Attributed to Hendrick van Balen the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Younger
Persephone: An Allegory of Spring
Oil on panel
25 1/4 x 41 1/4 inches (64.1 x 104.8 cm)
In the intellectual atmosphere of Antwerp in the 16th and 17th centuries, allegories were a favorite subject for painting. Some of these were intended to moralize, like the Banquet Scene by Hieronymus Francken the Elder offered in this sale as lot 15. Others were essentially decorative, but with an underlay of humanistic learning that would give a well educated patron particular pleasure. Favorite subjects were the Arts, the Elements, the Months, and the Seasons, all of which offered a wide range of opportunity for invention. An example of this type is Persephone: An Allegory of Spring. Here Persephone, the Greek goddess of spring, newly returned from her winter home in the Underworld, and wearing a pearl diadem as its Queen, is seated next to her mother, Demeter, goddess of agriculture and plant life, who holds a cornucopia overflowing with flowers and a bouquet. Their two attendants carry an armillary sphere, to signify the turn of the seasons, and a torch, an emblem of Demeter's search for her daughter after her abduction by Hades. Around these four figures the earth teems with a profusion of living creatures-fish, birds, and small land animals of every sort-as if bursting with joy at Persephone's return. In the distance in an estuary at the left, a procession of sea gods makes it way to celebrate the goddess's coming, while in a mountainside at right we can make out a group of blacksmiths at a forge, a reminder of the Underworld from which their ores come, and to which Persephone must return at summer's end.
This painting is a collaboration between two artists, one a specialist in landscape, the other a figure-painter. Jan Brueghel the Younger (1601-1678) has been proposed as the landscape painter, and Hendrick van Balen the Younger (1623-1661) as the figure painter, although these attributions are by no means certain. This is, however, a classic example of an Antwerp allegorical landscape of the 17th century.
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