the material between the two bows. And what is the small golden object on the extreme right of the canvas, just beyond her fingertips? Is more of it concealed by the frame? Also, apart from the canvas being unlined, are there any details on the back of the canvas or the frame that might be a clue to the painting's age and origin?

1 attachment

From my visit two years or more ago, I do not have a note of any other informative details on the back of the canvas or frame. However, the attached image shows more fully the neo-Rococo frame (with swept sides and assymetry within the centrepieces), the decoration applied in compo (composition material), rather than carved in wood. It looks nineteenth-century and there no reason not to believe it is original to the picture.

The unlined canvas is fine-weave, thin and easily punctured as can be seen. The paint is applied thinly and evenly with little impasto.

Could the gold-coloured object on the right be a tassel?

Howard Jones,

If this is the death of Semele, then this must also be the moment of the birth of Dionysius, or at least of his transfer to the thigh of Zeus.
Dionysius/Bacchus was said to be the only child of Zeus born of a mortal woman who became a god.

Artists often had a preferred female model to turn to for subjects such as this. The lady in this picture is strikingly beautiful. Does she appear in any other 18th or 19th century paintings?

Al Brown,

Marion's link is interesting for, while on balance this seems to be a 19thc piece - and probably French, its style does hark back to that of 17thc French artists such as Vouet.

Could we perhaps look further at Richard Green's suggestion (05/11/2015) that this is a 19th-century French version of Jupiter and Semele? That wasn't a Prix de Rome topic. I’d agree with Richard and Alistair Brown that it feels French.

For interest, here's an 18th-century French version of the subject, by Francois Marot.

This version, by Godefridus Schalcken, has a real element of surprise.

A visit to the Witt Library's French boxes might help, but it's still closed except to staff and current students. According to the website they're about half way through digitising the British School.

Jacinto Regalado,

There can be little if any doubt that the subject is Jupiter and Semele, so even if this discussion remains open, the title can be changed so the picture can be captured on searches for that subject.

Jacinto Regalado,

It would be nice if the photo could be color-corrected or, ideally, if a new and better photo could be obtained for the Art UK entry.