Overview

The pairing of unequal couples has a literary history dating back to antiquity when Plautus, a Roman comic poet from the 3rd–century BC, cautioned elderly men against courting younger ladies. By the late–15th and early–16th centuries, the coupling of old men with young women or old women with young men had become popular themes in northern European art and literature.

This painting provides a clear illustration of the ideas that old age, especially lecherous old age, leads to foolishness—with the fool participating in the deception by helping to rob the old man's purse—and that women's sexual powers cause men to behave absurdly and to lose their wits and their money. The deck of cards may allude to competition between the sexes, morally loose or amorous behavior, and the loss and gain of money through gambling.

The painting is an example of Massys' ability to assimilate elements from both northern and Italian art. Apparently familiar with Leonardo da Vinci's grotesque drawings of physiognomy and distortion, Massys adapted the facial type for the old lecher from one of Leonardo's caricatures, and the complicated pose of the suitor from Leonardo's lost drawing of an ill–matched pair, known today through a later copy.

Inscription

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

Probably Steven Wils the younger [d. 1628], Antwerp.[1] Probably Herman Neyt [d. 1642], Antwerp.[2] James-Alexandre, comte de Pourtalès-Gorgier [1776-1855], Paris; his heirs; (Pourtalès-Gorgier sale, his hôtel, Paris, 27 March-4 April 1865, no. 176). Comtesse de Pourtalès;[3] Comte Edmond de Pourtalès [d. 1895], Paris, by 1888;[4] by descent to Comtesse de Pourtalès, Paris.[5] Count Bismarck, Paris and New York, by the late 1940's.[6] (Spencer A. Samuels, New York), by 1969; purchased 7 October 1971 by NGA.

Exhibition History

1902
Exposition des primitifs flamands et d'art ancien, Hôtel de Gouvernement Provincial, Bruges, 1902, no.359.

Bibliography

1863
Souvenirs de la Galerie Pourtàles. Tableaux, antiques et objects d'art photographies par Goupil & Cie.. Paris, 1863:repro 20
1867
Michiels, Alfred. Histoire de la peinture flamande. 10 vols. Paris, 1867: 4:338-339.
1883
Branden, F. J. van den. Geschiedenis der Antwerpsche Schilderschool. Antwerp, 1883: 68-70.
1888
Hymans, Henri. "Quentin Matsys," Gazette des Beaux-Arts 38 (1888): 205.
1902
Hulin de Loo, Georges. Bruges. Exposition de tableaux flamands des XIVe, XVe, et XVIe siècles. Catalogue critique. Ghent, 1902: 101, no. 359.
1902
Hymans, Henri. "L'Exposition des primitifs flamands à Bruges." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 28 (1902): 303.
1903
Friedländer, Max J. "Die Brügger Leihausstellung von 1902." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 26 (1903): 155.
1903
Friedländer, Max J. Meisterwerke der niederländischen Malerei des XV. und XVI. Jahrhunderts auf der Ausstellung zu Brügge 1902. Munich, 1903: 24, pl. 64.
1904
Cohen, Walter. Studien zu Quentin Metsys. Munich, 1904: 71-72.
1905
Valentiner, Wilhelm R. "Oeuvres satiriques de Quentin Metsys." Les Arts anciens de Flandre 1 (1905):2.
1907
Bosschère, Jean de. Quinten Metsys. Brussels, 1907: 116-117, 134.
1908
Brising, Harald. Quinten Matsys und der Ursprung des Italianismus in der Kunst der Niederlande. Leipzig, 1908: 34, 50, no. 33, pl. 42.
1921
Delen, A.J.J. De Ontwikkelingsgang de Schilderkunst te Antwerpen. Antwerp, 1921: 28-29.
1924
Friedländer, Max J. Die altniederländische Malerei 14 vols. 1924-1937. Berlin, 1934: 7:63, no. 54, pl. 51. (English ed., 14 vols., 1967-1976. Leiden, 1971: 7:33, 66, no. 54, pl. 54.)
1924
Winkler, Friedrich. Die alniederländische Malerei. Berlin, 1924: 206.
1926
Delen, A.J.J. Metsys. Brussels and Paris, 1926: 78-79, pl. 23.
1929
Friedländer, Max J. "Meister Quentins Persönlichkeit." Der Cicerone 21 (1929): repro. 574.
1931
Marle, Raimond van. Iconographie de l'art profane. 2 vols. The Hague, 1931: 2:477.
1932
Denucé, Jan. The Antwerp Art Galleries: Inventories of the Art-Collections in Antwerp in the 16th and 17th Centuries. The Hague, 1932: 49, 94.
1933
Baldass, Ludwig. "Gotik und Renaissance im Werke des Quinten Metsys." Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses (Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien) N.F. 7 (1933): 150-151, 173.
1938
Wescher, Paul. "Ein `Ungleiches Liebespaar' von Hans von Kulmbach." Pantheon 22 (1938): 378.
1942
Boon, Karel G. Quentin Massys. Amsterdam, 1942: 53, repro. 56.
1947
Friedländer, Max J. "Quentin Massys as a Painter of Genre Pictures." The Burlington Magazine 89 (1947): 116.
1950
Larsen, Erik. "Un Quentin Metsys inconnu à New York." Revue Belge d'Archéologie et d'Histoire de l'Art 19 (1950): 172.
1954
Marlier, Georges. Erasme et la peinture flamande de son temps. Damme, 1954: 228-234.
1955
Mallé, Luigi. "Quinten Metsys." Commentari 6 (1955): 106.
1957
Speth-Holterhoff, S. Les Peintres flamands de cabinets d'amateurs au XVIIe siècle. Brussels, 1957: 16.
1961
Broadley, Hugh T. "The Mature Style of Quinten Massys." Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1961: 146-148, 222-223, pl. 26a.
1962
Mirimonde, Albert P. de. "Jan Massys dans les musées de province francais." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 60 (1962): 555-556, fig. 10.
1962
Puyvelde, Leo van. La peinture flamande au siècle de Bosch et Breughel. Paris, 1962: 301.
1963
Le Siècle de Bruegel: La peinture en Belgique au XVIe siècle. Exh. cat. Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, 1963: 133, no. 168.
1968
Cuttler, Charles D. Northern Painting, from Pucelle to Bruegel: Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth Centuries. New York, 1968: 423, fig. 567.
1968
Faggin, Giorgio. La pittura ad anversa nel Cinquecento. Florence, 1968: 16, fig. 13.
1969
Panofsky, Erwin. "Erasmus and the Visual Arts." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 32 (1969): 214.
1970
Musée Royal des Beaux-Arts. Catalogue descriptif. Maîtres anciens. 3d ed. Antwerp, 1970: 160, no. 566.
1970
Virdis, Caterina Limentari. "Moralismo e satira nella tardo produzione di Quentin Metsys." Storia dell'arte 20 (1970): 21, fig. 2.
1974
Pigler, Andor. Barockthemen. 2d ed. 3 vols. Budapest, 1974: 2:568.
1974
Silver, Lawrence. "The Ill-Matched Pair by Quinten Massys." Studies in the History of Art 6 (1974): 105-123, fig. 1.
1975
Bosque, Andrée de. Quentin Massys. Brussels, 1975: 194, fig. 236.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 218, repro. 219.
1977
Silver, Larry. "Power and Pelf: A New-Found Old Man by Massys." Simiolus 9 (1977): 68, fig. 7.
1977
Silver, Larry. "Review of Quentin Metsys by Andrée de Bosque." The Burlington Magazine 119 (1977): 444.
1979
Stewart, Alison. Unequal Lovers. A Study of Unequal Couples in Northern Art. New York, 1979: 68-71, 146, no. 18, fig. 40.
1980
Briels, J. "Amator Pictoriae Artis. De Antwerpse kunstverzamelaar Peeter Stevens (1590-1668) en zijn Constkamer." Jaarboek van het Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen (1980): 192-194, fig. 25.
1984
Silver, Larry. The Paintings of Quinten Massys, with Cataloque Raisonné. Montclair, New Jersey, 1984: 10, 24, 79, 143-145, 223-224, no. 35, pl. 129.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 252, repro.
1985
Snyder, James. Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, the Graphic Arts from 1350-1575. New York, 1985: 406-407, fig. 475.
1986
Hand, John Oliver and Martha Wolff. Early Netherlandish Painting. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1986: 146-150, repro. 147.
1991
Covey, Herbert C. Images of Older People in Western Art and Society. New York, 1991: 131-133, fig. 33.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 45, repro.
1993
Nygren, Edward J. “Money." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art. Edited by Helene E. Roberts. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 2:620.
1998
Boeckl, Christine M. “Sin/Sinning." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art. Edited by Helene E. Roberts. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 2:839, 841.
1999
Renaissance Culture and the Everyday. ed.Patricia Fumerton and Simon Hunt, Philadelphia, 1999: 239-240, repro.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 130-131, no. 99, color repro.
2005
Snyder, James. Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, the Graphic Arts from 1350 to 1575. Revised by Larry Silver and Henry Luttikhuizen. Upper Saddle River, 2005: 442, 443 fig. 18.13.

Technical Summary

The painting is in good condition. There is repaint along the join of the two horizontal boards. The face and body of the fool as well as the faces of the woman and the old man contain small, scattered areas of repaint. A portion of the woman's chest, above the bodice, has been repainted, and a painted crackle pattern has also been added. The fool appears to have two pupils in his proper left eye. The pupil at the right is more like the other eyes in the painting and is probably the original. The left pupil might be a remnant of an abraded shadow or an old restoration. On the reverse, at lower right corner, is a partially destroyed red resinous seal.

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