The Flemish metropolis Antwerp thanked its position to overseas trade. No wonder that its Baroque artists regularly painted mythological scenes representing the Greek or Roman god of the Sea, Poseidon/Neptune. Here his festive wedding parade with Amphitrite, surrounded by marvellous sea creatures.
Pauwels Casteels was above all a battle scene painter, but he excelled in these sensational and extravagant parades, of which this must be the best exemple.
About Pauwels Casteels
Antwerp circa 1625 – in or after 1677
His first name is sometimes spelt Pauwel.
Painter of history scenes (biblical and mythological subjects), battle scenes and of landscapes.
Pauwels joined the Painters’ Guild of Saint Luke in Antwerp in the year 1649/50 as a Wine Master, which indicates that he was the son of an Antwerp painter.
Casteels is best known for his large canvasses with numerous figures representing heroic battle scenes: either biblical, Greek or Roman subjects or contemporary clashes between Christians and Turks. He was clearly influenced by two earlier Flemish specialists of battle scene paintings : Pieter Snayers (1592 – after 1666) and above all Pieter Meulener (1602 – 1654). Casteels painted several versions of the Polish King John Sobieski III beating the Turks, which he did twice: in 1673 and in 1683 (the last one was the famous Battle of Vienna). There was a large demand for these battle scenes by our painter in Vienna, where the Forchondt art dealers exported them to.
Casteels’s mythological paintings are much rarer, but much more sought after. Most of these were painted on copper plates. For these there was beside the local Flemish market a strong demand from Spain.
About our painting
Pauwels Casteels painted at least seven versions of the Triumph of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, and Amphitrite, the most beautiful of the Nereids. This triumphal, processional ride shows the newly wed couple in a magnificent chariot, surrounded by sea creatures, such as Nereids (sea nymphs),Tritons (half man half fish) and Hippocamps (fish-tailed horses that are pulling their carriage).
The dolphins, which we see in the foreground, played an important role in the story of Poseidon and Amphitrite: Poseidon saw the Nereids, daughters of the sea god Nereus, dancing on the shore of the Island of Naxos. He fell in love with Amphitrite, but she was afraid and fled to the most remote part of the ocean, to Atlas. It was finally a dolphin who discovered and persuaded Amphitrite to return. The couple had one son, Triton.
In Flemish painting this highly original subject of the Triumph of Poseidon and Amphitrite was created by Frans Francken II (Antwerp 1581 – 1642 Antwerp) at the beginning of his career, which started in 1605. Over the years Francken himself painted over twenty paintings, often also on copper, representing this subject. He regularly repeated successful poses and parts of his early compositions. His workshop also produced several variations on this theme. Our painter, almost 45 years younger, dropped Francken’s Mannerist style, choosing for an exuberantly Baroque approach. But still Casteels was clearly influenced by Francken, surely when his senior colleague had been at his wildest. Casteels did add a new element and meaning to Francken’s composition: small cherub-like children, standing for fertility and prosperity.
Any subject relating to Neptune (the Roman name of the Greek god Poseidon) was popular in Antwerp, a town that thanked its prosperity to overseas trade. The river god Scaldis (representing the River Scheldt) was shown in exactly the same way as Poseidon in many Antwerp paintings, engravings and sculptures.
About paintings on copper
Seventeenth and eighteenth century Flemish (and Dutch) artists painted on oak panels, on canvas and on copper. Copper was the most expensive, but also the best support. Wooden panels can suffer from sudden changes in the degree of humidity, canvasses can be torn, while copper plates are less vulnerable.
Because of their even, highly rigid and non-absorbent surface, coppers did not need a preparatory layer (sometimes only a very thin ground) and one can paint extremely precisely, the paint could be applied almost without any visible brushstrokes. In old recipes it was advised to rub the copper plate with garlic, so that the oil paint would adhere better.
As copper was more expensive and as one could paint in a very detailed way on them, most copper plates are therefore of rather small dimensions. Artists painted on copper delicate, elaborate and highly finished paintings with brilliant pictorial effects, carefully rendering the details of physiognomy and of dress. Another advantage of these copper plates today is the fact that they have very little craquelure.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because this superbly painted Baroque composition testifies of the wild powers of the Sea and of its fabulous mythological creatures.