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Allegory of Faith

Hendrick ter Brugghen (The Hague 1588 – 1629 Utrecht)
ca. 1626
oil on canvas
72.3 x 56.3 cm
signed information

signed and dated in the light paint along the center of the left edge: “HTBrügghen 162(?)” (“HTB” in ligature)

inventory number
Currently on view: The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

Van Tuinen, Ilona. “Allegory of Faith.” In The Leiden Collection Catalogue. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. New York. (accessed December 13, 2018).

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In the corner of a humble room sits a young woman who, with a smile spread across her slightly parted lips, gazes upward, her dark eyes fixated on a higher realm. Hendrick ter Brugghen framed the woman’s face with a high-necked vest and a cream-colored headscarf that falls in thick creases over her shoulders. A heavy blue mantle wrapped over her arms covers a red undergarment, the left sleeve of which is just visible. The large cross she holds on her lap, its left arm only partially seen behind her left shoulder, indicates the spiritual essence of her rapture.

Unifying the composition and establishing its reflective mood is the light shining from the simple candle the woman holds in her left hand. Ter Brugghen placed the flame at the exact center of the composition and carefully rendered its varying colors—orange tip, white hot core, and blue base. Just as this candle burns quietly without so much as a flicker, so also does the flame of the oil lamp hanging on the wall at the left. The lamp exudes a thin trail of smoke that rises in a perfectly straight line, underscoring the stillness surrounding the woman’s spiritual reverie.

Like other Utrecht Caravaggisti, such as Dirck van Baburen (ca. 1595–1624) and Gerard van Honthorst (1592–1656), Ter Brugghen was fascinated with the depiction of light effects. This work is one of two paintings in which Ter Brugghen included two different light sources, the other being his Musical Trio of ca. 1626 in the National Gallery, London (), where the interior space is similarly lit by a candle and an oil lamp. In that painting, Ter Brugghen skillfully rendered the light effects created by these different light sources: the young woman’s chin and the tip of her nose are brightly lit by the candle’s flame, whereas her right eyebrow is softly illuminated by the faint light coming from the oil lamp.

Who is this young woman so obviously averting her eyes from the worldly realm? In all likelihood she is not a saint, since no female saint is known to carry both a cross and a candle as attributes. It is more probable that she represents an allegorical concept, although scholars have struggled to articulate one that seems to accord fully with the character of the image. Albert Blankert, who was the first to publish this painting after it was discovered in 1991, interpreted it as an image of religious piety and specifically as an allegory of heavenly contemplation. He discussed the painting together with another allegorical painting by Ter Brugghen, his Melancholia of ca. 1626 in the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. Melancholia shows a young woman holding a skull and sitting in front of an hourglass with her eyes closed, her face leaning on her right hand. The presence of the skull and the hourglass, symbols of earthly transience, prompted Blankert to interpret the Toronto painting as an allegory of worldly contemplation. Though these works have similar dimensions and may depict the same model, the figures are both turned to the left, making it unlikely that they were intended as pendants. Instead, Blankert proposed that the two works should be seen as variations on the same theme.

Leonard Slatkes, on the other hand, identified the young woman as the Virgin Mary. He argued that her headdress and mantle appear, albeit not identically, in other Ter Brugghen depictions of the Virgin, such as the Crucifixion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. In Netherlandish painting the Virgin is depicted holding a candle only on her deathbed, and hence Slatkes interpreted the subject as being the Death of the Virgin. He argued that Ter Brugghen extracted Mary from traditional representations of this scene in which she is surrounded by the twelve apostles. In Death of the Virgin depictions, however, John the Evangelist often aids the feeble Mary in holding her candle, and although the compositions always contain a cross, it is held by one of the apostles, never by Mary herself. Since the apostles are so important to the story, and since the Virgin is never depicted holding a cross, Slatkes’s argument seems unlikely.

Neither of these theories takes full account of the central importance of the candle, which must have had thematic as well as compositional importance. Numerous references to candles appear in the Old and New Testament, as in the book of Psalms 18:28 (“For thou wilt light my candle, the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness”) and in Revelation 22:5 (“And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever”). In these passages the light of the candle is discussed in terms of God’s light, in one case equating the two, and in the other describing how the latter renders the former entirely unnecessary. In this painting Ter Brugghen alludes to the light of the candle in both of these ways. Here, on earth, the woman depends on the candle to light her world, but she gazes upward in anticipation of the heavenly light she will eventually receive. When one considers all of the pictorial elements in this work—the painting’s quiet and reflective mood, the cross and lit candle, the woman’s white and blue robes, and her heavenly gaze—it seems probable that Ter Brugghen intended the painting to depict an allegory of Faith.

Ter Brugghen prominently signed and dated the left center of the canvas: “HTBrugghen fecit 162[…].” Because of paint abrasion, only a faint vertical stroke is visible in the last digit, and can be read either as a 1 or a 6. The thematic and stylistic parallels of this work to the Toronto Melancholia and the London Musical Trio, both of ca. 1626, however, strongly suggest that this painting was executed in 1626. As with virtually all of Ter Brugghen’s works, it is not known who commissioned this work, although it is reasonable to assume that the artist painted it for a Catholic patron. One possibility may be the Haarlem artist Frederick Vroom (1600–67), whose 1667 inventory records a “Tronigie van Maria by Heynde ter Burgh.” Whoever was the original owner, this compelling image of a private expression of faith surely struck a chord with the devout believers who meditated before it.

- Ilona van Tuinen
  • Possibly Frederick Vroom, Haarlem, by 1667.
  • Private collection, Switzerland [French art market; Charles Roelofsz, B. V., Amsterdam, ca. 1991; Noortman Master Paintings, Maastricht, 1993].
  • Private collection, Belgium [on consignment to Simon Dickinson Ltd., London, 1999; Johnny van Haeften, Ltd., London, 2009].
  • From whom acquired by the present owner, 2009.
  • London, Robert Noortman Gallery, “Dutch and Flemish Old Master Paintings,” May–June 1993, no. 8.
  • Washington, National Gallery of Art, April–June 1995, on loan with the permanent collection [lent by Robert Noortman Gallery].
  • New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, March–August 2010, on loan with the permanent collection [lent by the present owner].
  • Utrecht, Centraal Museum, on loan with the permanent collection, January 2015–January 2016 [lent by the present owner].
  • Paris, Museé du Louvre, “Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection: The Age of Rembrandt,” 22 February–22 May 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Beijing, National Museum of China, “Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 17 June–3 September 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund, “Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 23 September 2017–25 February 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 28 March 2018–22 July 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 5 September 2018–13 January 2019 [lent by the present owner].
  • Bredius, Abraham. Kunstler-Inventare: Urkunden zur Geschichte der hollandischen Kunst des XVIten, XVIIten und XVIIIten Jahrhunderts. 8 vols. The Hague, 1915–22, 2:646, no. 78. (possibly)
  • Blankert, Albert. A Newly Discovered Painting by Hendrick ter Brugghen. Zwolle, 1991.
  • Kirby Talley, Mansfield, Jr. “Old Masters: New Discoveries.” The Connoisseur 221 (October 1991): 139.
  • Verbeek, Hans. “A Woman with Candle and Cross.” Noortman Dutch and Flemish Old Master Paintings. Sales cat. Maastricht and London, 1993, no. 8.
  • Huys Janssen, Paul. “Jan van Bijlert (1597/98–1671): Painter in Utrecht.” PhD diss. University of Utrecht, 1994, 132.
  • Blankert, Albert. “Hendrick ter Brugghen.” Allgemeines Künstler Lexikon. Munich and Leipzig, 1996, 504–5.
  • Slatkes, Leonard J. “Bringing Ter Brugghen and Baburen Up-to-Date.” Bulletin du Musée National de Varsovie 37 (1996): 216–19, no. 11.
  • Slatkes, Leonard J. “Musical Group.” In Masters of Light: Dutch Painters in Utrecht during the Golden Age. Edited by Joaneath A. Spicer and Lynn Federle Orr, 251–54, under no. 40, 423 n. 5. Exh. cat. Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery; San Francisco, Fine Art Museum. New Haven and London, 1997.
  • Huys Jannsen, Paul. Jan van Bijlert (1597/98–1671): Painter in Utrecht. Utrecht, 1998, 123.
  • Neumeister, Mirjam. Das Nachtstück mit Kunstlicht in der niederländischen Malerei und Graphik des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts. Petersberg, 2003, 201, 203, no. 142, 263 n. 439.
  • Slatkes, Leonard J., and Wayne Franits. The Paintings of Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588–1629): Catalogue Raisonné. Amsterdam and Philadelphia, 2007, 114–15, no. A23, 157, 167, 200, 271, 327, no. 22.
  • McCarthy, Alexa.  “Allegory of Faith.” In Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection: The Age of Rembrandt. Edited by Blaise Ducos and Dominique Surh, 32, no. 6. Exh. cat. Paris, Musée du Louvre. Paris, 2017.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Rembrandt and His Time: China and the Dutch Republic in the Golden Age.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 8; 13, no. 6. Translated by Li Ying. Exh. cat. Beijing, National Museum of China. Beijing, 2017
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Allegory of Faith.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 32–33; 173, no. 6. Translated by Li Ying. Exh. cat. Beijing, National Museum of Chian. Beijing, 2017.
  • Long Museum, West Bund. Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Exh. cat. Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund. Shanghai, 2017, 54–55.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “The Leiden Collection and the Dutch Golden Age.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 21; 31. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina. Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Allegory of Faith.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 214–15; 247, no. 74. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina. Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.

The support, a medium-weight, plain-weave fabric, has been lined. All four tacking margins have been almost entirely removed. Narrow remnants remain and there is cusping along all four edges. Neither the warp nor the weft threads run parallel to the stretcher edges. There is one paper label but no wax collection seals, stencils, other labels or import stamps on the lining or stretcher.

A light-colored ground has been thinly and evenly applied. The paint has been applied with loose fluid brushstrokes in thin, smooth, transparent glazes through the background allowing the underlayers to show through. The figure’s blue mantle, although not tested, is most likely painted with smalt, and the shadowed portions have faded.

No underdrawing is readily apparent in infrared images captured at 780–1000 nanometers. There are no obvious pentimenti or compositional changes visible in the images or the X-radiograph.

The painting is signed and dated in light-colored paint on the brown background along the center of the left edge. The artist’s name and the word fecit are legible with the naked eye, and the first three numerals of the date can be made out under magnification. The last numeral of the date is extremely faint, and has been read as a 1, 4, or 6.

The painting was cleaned, lined, and restored in 2010. It remains in a good state of preservation, although the blue pigment of the mantle has faded and a short diagonal tear through the figure’s proper left hand has been restored.

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