Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman
The Dutch Golden Age
Three Men Around a Table, late 1630s
Pen and brown ink
5 7/8 x 7 1/8 in, 14.92 x 18.1 cm (sheet)
Provenance: J.C. von Klinkosch, Vienna (Lugt 577);
Dr. Alfred von Wurzbach, Vienna (Lugt 2587); Stefan von Licht, Vienna (Lugt 789b); his sale, Frankfurt am Main, Helbing, 7 December 1927; Magister R. Herlinger, Vienna; dealer Christian M. Nebehay, Vienna, 1981
Collector’s marks: "RSM" with goblet and coiled snake, inscribed in a triangle (not identified; not in Lugt; letters in Museum curatorial files from Christian Nebehay of 31 August and 16 September 1981 imply it is mark of R. Herlinger, Vienna)
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2007.15.20
Formerly attributed to Andries Both, Leonard Slatkes has suggested that the present drawing instead be credited to the Delft-born artist Leonard Bramer, comparing this work with a Denial of St. Peter of 1642 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) and a related work in the Witt Library.1 Though born in the Netherlands, Bramer left for Italy in 1614 and was a founding member of the Bentvueghels, a community of Dutch artists who lived together in Rome.
Bramer’s Three Men Around a Table is an enigmatic drawing, both in subject matter and stylistically within the artist’s oeuvre. It is unclear what exactly Bramer has chosen to depict. The seated figures can be seen gazing intently at something blocked by the left arm of the figure at right while the standing figure appears to have been interrupted by something or someone to the right of the image. A singular identifiable detail is included in this scene—the precariously positioned clay pipe resting at the front of the table. Two rapidly sketched ovals on the table can also be seen below the outstretched hand, probably coins. The inclusion of a pipe and coins suggests that we are witnessing a game of cards, though curiously no cards are visible. Stylistically speaking, Bramer is known to have executed works in pen and brown ink. However, by far the largest number of Bramer's surviving drawings were done in brown or greyish-black ink applied with the brush with the addition of wash.
The influence of Bramer’s time in Italy on his conception of this drawing is unmistakable. At the time of its exhibition in 1985, Rina C. Younger noted that the work is "strongly reminiscent of Caravaggio’s The Calling of St. Matthew in San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome," a work Bramer would have known well from his time in that city.2 Such Italianate influence might equally be seen in the conception of the figures' heads, which, in their summary nature, recall the caricature drawings of the Carracci. Given the distinctive Italianate influence in this work, one is tempted to see it as an early work executed during Bramer's stay in Italy.
Emily C. Reed
1. Written communication to Rina Youngner, 18 November 1985.
2. Rina C. Younger, "Andries Both," in Northern Drawings from the Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, an exhibition held at the University Art Gallery, University of Pittsburgh, 1985.