A hermit praying

In this scene, a white-haired hermit prays over a book, his eyes cast downward. A crucifix, gourd jug and basket of vegetables sit beside him, while two sticks form another cross at his feet. Hermit saints were a popular subject in the 16th and 17th centuries. They were the subject of series of prints by Marten de Vos in the 1590s, while later, Van den Eckhout's teacher, Rembrandt, treated the subject in his etchings of Saint Jerome. In the present work, the precise identity of the saint is uncertain. The hermit's beard and brown habit tied with the three knots, likely representing the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience of the Franciscan order, suggest that he is Saint Francis. This identification would also explain the secondary figure in the doorway, who may be Brother Leo, the companion who, according to legend, joined Saint Francis during his forty-two days of seclusion at La Verna in 1224. Yet the absence of the stigmata, Saint Francis's most common attribute, leaves open the possibility of another identification.

This evocative depiction of a hermit praying is the most detailed and ambitious of the known treatments of the theme by Van den Eeckhout. Three other comparable pictures, all signed and dated, are a smaller work formerly in the Count Bennigsen collection, London from 1650 (48.8 x 41.8 cm.; Sumowski, 1983, op. cit., pp. 745, 854, no. 491); one dated 1655 that sold at Sotheby's, Amsterdam, 12 May 2003, lot 69 (54.7 x 46.2 cm.); and a particularly similar composition of 1668 in the Musées Communaux, Verviers (95 x 85 cm.; Sumowski, 1983, op. cit., pp. 746, 859, no. 496).

Son of a goldsmith, Gerbrand van den Eeckhout is generally assumed to have studied with Rembrandt from 1635 to 1640. Although he also painted portraits, landscapes and elegant interior scenes, history pieces comprise the largest portion of his oeuvre. Van den Eeckhout's history paintings from the 1640s often depict rare biblical episodes and show broad, Rembrandt-like brushwork and chiaroscuro, and the bright palette of Pieter Lastman. Over time, however, Van den Eeckhout developed a more polished, detailed style. The present work, dated 1663, displays this attention to detail, evident in the great care taken in describing the hermit's grotto with its interwoven branches and rope-bound walls of straw.

The present work still reflects the influence of Rembrandt and his studio. Sumowski has suggested (loc. cit.) that the posture of the kneeling hermit may derive from a drawing by Rembrandt depicting Jonah before the Walls of Nineveh (circa 1654-1655; see O. Benesch, The Drawings of Rembrandt, V, London, 1957, no. 950 and fig. 1227) and cites a comparable painting by Rembrandt's pupil Gerrit Dou, executed around 1635, depicting a Hermit Kneeling in Prayer in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden (Sumowski 1983, I, pp. 526, 545 no. 248). Despite the brown tones and heavy shadows so reminiscent of Rembrandt's style, Van den Eckhout has bathed the grotto in warm light and included the exquisite patch of blue-purple sky at upper left, allowing the viewer to glimpse the silhouette of a distant bridge being traversed by a traveller, personal touches that display his own artistic character.

This picture is to be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné by Professor Volker Manuth.

Signature: Signed and dated 'G. V. Eeckhout. fe/Ao1663.' (lower right)

G. Isarlov, 'Rembrandt et son entourage', La Renaissance, 19, 1936, XI, 36, p. 49, as 'a Hermit'.

W. Sumowski, Bemerkungen zu Otto Benesch Corpus der Rembrandt-Zeichnungen I, Wissenschaftliche Reihei, VI, 1956/57, pp. 256, 268, no. 4, fig. 7, as 'Saint Anthony'.

W. Sumowski, Bemerkungen zu Otto Benesch Corpus der Rembrandt-Zeichnungen, II, Bad Pyrmont, 1961, pp. 17, 23, under nos. 950, as 'Saint Anthony' and A23a, as 'Saint Francis'.

R. Roy, Studien zu Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, Ph.D. dissertation, Vienna, 1972, p. 221, under no. 69, as 'Saint Francis, influenced by Rembrandt's etching Bartsch 107'.

W. Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, Landau/Pfalz, 1983, II, pp. 746, 858, no. 495, as 'Saint Francis' with incorrect dimensions.

Dr. Simon Stinstra, Haarlem; sale, Philippe van der Schley, Amsterdam, 26 March 1783, lot 45.

L.J. Quarles van Ufford, Haarlem; sale, Van Pappelendan & Shouten, 23-24 March 1874, lot 10 (f. 350 to H.C. Dubois).

James Duncan; Christie's, London, 16 July 1887, lot 96 (95 gns. to Colnaghi).

with Colgnahi, London.

Geheim Rat, Privvy Counseler, Seeger, Berlin, by whom sold to the following

with Karl Haberstock, 17 January 1920 (Reichmarks 85,000, with eleven other works).

Julius Jewelowski collection, Danzig.

with Agnew's, London; Christie's, London, 9 December 1938, lot 11, as 'Saint Anthony at his devotions', with a certificate from Dr. W. Bode, dated 3 October 1921 (unsold).

with Leger Galleries, London, 1955.

with Appleby Brothers, London, 1962.

Private collection, Delaware, and by descent.

with Colnaghi, London.

About Gerbrand van den Eeckhout

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout was known as one of Rembrand van Rijn’s most devoted students and closest friends. In fact, his technique was so faithful to Rembrandt’s that his paintings were sometimes mistakenly attributed to his master. Van den Eeckhout was also influenced by Rembrandt’s teacher, Pieter Lastman, whose theatrical realism and illusionism sometimes appeared in the artist’s own compositions. Above all, van den Eeckhout was known for his versatility and use of multiple styles, depending on his subject matter. His history paintings followed Rembrandt’s style, while his portraits showed Flemish influences and his landscapes were similar to those of his peer Roeland Roghman. He mastered several mediums during his career, including metalwork, etching, and drawing, and developed a distinct style of painting domestic interiors. The artist also frequently included portraits in his history paintings, pioneering the genre of portraits-histoirés.

Dutch, 1621-1674, Amsterdam, Netherlands, based in Amsterdam, Netherlands