72. Jan Thomas

Ypres 1617 – 1678 Vienna

Pastoral Scene with Dancing Couples

As early as the beginning of the eighteenth century, this drawing was believed to be by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). It was described as such in a portfolio containing “drawings, most of them painted in monochrome colours on paper” (“tekeningen, meeste in ‘t graauw geschildert op papier”) in the renowned collection of Valerius Röver (1686-1739).1 According to the manuscript of his inventory, compiled in 1731, the drawing came from the collection of ‘Van der Schelling’. This is almost certainly Sieuwert van der Schelling (1635-1719), a collector from Amsterdam who had assembled an impressive collection of prints and drawings, including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. Like many attributions in inventories and sale catalogues of that time, the attribution has proven to be too opportune. Pastoral Scene with Dancing Couples is now accepted as one of the few drawings that can be securely attributed to the Flemish history and portrait painter Jan Thomas.2

The sheet is a preparatory drawing for a very rare etching in reverse, signed “Ioannes Thomas fecit”, which is also in the Fondation Custodia.3 There are three lines of French text in the margin of the print, referring to the pastoral tales of Phyllis, Thyrsis and Amaryllis. The message is clear; the spectator is not witnessing a romantic get-together of two couples dancing to the tunes of a bagpipe player, but a rather naughty scene. The two shepherds are, in fact, trying to “warm up” their partners for some sexual activity. The one holding a pitchfork leers at the partially bared breasts of the shepherdess beside him. She turns her head in an attempt to avoid him, while simultaneously displaying her left leg, all the way up to above her knee. The other shepherd seems less successful. In an attempt to peek under his partner’s skirt, he stumbles and almost falls down.

Thomas ingeniously incorporated all this movement of protruding limbs and fluttering dresses to form one convincing image. He probably learned this in Rubens’ workshop, where he worked as a pupil or collaborator in the late 1630s. The drawing is close in style and subject to Rubens’ famous Dance of the Villagers in Madrid, from 1632/35.4 Until his death in 1640, this painting stayed in Rubens’ studio where Thomas could have seen it. Another painting by Rubens of a similar pastoral scene with a young man grasping a woman’s skirt is in Vienna.5 Other elements in the drawing, such as the bagpipe player to the left and the woman showing her bare leg, also occur in a painting in Caen once considered to be by Rubens, but now attributed to Thomas.6

Another design for a print, representing Saint Sebastian tended by Saint Irene, is in Oxford.7 In both drawings Thomas drew the initial design in black chalk, then added greenish-blue gouache and accentuated contours and shading with a point of brush in grey and black ink. This technique, especially the use of greenish-blue gouache, is similar to designs for prints in Rubens’ workshop.8 MR

1Recorded in the manuscript Catalogus van mijne verzameling van Tekeningen ‘t zedert den jaare 1705 tot heden 31 december 1731 […], portf. 5, fol. 83 (‘6 dansende en spelende beeltjes, in een Lantsschap, van Rubbens, uit de Collectie van Van der Schelling’), estimated value fl. 12.10. Amsterdam, University Library, inv. no. MS II-A 18.

2J. van Tatenhove, ‘Jan Thomas van Yperen’, Delineavit et Sculpsit 15 (1995), pp. 39-41.

3Paris, Fondation Custodia, inv. no. 2075(36) (etching; 264 × 358 mm); see F. W. H. Hollstein, Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts, ca. 1450-1700, 72 vols., Amsterdam and elsewhere 1949-2010, vol. 30, p. 89, under no. 3, repr. The print is catalogued as after Peter Paul Rubens. This information is based on an inscription in brown ink on an exemplar of the first state in London, British Museum, inv. no. 1897.0615.14.

4Madrid, Museo del Prado, inv. no. P01691 (oil on panel; 73 × 106 mm); see Matías Díaz Padrón, El siglo de Rubens en el Museo del Prado. Catálogo razonado de pintura flamenca del siglo XVII, 3 vols., Barcelona 1996, vol. 2, pp. 988-991, no. 1961, repr.; and https://www.museodelprado.es/coleccion.

5Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, inv. no. 696 (oil on panel; 52 × 97 mm); see Götz Adriani et al, Die Künstler der Kaiser. Von Dürer bis Tizian, von Rubens bis Velázquez aus dem Kunsthistorischen Museum Wien, exh. cat., Baden-Baden (Museum Frieder Burda) 2009, pp. 152-155, repr. The date of creation of the painting is placed around 1632/35. By that time, or shortly after, the young Thomas must have entered Rubens’ workshop.

6Caen, Musée des Beaux-Arts, inv. no. 120 (oil on panel; 54.4 × 93.3 cm); see Françoise Debaisieux, Caen, Musée des Beaux-Arts: Peintures des écoles étrangères, Paris 1994, pp. 310-311, no. 171, repr.

7Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, inv. no. WA1863.287 (point of brush and grey ink, with greenish-blue gouache, over a sketch in black chalk; contours incised for transfer; 277 × 388 mm); see K.T. Parker, Netherlandish, German and Spanish schools (Catalogue of the collection of drawings in the Ashmolean Museum, vol. 1), Oxford 1938, no. 220, repr.; and https://artuk.org/discover.

8See for example Rubens’ designs of the Garden of Love for two woodcuts by Christoffel Jegher (1596-1625/53) in New York, Metropolitan Museum, inv. nos. 1958.96.1 and 1958.96.2 (pen and brown ink, with greenish-blue gouache, over a sketch in black chalk; approx. 470 × 705 mm); see Anne-Marie S. Logan and Michiel C. Plomp, Peter Paul Rubens. The Drawings, exh. cat., New York (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) 2005, pp. 260-264, cat. nos. 93-94, repr.; and http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection.

9According to Hans-Ulrich Beck the drawings with an inventory number in red ink originate from the Valerius Röver collection, sold to Goll van Franckenstein in 1761; see Hans-Ulrich Beck, Anmerkungen zu den Zeichnungssammlungen von Valerius Röver und Goll van Franckenstein, Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 32 (1981), pp. 111-123.