A case of mistaken identity

Detail from The Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest, by Willemvan Haecht, Rubenshuis, Antwerp

This less than joyous gentleman climbing a staircase to enter the home of Cornelis van der Geest is generally assumed to be Willem van Haecht, the artist and curator who painted gallery or ‘cabinet’ scenes of the Antwerp spice merchant’s art collection.

But it’s not Willem.

He is an English rector by the name of Thomas Salter who in 1579 translated and plagiarised a treatise by the Venetian writer and historian Giovanni Michele Bruto (1517–1592). Bruto’s  treatise was a conduct book for young ladies and titled, La Institutione di una Fanciulla Nata Nobilmente. It was printed in 1555 in two languages, Tuscan and French, by the Antwerp bookbinder Christophe Plantin. Salter’s version was titled, A Mirrhor mete for all Mothers, Matrones, and Maidens, intituled the Mirrhor of Modestie

Engraving by Thomas Cross the Elder, NPG D21353, National Portrait Gallery, London

The National Portrait Gallery in London houses a mid 17th century engraving by Thomas Cross (NPG D21353) identified as “A member of the Salter family, possibly Thomas Salter”.

Thomas Salter was a rector of St Mellion, Cornwall, who died in 1625, three years before Willem van Haecht completed the painting in 1628 in which Salter is featured, known as The Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest.

The Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest, by Willem Van Haecht, Rubenshuis, Antwerp

Thomas Cross (the Elder) was active between 1632 and 1685. He produced several book title pages in a ‘cabinet’ or gallery format. His engraving of Thomas Salter was inspired by Van Haecht’s portrayal of the rector in the Van der Geest ‘cabinet’ painting and having knowledge of the back story and clues embedded by the Flemish painter.

A cabinet format frontispiece by Thomas Cross the Elder, 1668,

More about decoding the iconography that identifies Thomas Salter in a future post.

When stones cry out

The Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest, Rubenshuis, Antwerp

This magnificent image is by the Flemish artist Willem van Haecht (1593 – 1637). Painted in 1628, it is known as The Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest

Van Haecht spent the last decade of his short life as the curator of Van der Geest’s art collection. The gallery shows 43 paintings (among other treasures) of which 24 are known and identified today.

One painting that doesn’t appear to be attributed to any artist is a depiction of St Peter, located in the top row where the two walls meet. The reason for this is that there isn’t an original, lost or undiscovered, other than this image itself, and so most likely by Van Haecht’s own hand.

Detail of St Peter, The Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest, Rubenshuis, Antwerp

Peter was the disciple on which Jesus said he would build his Church. His portrait is placed as a heavenly cornerstone, a rock of faith, on which the Church stands, and as a witness to the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The painting is of Peter being raised by angels and experiencing his own joyous entry into heaven. .

Before becoming curator to Van der Geest’s art collection in 1628, Van Haecht spent seven years in Italy. It is this connection which reveals a major narrative disguised in the Gallery painting that links to Botticelli’s paintings of the Birth of Venus and Primavera.

I intend to explain more on this in future posts after I have completed my presentations on the Birth of Venus and Primavera, but in the meantime, notice the angel supporting or buttressing the ’Leaning Tower of Peter’ (see previous post).