Peter Thijs (1624-1677): Christ carrying the cross, oil on canvas


Work: 157,5 x 120 cm

Frame: 192,5 x 154 cm


The painting is accompanied by a certificate from Katlijne Van der Stighelen of December 1997 (prof. Dr. Katlijne Van der Stighelen (°1959) is a Belgian art historian. She is known for her research and publications on female artists in the Netherlands and portrait painting by the Flemish masters. Katlijne became a doctor in art history at KU Leuven in 1988, with a thesis on Anna Maria van Schurman. She was subsequently appointed associate professor in 1990, professor in 2001, and full professor in 2007 at the same university. In 2002, she held the Rubens Chair at Berkeley University for three months. Since 2003 she is a member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts. In 2018 she was curator of 'Michaelina. The leading lady of the baroque', a retrospective that was part of Antwerp Baroque 2018 and was set up in collaboration with the Rubens House and Tourism Flanders, link).

According to her, it is a contemporary copy after the painting with the same name by Antony van Dijck in the Antwerp Saint Paul's Church (ninth painting in the Rosary cycle, which consists of 15 paintings). In the publication of Jacobus de Wit (De kerken van Antwerpen (schilderijen, beeldhouwwerken, geschilderde ramen, enz., in de XVIIIe eeuw beschreven door Jacobus de Wit, Uitgaven der Antwerpsche Bibliophilen, nr. 25, Antwerp-’s Gravenhage, 1910, p. 57) the author speaks  already about a copy after Van Dijck's original: 'Den volgenden klynen autaer tegens den Choor, heeft eene Cruysdraeginge door: A. Van Dyck geschildert, die eertyds tegen over den Predick-stoel gestaen heeft, onder de 15 Misterien van den Roosen Crans, daar nu een Copye in desselfs plaatse staet. Aen den Andere kant van het ocksael. Deze Schilderye is nu wederom, sedert eenighen tydt, op syn oude plaetse gebraght, en de Copye in den Autaer gestelt.’

According to a 19th-C. 'Beschrijvinghe van de Cloosters, Autaeren, Epitaphiën, Schilderijen en Beelden, ende andere Variteyten in de Stadt van Antwerpen', Van Dijck's original no longer hangs in the cycle, but is on the altar of the Holy Cross ('Stuck verbelt de cruysdraeginge, een copije naer het stuck in h. cruysautaer, geschildert door eenen broeder Preekheere Thijssens'). This information is undoubtedly based on now disappeared source material from the archives of the Saint Paul's Church (see also: M. Robbroeckx, The fifteen Rosary paintings of the Sint-Pauluskerk in Antwerp, unpublished. Lic. Verh, Ghent, 1971-1972, p.15 ).

Because the relevant archive documents have all been destroyed, the attribution of the copy to 'Predikheer Thijssens' must be further verified. It should be added, however, that according to the already quoted Mark Robbroeckx, a copy was also made after the 'Flaging' by Rubens (also in the Saint Paul's Church in Antwerp). If we try to reconstruct the course of events on the basis of documents drawn up after the French invasion of 1794 and the subsequent seizure of the most important paintings in Antwerp, a number of things are confirmed. From the study by Ch. Piot (Rapport à Mr le Ministre de l’Intérieur sur les tableaux enlevés à la Belgique en 1794 et restitués en 1815, Brussel, 1883, pp. 313, 317), it appears that '‘Deux tableaux, peints l’un d’après Rubens et l’autre d’après Van Dyck; par Thys' arrived in Paris in 1794. A specific destination for the paintings is not mentioned. It is interesting that reference is also made to 'Thys' here. According to the available sources, the copy has not returned to Antwerp. In Piot's list under no. 46 'L'enlèvement' is mentioned in 1794 and under 1815 'pas restitué' is mentioned. As for the new location, it says 'Inconnu'.

F.J. Van den Branden writes in his 'De geschiedenis van de Antwerpsche schilderschool’ (Antwerp, 1883, p. 1277), regarding 'De geroofde schilderijen' (The looted paintings): 'uit de Predikheerenkerk: de Aanbidding der Herders door Adam van Noort (…), benevens twee prachtige kopijen van den Predikheer Thijs naar Rubens en Jordaens; (…)'. On p. 1373 he talks about the not returned paintings and mentions, among other things: the two beautiful copies of Rubens and Jordaens by the Predikheer Thijs. Taking into account the data of Ch. Piot, one can assume that Van den Branden was mistaken here as far as the last artist's name is concerned (Jordaens). Significant is the registration that in 1815 the two copies could no longer be located.

The provenance of the painting offered here is partly unknown. However, it can be deduced from a number of inscriptions on the back that the piece was donated in 1899 by Henry Morris Chester, Trustee and Treasurer, to an institution that may be identified with the Royal Surrey Hospital, Guildford Surrey. The painting was still preserved at this latter location in 1958 when it was restored there by F.M. Francis. The inscription on the front of the frame goes back to the fragmentary handwritten text on the back which refers to Sir Joshua Reynolds and his 'Journey to Flanders’ of 1781 (cf. L. Dimier, Reynolds Discours sur la Peinture et Voyages Pittoresques, pp. 385-387). The possibility that these are indeed portraits of Van Dijck's relatives and painters is out of the question. The same suggestions for identification can also be found in the small printed text note that is also attached to the back of the work. This may be a fragment from a 19th-C. auction catalogue.

As far as the history is known, it is obvious to identify the painting with the copy that did not return to Antwerp at the beginning of the 19th C. The work is of exceptionally good quality and was made only a few decades after the original was created. The dimensions of both paintings are approximately the same. That the small deviation is not a problem for identification is also proven by Jordaens' painting with the Crucifixion (Antwerp, Saint Paul's Church, canvas, 242 x 185 cm) which also differs in size by a few centimeters from the other copies in the same series . In addition, it cannot be ruled out that the canvas was reduced by a few centimetres. The painting was probably put on the market shortly after 1815 and thus sold to England. (Note: Nevertheless, it remains remarkable that in the whole cycle of the rosary Van Dyck's painting is slightly smaller than the others, link).

As to the author of the copy, it may be noted that his name is cited by U. Thieme and F. Becker as well as by A. von Wurzbach. The latter author (Niederländisches Kunstlerlexicon, 2, 1906, p. 711) says: 'Pater Thys oder Thyssens: Dominikanermönch und Maler angeblich in der zweiten Hälfte des 17. Jhs tätig'. Reference is also made to a painting in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp depicting a descent from the cross (inv. no. 356, canvas, 360 x 218 cm). The painting comes from the chapel of the Zwartzusters in Antwerp. Archive research by Daniëlle Maufort already showed in 1986 that the attribution of the painting to 'Predikheer Thyssens' cannot be accepted. After all, the said author has been able to demonstrate that the painting was made in 1669 for 300 guilders by the Antwerp painter Peter Thys (1624-1677) on behalf of the Zwartzusters in Antwerp. In the 1988 catalog of the KMSK in Antwerp (Catalogus Schilderkunst. Oude Meetsers, Antwerpen, 1988, p. 367, no. 356) the work does indeed appear in the name of Peter Thys.

If one traces the name Thyssens for the period in question in the guild lists of the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke, one can find the name of a father and a son August Tyssens. Neither appears to have ever been 'Predikheer'. In 1631 a certain 'Augustyn Tysen, handelaer' (merchant) is registered. In the year 1653 the name of 'Augustyn Tysens, painter. Wynmeester', appears again (as the son of the preceding one). In a footnote, however, it is noted that he died on June 18, 1675 and came from the Saint-Andrew parish. Moreover, in 1669 'de huysvrouw van den jongen Augustyn Tyssens, (schilder)' was buried. In 1674/75 the painter himself dies and the death debt of a second wife is paid. His collection of paintings is known thanks to the publication of J. Denucé (De Antwerpsche “konstkamers”. Inventarissen van kunstevrzamelingen te Antwerpen in de 16e en 17e eeuwen, Antwerpen, 1932, pp. 264-267, per 14 juni 1675).

On the basis of the information cited, it is therefore obvious to conclude that with regard to the copies it can also be said that 'Predikheer Tyssens' must be a mystification for the Antwerp painter Peter Thys (as also appeared earlier with regard to the piece in the KMSK in Antwerp). It is therefore this prolific baroque painter who may be referred to as the maker of the copy. It is probably no coincidence that the Antwerp Predikheren ordered a copy of Van Dijck's original from one of the most 'Dijckian' painters of the time. This observation is also confirmed by a remarkable affinity between the style idiom of Peter Thys and the execution of the painting. Study of the copy convinced me of the great stylistic qualities of the maker. The copy was certainly executed after Van Dijck's death as Peter Thys did not become master until 1645. Thus the copy can be placed in the mature 1650s/60s.


- Literature:

- C. Brown, Van Dyck, Oxford, 1982, p. 40: 'The painting ('Christ carrying the cross') was painted for the church of the Antwerp Dominicans, which is now St. Paul's. It was one of a series of fifteen paintings representing the Mysteries of the Rosary commissioned by the Order. Among the other artists who contributed to the series were Rubens, Jacob Jordaens (who was six years Van Dyck's senior and a master in the guild since 1615), Cornelis de Vos (who was fourteen years older than Van Dyck and a master since 1608) and Van Dyck's master, Hendrick van Balen. Ruben's painting has an inscription on the framing dating it to 1617 and it is generally believed (the relevant document is undated) that the series was painted in 1617-1618. If this is the case, Van Dyck's inclusion among the leading painters of Antwerp is a clear indication of his reputation, despite the fact thet he was still only in his late teens. His painting is very Rubensesque not only in mood, colour and compositional scheme, but also in the inclusion of figures in a heroic scale, like the half-naked man on the right. Of the technical skill of the young painter there can be no doubt, but the composition is crowded and the action confused. Figures which are extraneous to the scene, like the man on the right, are obtrusive: they distract the viewer's attention from the central drama of Christ's suffering glance at his mother.'

Estimate: € 80000 - € 120000