Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

Paul Vredeman de Vries (1567-after 1630)
Adriaen van Nieulandt (1587-1658)
Amsterdam, c. 1610
Oil on canvas
158 x 198 cm
Gift of Michel-Victor Cruchet, 1896
Inv. 8516 A
© Les Arts Décoratifs

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Paul Vredeman de Vries, who trained in the workshop of his father (an architect, engineer and painter), made a name for himself in the highly specific genre of architectural painting at the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He stood out for his original and poetic style among the Mannerist painters at the court of Prague, where he spent part of his career in the service of Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612) before settling in Amsterdam. Ornate palace façades with colonnades that open onto flowered courtyards embellished with fountains and sculptures are the backdrops for scenes inspired by ancient or religious history. The rigor of his geometric compositions, based on contemporary treatises on perspective, is tempered by an atmospheric treatment of light embellished with silvery highlights. The interiors glimpsed in his works depict the decorative style of the time: leather-upholstered chairs, embossed leather hangings, canopies with valances… Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and its pendant The Judgement of Solomon, works from the artist’s later career, were probably executed in Amsterdam around 1610. They depict episodes from the life of King Solomon, a major biblical figure. Solomon’s famous and exemplary judgement was seen as a prefiguration of the Last Judgement, and the scene was used as a metaphor for Justice. Likewise, the visit of the Queen of Sheba was considered to prefigure the Adoration of the Magi. The artist transposed the biblical scenes to an urban setting which in some respects evokes the architecture of the Netherlands: bossed façades; ringed columns and obelisks; masks and bucrania (ox skulls); frames featuring rolled scrolls; bronze sculptures resembling works by Adriaen de Vries (c. 1550-1626). A few original touches, such as Solomon’s turban, add a touch of the exotic to this scene. Vredeman de Vries, essentially an architecture painter, executed the figures with the help of other painters such as Dirk de Quade van Ravesteyn who was active in Prague (d. after 1619), and Pieter-Fransz Isaacsz (1569-1625) and Adriaen van Nieulandt (1587-1658) who were active in Amsterdam. The latter probably painted the figures in the two paintings held in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

B. R. Heiner Borggrefe et al., “Hans Vredeman de Vries und die Renaissance im Norden,” exhibition catalogue, Lemgo, Weserrenaissance-Museum Schloß Brake, Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Munich, 2002, cat. 208 ab, pp. 362-363, repr. pp. 366-367.

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