About Balthasar van den Bossche
Antwerp 1681 – 1715 Antwerp
Pupil and follower of Gerard Thomas (Antwerp 1663 – 1720 Antwerp).
According to some sources van den Bossche might have been the master of Jan Caerel Vierpijl (circa 1675 – in or after 1723).
Van den Bossche was a painter of interior scenes. He occasionally also painted portraits and landscapes.
He became a Master in the Antwerp Painters’ Guild of Saint Luke in 1697.
Subsequently he was active in Paris for a few years, before returning to Antwerp in 1700.
Our painter died already at the young age of 34; he is said to have struck his head against a window while instructing a pupil.
Both Gerard Thomas and Balthasar van den Bossche are typical exponents of the Late Baroque in Antwerp: their highly detailed, elegant presentations of studio interiors of artists, cabinets of doctors, pharmacists and lawyers and galleries of collectors must have been extremely fashionable in those days. Their theatrical scenography, order in the disorder, of an abundant number of objects and details is striking, the picturesque use of insolate details funny.
One of van den Bossche’s patrons was John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough (1650 – 1710).
Apparently the collectors of those days were very keen on showing of, not only with their collection and with the connoisseurship it implied, but also with their knowledge of the artists and with their creative process. Therefore they possessed self portraits of them and interior views of their workshops. This also explains the growing demand for artists’ biographies. In this process the artist upgraded himself from an artisan to ‘an artist’, aspiring the same intellectual and social level as his noble patrons. This explains the rich interior of his studio, with all the well chosen props, classical statues, globes, curtains, etc.
About the abduction of the Sabine women
The sculpture in the centre of our painting clearly goes back to the famous group of the Flemish sculptor Giambologna (Douai 1529 – 1608 Florence), which stands in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, on the Piazza dellla Signoria, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. He sculpted this impressive work between 1574 and 1582 from a single block of marble for Francesco Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. It was an incredible exercise of a spiral-like movement with three figures; only after the group was placed in the Loggia it got its title.
In his “Ab urbe condita libri” (“books from the foundation of the city”) the Roman author Titus Livius (known as Livy in English, 59 BC – 17 AD) tells of the abduction or rape (as it used to be called) of the Sabine women. The word “rape” should be seen as a conventional, rather erroneous translation of the Latin word “raptio” meaning abduction, kidnapping and not sexual violation.
According to legend Rome was founded in 753 BC by Romulus, who had been suckled by a she-wolf together with his twin brother Remus.
Livy tells how Romulus had increased the population of his small town by accepting landless refugees, criminals and runaway slaves, most of them male and unmarried. He then asked the neighbouring tribes for marriageable women, but all refused, fearing that Rome might prosper and grow.
Romulus had to turn to a ruse: in 750 BC he invited the other tribes to Games given in honour of Neptunus Equester. In the middle of the spectacle the young Romans broke the laws of hospitality and started abducting young girls.
All neighbours were deeply shocked and a few towns attacked Rome, but they were beaten. Finally the Sabines and their king, Titus Tatius, went to war. They bribed the Vestal Virgin Tarpeia (hence the Tarpeian Rock), the daughter of Spurius Tarpeius, and were able to take the citadel of Rome on the Capitoline Hill. She opened the city gates in return for what they bore on their left arms. She hoped to get their golden bracelets, but instead the Sabines crushed her to death with their shields. The Romans fled their town, but Romulus was able to regroup his troops and both armies prepared for the final battle. The abducted women threw themselves between both enemy lines, between their husbands on one side and their fathers on the other, and they were able to stop the war. The Sabine and Roman states merged, and the Sabine king Titus Tatius jointly ruled Rome with Romulus until Tatius' death five years later.
About our painting
Our Rape of the Sabine is rather curious: indeed the Sabine woman seems to be pregnant.
Interestingly enough an earlier, bronze version (99 cm H) of the Rape of the Sabine, from 1579, also by Giambologna and today in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, shows indeed a more massive, but still not pregnant Sabine woman. That statue with only two figures was made for Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma.
The exotic client visiting our sculptor looks like a Hungarian (or possibly German, Bavarian) Hussar.
Why should you buy this panting?
Because it is a funny, exotic scene with a pregnant Sabine woman and an exotic Hussar client, completely in line with these Late Baroque artist workshop scenes produced in Antwerp at the start of the 18th century.