Saturday, July 13, 2013

Drawing of the Day: A Ball Scene, c. 1595-1605

A Ball Scene
Jacob Matham, 1595-1605
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

This work of pen and brown ink is finished with a wash of brown and grey and touches of red and white chalk to add depth. The sketch is attributed to Jacob Matham (1571-1631) and it was acquired by King George III (1738-1820) around 1810, about two hundred years after it was created.

The scene depicts a Renaissance-style room inhabited by an elegant party engaged in an elegant dance. As this is likely a cartoon for a later painting, the sketch is somewhat rough and displays a rather inconsistent perspective.

The drawing has long been the subject of much interest, in large part because of the rather eerie appearance of some of the figures. Their ghostly look, it was discovered, owes to over-painting which changed their position—their original poses bleeding through the white gouache which was used to cover them.

There’s also a problem with the signature. While the piece is signed by Matham, it is also inscribed, “Venice (vinetia), 1605.” This is problematic in that, in 1605, Matham was in Haarlem. He visited Venice in 1595, not 1605. Furthermore, the room in the composition is clearly not Venetian.

Also, the size of the piece is not consistent with Matham’s other works.

For these reasons, some question the veracity of the attribution to Matham. Still, it’s likely that the artist produced the piece ten years after his Venetian trip in an effort to remember what he’d seen as well as to capitalize on the growing popularity of ballroom scenes.

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