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TENGNAGEL Jan (1584-1635)
David and Abigail

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I have recently seen this previously unknown work in a private collection. Excellent condition, a few insignificant tiny chips, old varnish, the removal of which will surely reveal the picture in a more luminous appearance.
The painting shows on the right half king David and his armed retinue with two horses, the king below an umbrella held by a black servant, on the left half the kneeling Abigail, richly clad, two maidens and her suite with loaded donkeys, offering food and drink (I Samuel 25). The competent composition is carefully thought out. Closest to the foreground, the left group is kept lower and is topped by the confined opening into the distance, while the group of David is backed by the tall trees. The story is told very eloquently, the four main actors in the center, vividly coloured, their retinues behind and more subdued, the whole set in a tightly closed landscape with dominant compact trees of a type dear to Lastman. The draperies are strongly accentuated with particular highlights such as the white headgears of the women, in the lateral figures the brushstroke is quite flashy. The appealing theatrical subject was a favorite one in all schools, including the Dutch (Wtewael, Moeyaert). A David and Abigail by Tengnagel is recorded in 1674 in the collection of Andries Bilsteyn, Amsterdam (Schneider, p. 27).
The painting appears right away to have its place in the immediate following of Pieter Lastman. Tengnagel was in his time a highly reputed figure on the Amsterdam art scene. A sojourn in Rome in 1608 is documented. During his last decade - he was wealthy, - most of his time was dedicated to the Guild. Characteristic aspects of his style are the richly folded draperies, the expressive poses and gestures of the figures, the dense type of foliage, the particular kind of clouds, the saturated execution altogether. The patriarchal figure of the turbaned protagonist recurs in several of his works. Comparison with Atalante (1610, priv. coll) and Jephta and his Daughter (priv. coll.) provides analogous stylistic traits. On the other hand the figures and the layout do not yet show the insistent plasticity and obsessive close-up of some of his late works.
On the base of a handful of signed and dated works, Tengnagel’s oeuvre comprises now some two dozen paintings, several formerly misattributed to Lastman. They suggest an evolution from Elsheimer (whom he may have met when in Rome) and Lastman to a distinctly personal style with explicit figure scenes in tight landscapes. He also received commissions of some group portraits. Close stylistic links with the production of the brothers Jan and Jacob Pynas brothers are underscored by Tengnagel’s mariage with their sister. While future discoveries will most likely deepen our understanding of Tengnatel’s art and its evolution, it is at the present stage of our knowledge convincing to ascribe this painting to him, placing its date in the early phase of his mature production.
The most relevant literature on Tengnagel is H. Schneider’s article in Oud Holland 1921, 11-27, A. Tümpel in The Pre-Rembrandtists, exhib. Sacramento, Crocker Art Gallery, 1974, 21-23, and A. Tümpel in Pieter Lastman, Zwolle 1991, 43-51.
12 Dec. 2010
Prof. Marcel Roethlisberger