This interesting painting was made in one of the major centres of Late Mannerist art: Prague.
This ode to Saint Cecilia, patron of the musicians, was ordered by the man represented at left: a musician or composer active in Prague shortly after 1620, at a period when the capital, the centre of the Bohemian Protestants, was being rapidly changed into a Catholic town by the Habsburgs.
Our unidentified painter was a follower of Hans von Aachen, who had died in 1615.
About Hans von Aachen
Cologne 1552 – 1615 Prague
Important Northern Mannerist painter of its final phase. Painter of portraits, religious, mostly erotic mythological and allegorical subjects, and of genre scenes.
His father came from Aachen, hence his name.
Von Aachen had an international career:
- he studied painting under Georgh Jerrigh, who had trained in Antwerp and transmitted him the love of Flemish painting;
- between circa 1574 and 1587 he lived in Italy, further studying and working in Venice. He also travelled to Rome and to Florence;
- in 1587 he returned to Germany, settling in Munich two years later. He married the only daughter of the famous composer Orlandus Lassus (circa 1532 - 1594), who had already settled in Munich in 1558 and remained here until his death.
- iin 1592 he was appointed official painter of the eccentric Habsburg emperor Rudolf II (1552 - 1612). The first years he did not yet move to Prague, but he did have to travel extensively for the emperor, while looking for artwork and painting potential candidates for marriage. After Rudolf’s political downfall that started in 1605 Hans von Aachen remained at the service of his opponent, successor and younger brother, Matthias.
Hans von Aachen had several pupils, the most famous one was Pieter Isaacsz. (1568 – 1625), but I can not attribute our painting to any one of them. Another famous artist active at the court of Rudolf II was the Flemish painter Bartholomeus Spranger (1546 – 1611), who also painted these elongated erotic late Mannerist figures.
About Protestants and Catholics in Bohemia
The Peace of Augsburg of 1555 had settled religious disputes within the Holy Roman Empire: each prince was allowed to determine the religion of its subjects. Emperor Rudolf II was against the use of violence against Protestants and at the end of his life he had granted religious freedom in Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic) in 1609; the majority of Bohemia’s population was Protestant. His successor and younger brother Mattthias had respected this, but he was succeeded on the royal thrones of Bohemia and of Hungary by his cousin, the fiercely Catholic Ferdinand II. The subsequent Bohemian Revolt, that started in Prague with its Second Defenestration, became a devastating, bloody conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Central Europe (especially in Germany), involving almost all European nations: the Thirty Years’ War. The Bohemian nobility disposed of Ferdinand II and chose the Calvinist Frederick V of the Palatinate as King of Bohemia. Rapidly abandoned by his foreign alleys (amongst whom his father-in-law the English King James I) he could retain his crown only very shortly for one year and four days from November 4th 1619 until November 8th 1620, hence his surname ‘the Winter King’. He was beaten by the Catholic League at the Battle of the White Mountain, just outside Prague. For the coming centuries Bohemia became (almost entirely) Catholic in Habsburg hands.
About Saint Cecilia
Saint Cecilia is the Christian patron saint of the musicians. She lived in the 2nd or 3rd century. Although she had sworn to remain a virgin her parents forced her to marry a pagan nobleman. She became the patroness of musicians because during her marriage ‘she was singing to God in her heart’. She convinced her husband not to consume the marriage; both were executed by the prefect Turcius. Cecilia was beheaded.
About our painting
Cecilia was a popular saint in painting, often represented, alone or with musician-angels, playing a small organ or a viola.
Our painter was clearly influenced by the late Mannerist style of Hans von Aachen and his elongated figures with large fronts.
At the centre background of our painting is painted the martyr death of Cecilia, who is supported by an angel.
What really makes this composition interesting is the man standing at left holding a book: this musician or composer must have commanded our painting.
Our painting representing this Catholic saint must have been painted shortly after the Battle of the White Mountain (1620), when Prague, until then fundamentally Protestant, was being rapidly turned into a Catholic town by the Habsburgs.
Why should you buy this painting
Because this charming heavenly musical company includes a portrait of an unidentified musician or composer. It is a good example of late Mannerist art in Prague.