Cornelis Schut

Cimon and Iphigenia

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. The present work depicts a rather unusual iconography, which derives not from classical mythology or Christian tradition but rather from literature – more specifically, Boccaccio’s Decamerone. In this medieval allegorical work (written ca. 1350-60), one of the stories told is that of Cimon, son of a wealthy Cypriot father, who seems to have been somewhat of a problem child. Although handsome and fit, he was also a complete idiot, unable even to learn basic manners.

Banished to the countryside to work on one of his father’s estates, Cimon one day came across Iphigenia, sleeping near a fountain and accompanied by several attendants. Enraptured by her great beauty, Cimon leaned on the stick he carried around and stared at the girl for hours. As he was looking at her, his simple mind started to change, and he transformed from a hopeless imbecile into a well-behaved and cultured young man. Needless to say, the couple lived happily ever after! This allegory on the power of love, as one might call it, was certainly the most depicted scene from the Decamerone – Rubens, for instance, painted a version in 1617 (now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). The present work is quite close to other oil sketches by Schut, such as his Rape of Europa (now in the Martin von Wagner Museum, Wurzburg) and can be dated to the late 1630’s. Quickly and effortlessly painted, it is a testament to the artist’s great skill and wide interests.

Artist: Cornelis Schut (Antwerp 1597 - 1655)
Medium: oil on paper, laid down on oak panel
Dimensions: 18,9 x 28,7 cm