Lucas van Valckenborch
before 1535 Leuven - 1597 Frankfurt/Main
THE TOWER OF BABEL
Oil on panel (parquetted). 48,5 x 64 cm.
Dr. Alexander Wied, Wien, April 2011.- Technological examination by the "Centro Ricerche sul Dipinto, CSG Palladio", Vicenza 7.3.2011.
Italian private collection.
Cf. A. Wied: Lucas und Marten van Valckenborch. Das Gesamtwerk mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog, Freren 1990.
For generations, the "Tower of Babel" has been the property of a North Italian familily and was unknown to art historians. According to current knowledge, Lucas van Valckenborch painted seven versions of this motif. Four of them are in museum collections, namely in Munich, Mainz, Koblenz, and Paris. A small roundel is in a private collection (op. cit. cat. nos. 6, 66, 82, 83 and 102), and a signed painting, dated 1587, appeared at a Paris auction in 2001 (Beaussant & Lefèvre, Dec. 14, 2001, lot 57). The eraliest depiction of this theme by Valckenborch ist the small painting in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich (21 x 29 cm), based upon a „Tower of Babel“ by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Characteristic is the conical building with the spiral ramp and tiny ant-size figures. This pattern is used by Valckenborch again in later versions. Our painting differs only slightly from the work in the Louvre, dated 1594, therefore Wied suggests its date to be shortly thereafter. The differences are noticeable mainly in the left foreground where the figures of Nimrod and the stonemasons appear to have been painted by the workshop.
The "Tower of Babel" appears frequently in Flemish art until 1600. Aside from the narrative, the motif is a symbol for human hybris and devine punishment.