A wooded landscape with Latona spied on by the Lycian farmers
signed and dated 'BRUEGHEL / 1605' (lower right)
oil on panel, unframed
1414 x 2158 in. (36.2 x 54.7 cm.)
with inventory number '154' (lower right)
(Possibly) Anonymous sale; Gerhard Joachim Schmidt, Börsensaal, Hamburg, 28 May 1791, lot 121, as ‘Jan Brueghel I and Hendrik van Balen I… on panel, 15 x 2334 in’.
In the family of the present owners since at least the mid-19th century.
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Lot Essay

In the depiction of this wooded landscape, Brueghel owed much to the forest landscapes of Gillis van Coninxloo (1544-1607), such as his Wooded Landscape of circa 1600 (Vienna, Kunsthistoriches Museum), particularly in the meticulously rendered foliage of the trees and the subtle modifications of the sunlight, filtered through the canopy of leaves. The composition of the present work is based on Jan Brueghel the Elder’s earlier depiction of the same subject, painted in 1601 and now in the Städel Museum, Frankfurt. The scene is anchored by two monumental trees, with large tangled roots, which frame the river in the centre of the picture plane. At the left of the panel, the landscape gives way to a distant vista of woods and mountains in the far distance, a compositional device frequently employed by Brueghel in his landscapes from around 1600 onwards.

Larry Silver has argued that part of the popularity of the forest landscape was because ‘the isolated setting of a forest, far from the mundane and quotidian world of the city’ provided the perfect settings for mythic or holy subjects (ibid, p. 166). Here, the panel presents the story of the goddess Leto, mother of Apollo and Artemis. Having fallen victim to the amorous advances of Zeus, Leto was forced the seek refuge in the world to find a safe place to give birth to her children. Having discovered her husband’s infidelity, Hera ordered that all lands shun the pregnant goddess and deny her the shelter she sought. According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, having given birth to the twins Apollo and Artemis, Leto was forced to continue wandering the earth. Parched, she attempted to drink from a pond in Lycia but was prevented from doing so by the peasants of the region, who stirred the mud at the bottom of the water to make it undrinkable. In anger at their inhospitality, Leto cursed the peasants, transforming them into frogs, doomed forever to swim in the murky waters of ponds and rivers. Brueghel depicts several moments of the story at once. The exhausted Leto is shown at the lower left of the panel, seated in the ground with her children around her. Two Lycian peasants approach her, their fists raised in anger. The goddess, however, has already uttered her curse. Amongst the foliage by the river at the right, several peasants have already begun their transformation into frogs.

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