The summer auction season is upon us, with Christie’s and Sotheby’s offering stellar works by Brueghel the Younger.
One of most interesting works at auction is the version of “Massacre of the Innocents” at Christie’s. It is interesting for the mystery related to the signature. From the Lot Details:
“The form of the signature on the major versions is considered to be of significance in placing them within the chronologies of Pieter the Elder’s and Pieter the Younger’s oeuvres. The Royal Collection picture is signed ‘BRVEGEL’, which is now accepted as the Elder’s signature; the Vienna version is signed ‘BRVEG’ at the extreme right edge, although the letters ‘EL’ or ‘HEL’ may have been inadvertently trimmed off; a version in Bucharest is signed ‘P. BRVEGEL’. At the time of its sale in Paris in 1979, the present version appears to have born a fragmentary date in addition to the signature, ‘.BRVEGEL. 15..’ (see Campbell, op. cit., p. 15). We are grateful to Christina Currie of KIK/IRPA for noting that the present version is unusual in that it is signed with the signature form of Bruegel the Elder after 1559, ‘.BRVEGEL.’ without an ‘H’ and without the initial ‘P’. No other versions of the Massacre of the Innocents are securely known to be signed in this way; the implications of this for its primacy in the sequence of versions painted by Brueghel the younger remains to be established.”
What happened to the date on the painting? Having the date on the work in 1979 but not present now is mysterious. Was the painting subject to a botched cleaning? Or, did a cleaning reveal that the date was likely false, and was it removed? Hopefully this mystery will be solved soon. Further, it will be very interesting to learn where this version sits in the multiple versions painted by Brueghel.
“Nord on Art” has a great write up of the upcoming Brueghel works at auction: