A putto with a fishing net; possibly an allegory of the element water
Aegidius Verelst I, or „the Elder” was born in Antwerp on December 13th, 1696. He spent some time as an apprentice in Antwerp before going to Paris to study with Willem de Groff. De Groff was a near contemporary of Verelst, born in Antwerp in 1676, who worked in Paris for Louis XIV from 1708 onwards. There he was taken on in 1714 by Maximilian II Emanuel von Bayeren (Munich 1662 – 1726), who, after returning to Munich, summoned him there to work as the court sculptor. He was appointed head of a workshop with over 14 sculptors that was closely involved in the building of all the courtly castles and residences. For assisting him in this endeavor, de Groff sent for his Parisian apprentice and compatriot Verelst; the latter joined him in his workshop in Munich in 1718.
Besides commissions for churches and various private patrons, de Groff and Verelst made among other things wall fountains, reliefs and portraits in wood, bronze and marble for the court. They brought a distinctly French taste – acquired during their stay in Paris – to Munich, while not forgetting their Flemish origin: the Flemish style is for example still very much visible in the head of the present putto, recalling the work of François Duquesnoy. In 1724 Verelst became the court sculptor for Theodor Johann von Bayeren, Prince-Bischop of Freising. He died in Augsburg in 1749, only a few years after his master, Willem de Groff, who died in Munich in 1742.
When the present sculpture was rediscovered in a Belgian collection it was attributed to Jan Pieter van Baurscheit (Wormersdorf 1669 – 1728 Antwerp). At the time, it was covered by a thick layer of brown overpaint. After this was removed, however, it appeared that, while the putto was definitely by a Flemish master and to be dated around 1720, stylistically it could not have been executed by van Baurscheit or his son, Jan Pieter van Baurscheit the Younger. It was Dr. Frits Scholten of the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam) who first proposed the attribution to Aegidius Verelst, favorably comparing the present work with two bronze groups of putti currently in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum. It has recently also been suggested that the putto may be the work of Verelst’s master, Willem de Groff. As the two artists were near contemporaries who came from the same city and artistic background and who collaborated on several projects while working for the court in Munich, it has not yet proved possible to definitively rule out any of the two – further research into both sculptors and their oeuvre must follow to definitively attribute the piece. However, whoever of the two executed the sculpture, its importance as a major work of art, conceived in the context of the Munich court, is evident.
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