Jacob de Wit

Jacob de Wit

Detail from a ceiling decoration depicting Yael, one of the female Nine Worthies

Jacob de Wit was born in Amsterdam in 1695. When he was thirteen, he went to Antwerp to study at the Academy. He became a pupil of Jacob van Hal, and went on to become a member of the guild of St Luke in 1714. While in Antwerp, he also produced a series of watercolour sketches of the ceilings decorated by Rubens in the Jesuit St Carolus Borromeus Church. As the church was struck by lightning a few years later and the ceilings were lost in the fire, these works, which were later engraved, became important historical documents. The work and style of Rubens – especially his cycle for the Borromeus church – were to leave a lasting impression on de Wit; the present work certainly also attests to Rubens’ enormous influence on the artist.

In 1715, de Wit returned to Amsterdam, where he became a much sought after artist for his decorative paintings on walls, doors and ceilings. Wealthy patrons who lived on the grachten in Amsterdam commissioned decorations from him. As many of them also had country houses, de Wit did a lot of work in neighbouring Haarlem and Vecht as well. De Wit was a great illusionistic painter who often worked in grisaille.

De Wit produced a great number of sketches and drawings for his projects; many are kept in major institutional and private collections today. The present watercolour depicts the biblical figure Yael – one of the so-called female ‘Nine Worthies’. Yael, like Judith, was a heroine who was known for her personal assassination of an enemy leader, which fits into the “Power of Woman” topos that became popular in the middle ages and endured throughout the renaissance and even baroque period. She is shown here holding the peg which she used to kill the Canaanite general Sisera. Our works was presumably a study for – or a ricordo of – a decorative wall or ceiling painting, perhaps as part of a series of biblical figures. Unfortunately, it has not yet proved possible to link the present drawing to a finished work or a commission. Nevertheless, it is a beautifully executed and very typical work by de Wit and a fine addition to his oeuvre. Stylistically, it can be dated to the 1730’s.

Artist: Jacob de Wit (Amsterdam 1695 - 1754)
Medium: chalk and watercolour on laid paper
Dimensions: 196 x 196 mm
Signed: 'JdWit', bottom right