A Banquet of the Gods: Joachim Wtewael's Tiny Painting That Features Dozens of Deities

Sotheby’s is going to present an array of works from the 14th to 19th centuries in its upcoming Master Paintings Evening Sale in New York on 30 January. The centrepiece of the group is A Banquet of the Gods by Dutch master Joachim Anthonisz Wtewael (1566-1638), which is expected to fetch US$5m-7m. The impressive painting features nearly 50 elegantly posed figures in an oil on copper measuring only 15.8 by 20.4 cm.

Joachim Anthonisz Wtewael's Self Portrait

Joachim Anthonisz Wtewael was a leading figure of Dutch Mannerist art. Its elegant forms, classical subject, and refined technique exemplify this movement, which included the most important artists in the Netherlands from 1580 to 1620.  Praised by his contemporaries for his versatility and artistic prowess, Wtewael was capable of working across mediums of any scale.

Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617). The feast of the gods at the marriage of Cupid and Psyche (1587). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Inspired by a well-known print by Hendrick Goltzius, A Banquet of the God further shines a light on this artist's imaginative and inventive storytelling within this small composition. Across the foreground of this painting appears a beautiful frieze-like arrangement of gods, interrupted only by the trunk of a thick birch tree that rises upwards through the composition.

Mars, the god of war, with his helmet, shield, and sword, wraps his arms around the reclining Venus, the goddess of love and fertility, whose nude body is loosely draped in a transparent fabric and whose left hand holds a delicate glass of wine. Upon her left leg leans her son, Cupid, with his signature arrows.

To their left, a drunken Bacchus raises a red jug to his mouth, while Ceres leans into his lap—her wheat and wares from a cornucopia scattered in front of her.  The identity of the man to her left remains uncertain, though suggestions have ranged from Saturn to Pluto.  At the left edge of the composition stands Hercules (K) with his club, while armored Minerva sits nearby at the base of another tree whose branches and trunk are largely replaced by a plume of clouds.

Towards the right of the foreground sits Pan, the god of the woods, with his pipe, pointed ears, hairy legs and hooves.  Surrounding him are a number of muses playing instruments, above whom appear two standing waiters to the gods.

Near this area rises a thick birch tree whose bending motion mirrors the form of many of the figures in the scene. A thick cloud blends into upper leaves of the tree, atop of which sits Fame, with her trumpet, surrounded by a few flying putti.

In the upper left, Luna, the goddess of the moon, leans over a thick cloud looking down upon the scene below. Just below Iris who reclines on her rainbow at upper center sits Apollo, as he plays his instruments and hovers just above the feast at center.

Although many of the figures seated at the banquet table are difficult to identify, Diana with a crescent moon on her brow seems to place her arm around Mercury, who wears a red hat. While the gods are being served by a number of male and female waiters, Ganymede, the cup bearer of the gods, appears in front of the table, pouring wine into a glass cup.

Joachim Anthonisz. Wtewael. A Banquet of the Gods

Lot no.: 53
Size: 15.8 x 20.4 cm

  • Possibly Jan Nicquet, or his son, Amsterdam, by 1604;
  • Joseph Strutt, Esq., Derby, by 1827;
  • Thence by descent to his daughter, Isabel (d. 1877), and her husband, John Howard Galton (1794-1862), Hadzor, near Dorwich, by 1850;
  • Thence by descent to their son, Thedore Galton (1820-1881);
  • Thence by descent to his son, Hubert George Howard Galton (1854-1928);
  • His sale, London, Christie's, 22 June 1889, lot 75 (as "O Van Wal");
  • Anonymous sale, London, Christie's, 12 June 1914, lot 88 (as on panel);
  • There acquired by Francis Howard, Dorking, Surrey;
  • His sale, London, Christie's, 25 November 1955, lot 46 (as on panel);
  • There acquired by Edward Speelman, London, 1955;
  • With Arcade Gallery, London, 1955;
  • Korda collection, London;
  • From whom acquired by Edward Speelman, Ltd. and Thomas Gibson;
  • From whom acquired by Daniel Katz, London;
  • From whom acquired by the present collector, 1994.

Estimate: US$5,000,000 – 7,000,000

Auction details:
Auction house: Sotheby’s New York
Sale: Master Paintings Evening Sale
Sale date: 30 January 2019