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Tatyana LESNIKOVA, Cand. Sc. (History), Higher School of Restoration, Russian State University of the Humanities
Some of Russia's manorial estates of the 18th and 19th centuries can by right be called real museums boasting superb collections of paintings, applied art and antiques. Their owners were art connoisseurs who spared no efforts in replenishing the stocks of their home museums. Yet with the passage of time-especially in the years of revolutionary turmoil in the wake of October 1917-many exhibits were lost, or appropriated by other museums; and some landed abroad. More often than not, we cannot tell anything about their authors or origin. One such item is the canvas A SCHOLAR'S STUDY that graced the manor of the counts Orlovs-Davydovs. But then... What happened then will be the subject of our story...
But first, some background information about the owners of the manorial estate dubbed Otrada. This manor was built in the village of Semyonovskoye near the town Serpukhov south of Moscow; in the 18th century the estate belonged to the Orlovs, a dynasty well known here in Russia for its intense public involvement. Its first owner was Vladimir Grigoryevich Orlov, the younger brother of Grigory and Alexei Orlovs, who were implicated in the coup of June 28, 1762, that brought Catherine II (Catherine the Great) to the Russian throne. The empress was generous in rewarding the plotters: the five Orlov brothers were granted the title of counts, they received an immense remuneration from the treasury and important posts in the government.
Thus fortune smiled on the Orlovs, the lucky brothers, and made them famous and wealthy overnight. The younger brother, Vladimir, took a course at Leipzig University and, upon his return to the then Russian capital, St. Petersburg, was appointed Chief Director of the Academy of Sciences, a post he held in 1766 to 1774. Vladimir Orlov shouldered most of the organizational work there; he kept a deep interest in science and respect for scientists till the end of his days.
Upon his retirement Vladimir Grigoryevich decided to settle on his country estate grounds next to the Lopasnya stream, where he built a manor that later came to be called Otrada, or "delight" in Russian. He was the man who founded the wonderful manorial collection. His son, Grigory Vladimirovich Orlov, followed in his father's footsteps. Still in his young years Grigory developed an avid interest in belles lettres and in collecting books, paintings, engravings and sculptures. His older daughter inherited that manor and what went with it. The next heir was the first owner's nephew, Vladimir Petrovich Orlov; in 1856 he was
awarded a count's title and got a double surname, as was the custom of the day - Orlov-Davydov. A rich Russian landlord and public personality, Vladimir Orlov-Davydov did a good deal toward expanding the manorial grounds. His sons and grandsons lived there up until the nationalization of the manorial estate in 1917.
For nearly a century and a half, the owners of the Otrada-Bliss estate had collected a splendid stock of Russian and West European paintings, works of decorative and applied art, engravings and prints, icons, old-time books as well as autographs of Russian and foreign men-of-letters. Add to all that an impressive collection of sundry minerals, coins, weapons, china, snuff-boxes, furniture... In short, it was a real museum. Besides, there was a small painting, as we learn from a record dated September 18, 1867, now in the custody of the Russian State Archives of Old Documents; it was listed as a work of Herbrandt van den Eeckhout: "A Scholar's Study, a nice picture on wood. Purchased in St. Petersburg." Now, van den Eeckhout (1621-1674) was a Dutch painter from Amsterdam, a pupil of the great Rembrandt. Such kind of attribution must have been suggested by Karl Wudborn, a St. Petersburg antiquarian and art expert who counseled the Orlovs-Davydovs on works by West European mattres. The counts heeded his advice when purchasing such works for their collection.
Rembrandt (Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1606-1669) and masters of his school enjoyed invariable success in Russia. Peter the Great had some of their works in his collection. Under Catherine the Great the picture gallery she set up - Her Majesty's Hermitage - acquired a rich collection of the great artist's works. High-placed nobles did not remain aloof either and had Rembrandt and kindred artists in their collections too, as recorded in the registers.
And yet such documents are not always reliable. Those who took inventories in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries often could not tell apart a mattre from his pupils because of a well-nigh identical style. The same is true of Rembrandt as well: what was thought to be his original works proved copies or, at best, canvases belonging to the brush of his fellow artists.
The painting A Scholar's Study is instructive in more ways than one. Unlike most of the items of the Otrada collection that were taken by major Moscow museums or else disappeared without a trace in the confusion of the first post-revolutionary years, this canvas found itself at the Serpukhov Museum of History and Arts and, for a long time, happened
to be beyond the field of vision of Moscow's art experts. As to the Serpukhov museum, its workers knew nothing of the Otrada register, and so in their inventory they listed it as a work of an unknown Dutch painter of the Rembrandt school and, under the name A Scholar т His Study, put it on display. And there was no hint of Herbrandt van den Eeckhout. So they let the matter rest at that.
It was only almost half a century later that Vadim Sadkov, an expert on West European art at the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, took a closer look and marveled at the high artistry of the painting: Who might be the author, he wondered. After some research V. Sadkov came to the conclusion: the canvas must have been painted by a mattre from the Dutch city of Leiden, and from among the young Rembrandt's milieu. The art critic related all that in a series of articles published in 1975 to 1978 and dealing with the attribution of the Dutch paintings at the Serpukhov museum. In his opinion, there were but few artists of a high standard like that; perhaps Jan Livens (1607-1674), the joint owner of Rembrandt's studio in Leiden? Or maybe Herard Dou (1613-1675), one of the first Rembrandt's pupils? Hardly, because of the stark difference of their artistic idiom.
V. Sadkov saw that A Scholar's Study belonged to the same brush as the composition Minerva in a Study from the collection of the Denver Art Museum (USA)-a canvas that used to be attributed to the young Rembrandt himself. Yet in 1961 the German art critic Kurt Bauch proved that Minerva could not be painted by the great Dutch artist. Proceeding from the stylistic likeness of the Serpukhov and Denver pictures, Sadkov attributed A Scholar's Study to the brush of one of Rembrandt's pupils of the Leiden period (1626-1631). The canvas must have been painted in the early 1630s, he suggested, and tentatively designated the author's name as "the master of Minerva".
In 1981 Yuri Kuznetsov of the State Hermitage Museum published
an article which he entitled Melancholia II and which ushered in a new stage in the identification of the enigmatic painting. He took a broader view of its subject. Looking into its context, the author of this publication discerned an allegory popular in the old Western art- namely, that of "vanity of vanities". The scholar depicted in the painting ( A Scholar's Study) ponders over the fleetness and transitoriness of earthly being; the musical instruments, old books and sheet music are not only part of still life. The books seem to have fallen from the table, the violin put aside on the chair's back, and the bow and a music sheet are on the floor. In the fartherst corner of the studio stands a long bench - a symbol of a long journey; and on it lie a palette and brushes. The sword and the rapier on the wall epitomize the erstwhile overweening ambitions. All these paraphernalia, so much essential before, are no longer needed (the scholar has turned his back on them) and kind of hinting at the vanity of scholarly and artistic pursuits.
The scholar is in a posture of brooding melancholy, his countenance all despair. The devotee of the Muses and Learning sees no sense and meaning in his occupations any more, in what used to be the woof and fabric of his life. The magic is gone, it has melted into thin air.
Yuri Kuznetsov knew that a similar work was in a Berlin private collection - A Painter Playing the Violin; it carried the author's signature: Isaac de Jauderville (1612/13-1645/48), who was one of the first Rembrandt's pupils of the Leiden period. Although nothing is known today concerning the whereabouts of this painting, Kuznetsov could see its photograph in the archives of the State Bureau of Artistic Documentation in the Hague. In style the two pictures were amazingly alike. In both cases the leitmotif of Melancholy (Melancholia) permeated the palette.
We might as well add here that illustrated collections of emblems ("emblematics") were often a clue to the content or message of this or that painting: such images helped in gaining an insight into the concealed meaning of lofty and sublime. The striking likeness of a "scholar deep in thought" portrayed in the Serpukhov picture with an image depicted in a drawing attributed to Rembrandt (Le Louvre, Paris) is worthy of special notice. A similar emblem in the catalogue of Theodore Beza (de Beze) (1519-1605) is interpreted in this wise: "You see a circumference... equidistant from the center. It [the
circumference] means that the sky surrounds us on all sides. The point in the center denotes the earth. Why art thou in sorrow, and why dost thou suffer - thou who hast banished the love of humility from thy fatherland? Turning towards the sky, thou shalt see that wherever thou wilt go thou wilt be equally distant from the sky everywhere."
The American art critic and historian Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968) has offered a plausible interpretation of the inscription Melancholia I on Albrecht Durer's engraving with a similar message. Recalling this case, Yuri Kuznetsov assumed the Serpukhov painting was also an allegory of the "melancholic obsession" of savants who would rely on reason, not imagination, in their scientific pursuits. But the Divine Truth is within reach of only those who stand higher than that, on a third rung so to speak; these are theologians and prophets, a tribe guided by intuition. Hence another possible name of the canvas A Scholar's Study - Melancholia II.
Here's yet another remarkable point: the German art critic Werner Sumovski, an authority on Rembrandt and masters of his milieu, has listed Minerva in a Study from the Denver museum in the complete catalogue of Isaac de Jauderville's works available today. As we have said, Vadim Sadkov has pointed to the striking similarity of this picture with one in the Serpukhov museum: both reveal a similar vision of light and space, of a human figure, antique folios, and of the world of hand-wrought things in general. Their style and interpretation are much alike. Such identification of the two paintings would allow to attribute them to one and the same author, "the master of Minerva". Having read Sadkov's and Kuznetsov's publications, Werner Sumovski added Melancholia II (that is, the Serpukhov A Scholar's Study)to his catalogue.
This means that "the master of Minerva" was the Leiden artist Isaac de Jauderville. Thus the idea first suggested by Vadim Sadkov more than twenty years ago - that the two canvases were painted by the same artist - has proved correct by and large. To make assurance double sure it will be necessary to carry out a comparative physico-chemical study of the paint layers of the two canvases.
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