Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Cephalus and Procris

Godfried Schalcken (Dutch, Made 1643–1706 The Hague)
probably 1680s
Oil on canvas
25 1/2 x 31 3/8 in. (64.8 x 79.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1974
Accession Number:
Not on view
In his mythological and religious pictures, Schalcken strongly favored subjects that should or could be rendered as night scenes. His reputation for nocturnal illumination appears to have been established early on, in the 1660s, when he was influenced by his second teacher, Gerrit Dou, and by Dou's leading disciple, Frans van Mieris the Elder. Schalcken also specialized in paintings of attractive young women in various states of undress and distress or incapacity. These aspects of form and content must have pleased the patrician and princely patrons who supported the artist in The Hague and London. However, the present picture probably dates from the 1680s, when Schalcken worked in Dordrecht.

The subject is taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses (7.694–865). Cephalus, a handsome hunter from Athens, is married to Procris, "sister of the ravished Orithyia," but herself "more worthy to be ravished away." Inflamed by Cephalus, the goddess Aurora (who is recalled by the dawning light in the landscape) sweeps him away, but her amorous mood is spoiled when Cephalus describes his wedding and even his nuptial night. Aurora dismisses him, exclaiming, "Keep your Procris . . . you will come to wish that you had never had her." On his way home, Aurora's example makes Cephalus suspicious of his wife. This leads to unwarranted accusations, a trial separation, and eventual reconciliation, when Procris presents her husband with the gift of a spear that never misses its mark. After many years of happiness, problems resurface. One day, Cephalus is hunting in the woods. Sweaty from slaughtering animals, he begs a local breeze named Aula to cool "the heat with which I burn." An eavesdropper overhears these sensual entreaties and reports them to Procris, who jealously spies upon her husband during the next day's outing. When again he calls out to Aula, there is a groan and a rustling in the brush. Cephalus hurls the spear (seen here, blood-tipped, on the right) and, a moment later, hears the cry of his mortally wounded wife. Parting words are spoken as Procris sinks in her husband's arms.

Dozens of Dutch artists depicted the story of the ill-fated couple, often less effectively than here. In Schalcken's day, viewers still drew edifying conclusions from mythological tales, as did Karel van Mander in his influential Wtlegghinge op de metamorphosen (Interpretation of the Metamorphoses, 1604). The main appeal of Schalcken's interpretation, however, was probably its literary flavor and sophisticated style. Some contemporaries would also have recognized that a tree entwined with ivy, like that highlighted on the right, was a symbol of marital fidelity.

[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed (upper left): G. Schalcken
?sale, Hobbs, London, May 10, 1763, no. 93, as "Scalkin [sic], Cephalus and Procris, Highly finished," for £2.15.0; Charles Ingram, 9th Viscount Irwin, Temple Newsam House, Leeds (by 1770–d. 1778); Frances Gibson Shepheard Ingram, Viscountess Irwin, Temple Newsam House (1778–d. 1807); her daughter, Isabella Ingram Shepheard Seymour, Marchioness of Hertford, Temple Newsam House (1807–d. 1834; inv., 1808, no. 28); her sister, Frances Ingram Shepheard, Lady William Gordon, Temple Newsam House (1834–d. 1841); her nephew, Hugo Charles Meynell Ingram, Temple Newsam House (1841–d. 1869; inv., ca. 1862); his son, Hugo Francis Meynell Ingram, Temple Newsam House (1869–d. 1871); his widow, Emily Charlotte Wood, the Honorable Mrs. Meynell Ingram, Temple Newsam House (1871–d. 1904); her nephew, Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, later 3rd Viscount Halifax, later Earl of Halifax, Temple Newsam House (1904–22; his sale, Robinson, Fisher & Harding, Temple Newsam, Leeds, July 26–31, 1922, no. 1275); [Spiller, London, until 1946; sold to Calmann]; [Hans Calmann, London, 1946–at least 1971; sale, Christie's, London, March 7, 1958, no. 154, for £35 to Johnson, bought in; sale, Christie's, London, October 15, 1971, no. 129, for 220 gns. to Arnold, bought in; sold to Hazlitt]; [Hazlitt Gallery, London, by 1973–74; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.

Arthur Young. A Six Months Tour through the North of England. London, 1770, vol. 1, p. 391, as "In the blue damask dressing-room [of Temple Newsam House]. . . 'Cephalus and Procris,' Fine" [no artist name given].

J. P. Neale. Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen, in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Vol. 5, London, 1822, unpaginated, lists it under "Pictures at Temple Newsam".

Jones' Views of the Seats, Mansions, Castles, etc. of Noblemen & Gentlemen, in England. London, 1829–[31?], vol. 2, p. 28, lists it as at Temple Newsam.

"Notable Works of Art now on the Market (advertising supplement)." Burlington Magazine 115 (December 1973), not paginated, pl. XLV, as the property of the Hazlitt Gallery, London.

Thierry Beherman. Godfried Schalcken. [Paris], 1988, pp. 111–13, no. 28, ill. (color), dates it 1685–90.

Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), p. 22.

Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, p. xi; vol. 2, pp. 822–24, no. 191, colorpl. 191, as probably "from the 1680s, when Schalcken worked in Dordrecht".

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