Dulwich Picture Gallery II


British School DPG383

British (or Dutch) School
DPG383 –‘Head of Josephus’

17th century; canvas, 45.4 x 36.5 cm

Dulwich College 1890.

Sparkes & Carver 1890, p. 33, no. 58 (Head: Josephus. Donor, not known); Richter & Sparkes 1892 and 1905, p. 105, no. 383; Cook 1914, p. 225 (Artist unknown); Cook 1926, p. 209; Cat. 1953, p. 47; Murray 1980a, p. 302 (Called Josephus; Unknown); Beresford 1998, p. 306 (Unknown); Jonker & Bergvelt 2016, p. 316 (Dutch/British School?); RKD, no. 281774: https://rkd.nl/en/explore/images/281774 (Feb. 27, 2017).

Fine plain-weave linen canvas, glue-lined onto coarse similar; the adhesion between the two canvases is poor. The tacking edges of the lining canvas have degraded and were previously coming away from the stretcher; in 1994 they were consolidated and re-attached. Overheating (probably during the lining process) appears to have emphasized the canvas weave; stretcher bar marks are visible around the sides. The paint is thinly applied, with a little impasto in the jewels on the turban. A fine network of cracks is visible on the face, and elsewhere the craquelure is more pronounced. The varnish coating is an impenetrable, heavy natural resin and is a very dark brown colour. Previous recorded treatment: 1988, examined, Courtauld Institute of Art; 1994, edges of lining canvas consolidated and re-attached to stretcher, worst areas of lifting paint consolidated, S. Plender and N. Ryder.

No-one has succeeded in writing anything substantial about this painting. The early catalogues, assuming it to portray the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37–100), who lived in the first century AD, tell of his publications. The man looks Eastern, with his turban decorated with a jewel, but not especially Jewish. This may well be a tronie and not a portrait. Tronie (literally ‘face’), is a 17th-century Dutch and Flemish genre showing an exaggerated facial expression, or a stock character in costume, as here.1 It is not clear from which collection this picture came; it is one of several that were recorded in Dulwich College in 1890. It was probably painted in England, possibly by an artist trained in the Netherlands.

Anoniem Verenigd Koninkrijk 1600-1700
Head of Josephus, 1600-1700
canvas, oil paint 45,4 x 36,5 cm
Dulwich (London), Dulwich Picture Gallery, inv./cat.nr. DPG383


1 On tronies see e.g. Gottwald 2011, Hirschfelder 2008 and Van der Veen 1997.

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