Cornelis I Schut

The Return of the Holy Family from Egypt

Cornelis Schut was born in Antwerp in 1597. After training and working for a few years in the workshop op Peter Paul Rubens, he became a member of the guild of St Luke in 1618. Between 1624 and 1627 he lived in Rome, where he was one of the founding members of the Bentvueghels, a society of Flemish and Dutch artists who worked in Rome. His nickname or “bentnaam” was ‘Brootsaken’ (‘bread bags’). In 1627-1628 the artist was in Florence, where he designed tapestries for the Arrazeria Medicea, the tapestry factory founded by Cosimo I de Medici. In the early 1630’s he returned to Antwerp.

In 1635 Schut collaborated on the decorations for the Royal Entry of the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand in Antwerp, a project that was overseen by his former master Rubens. That same year, he was also commissioned to work on preparations for the Joyous Entry in Ghent. Schut collaborated on many other projects, alongside artists such as Gaspar de Crayer and Theodoor Rombouts. He painted the figures in many of Jan van Kessel’s flower garlands. Schut was regularly commissioned for altarpieces in churches and monasteries across the Southern Netherlands, but also further afield, such as in Cologne. In the Antwerp cathedral of Our Lady he painted the ceiling decoration of the dome, which depicts the Assumption of Mary; for the Antwerp Jesuit church he painted one of the four alternating altarpieces, the Ascension of Mary.

Stylistically, Schut was influenced by his contemporary Abraham Janssens, as well as by several Italian painters, such as Guercino and Guido Reni. Although he certainly borrowed motifs and stylistic elements from his master Rubens, the latter’s stylistic influence on Schut varied throughout Schut’s career, being strongest when Schut was in Antwerp for a longer period of time. Rubens’ influence however is clear in the present work, which depicts the Return of the Holy Family from Egypt. This oil sketch was almost certainly a preparatory work for a now lost or never executed larger painting. It has been noted that Schut may have looked to Rubens’ 1615 version of the scene – now in the Wadsworth Atheneum – for inspiration. Nevertheless, there are many differences between the two compositions, Rubens’ composition being more monumental and straightforward, whereas Schut’s is more lively, the more intimate scene being filled with lots of interaction and so-called petite histoire. (Note, for instance, Joseph bending forward to point out to his son the fruits chucked down by the frolicking angels in the upper right corner.)

The Return can be dated in the mid-1630’s when compared to other, datable works by the artist. Interestingly, although the work was only rediscovered in the late 1980’s, it seems that it was still in an important Antwerp collection in the late 18th century. The sale of a Return of the Holy Family by Schut of exactly the same dimensions as the present work was recorded on the first of August, 1791. It came from the collection of the recently deceased Franciscus Bruynincx, Canon of the Cathedral of Our Lady and Archdeacon of Antwerp, who had amassed an enviable art collection including works by Rubens and van Dyck.

Artist: Cornelis Schut (Antwerp 1597 - 1655)
Medium: oil on panel
Dimensions: 35 x 52,5 cm
Literature: Getrude Wilmers, Cornelis Schut (1597-1655): A Flemish Painter of the High Baroque, Louvain 1996, A32 pp. 95-96, ill. p. 362.