Lucas Gassel, David and Bathsheba, De Jonckheere Gallery, Paris

from De J website

[Copyright: De Jonckheere Gallery]

(See also below for Bonhams 2011 image and auction catalogue entry.)

Artist: Lucas Gassel (c. 1500-before 1569)

Title/Description: “The grounds of a Renaissance palace with episodes from the story of David and Bathsheba, an extensive landscape with mountains and a harbour beyond”

Media: Oil on Panel

Dimensions: 51 x 68 cm

Collection: De Jonckheere Gallery, Paris

Gassel was born c. 1500 in Helmont (north Brabant) and died in Brussels before 1569.  He was also active in Antwerp before spending his career in Brussels.  He was one of the most important landscape painters working in Flanders in the 16c.

This painting is one of a series of Flemish paintings produced by a group of artists between 1530-60 of which at least 11 are known today along with a preparatory drawing in the Louvre. [Click here for a list of the paintings in the series] They are of particular interest for their inclusion and depiction of tennis and are some of the earliest painted scenes of tennis during the Renaissance by notable artists.  The De Jonckheere entry states due to the subject matter being the story of David and Bathsheba, the city depicted in the background is Jerusalem.  Other notable details they draw attention to are: the Labyrinth of Love, hopscotch, The Game of Goose, archery, ornamental fountain, Boule a l’Anneau (hoop ball), real tennis (jeu de paume).

The subject is proportionally two-fold with scenes from the story of David and Bathsheba set within the elaborate formal gardens of a Renaissance palace including the popular pastimes of a 16c royal court.  The story of David and Bathsheba is from the Second Book of Samuel in the Old Testament.  During the Israelite siege of Rabbah, David sees Bathsheba bathing and they have an affair.  In the right hand foreground, David has called Bathsheba’s husband Uriah from the battle front to recognize Bathsheba (and David)’s chid which Uriah refuses to do and promptly returns to the front.  David deliberately orders Uriah to lead at the front of battle and on his death David marries Bathsheba.

Both the De Jonckheere and Bonhams (see below) catalogue entries provide interesting visual and literary sources for this painting.  There is a drawing in the Louvre attributed to Lucas von Leyden (formerly attributed to Gassel) which is similar in composition with the distant landscape and could have been used as a prototype for a number of paintings in this series.  The catalogue entries also provide a literary source for Gassel’s painting noting a similarity of the paintings’ formal garden landscape with the description of the Abbey of Thelema (First Book, Chapter 55) in Rabelais’ Gargantua (1534):

What manner of dwelling the Thelemites had.  In the middle of the lower Court there was a stately fountain of faire Alabaster; upon the top thereof stood the three Graces, with their cornucopias, or hornes of abundance, and did jert out the water at their breasts, mouth, eares, eyes, and other open passages of the body; the inside of the buildings in this lower Court stood upon great pillars of Cassydonie stone, and Porphyrie marble, made arch-wayes after a goodly antick fashion.  Within those were spacious galleries, long and large, adorned with curious pictures, the hornes of Bucks and Unicornes: with Rhinoceroses, water-horses called Hippopotames, the teeth and tusks of Elephants, and other things well worth the beholding.  The lodging of the Ladies (for so we may call those gallant women) took up all from the tower Arctick unto the gate Mesembrine: the men possessed the rest.  Before the said lodging of the Ladies, that they might have their recreation, between the two first towers, on the out-side, were placed the tilt-year the barriers or lists for turnements, the hippodrome or riding Court, the theater or publike play-house, and Natatorie or place to swim in, with most admirable bathes in three stages, situated above one another, well furnished with all necessary accommodation, and store of myrtle-water.  By the river-side was the faire garden of pleasure and in the midst of that the glorious labyrinth.  Between the two other towers were the Court for the tennis and the baloon.  Towards the tower Criere stood the Orchard full of all fruit-trees, set and ranged in a quincuncial order.  At the end of that was the great Park, abounding with all sort of Venison.  Betwixt the third couple of towers were the buts and marks for shooting with a snap-work gun, an ordinary bowe for common archery, or with a Crosse-bowe.  The office-houses were without the towers Hesperie, of one story high.  The stables were beyond the offices, and before them stood the falconrie, managed by Ostridge-keepers and furnished by the Candians, Venetians, Sarmates (now called Moscoviters) with all sorts of most excellent hawks, eagles, ger-falcons, gosehawkes, sacres, lanners, falcons, sparhawks, Marlins, and other kindes of them, so gentle and perfectly well manned, that flying of themselves sometimes from the Castle for their own disport, they would not faile to catch whatever they encountered. The Venerie where the Beagles and Hounds were kept, was a little farther off drawing towards the Park.”

Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel (Everyman’s Library, 1994), pp. 152-53.

Another reference to tennis in G&P is Chapter 32, Second Book [Merci a P. Mirat]

For other works in the series attributed to Gassel: Duke of Palmella, Wadsworth Atheneum and Dr. Restrelli.

For other artists in series or relevant to Gassel: see Herri met de Bles, Lucas von Leyden, Jan van Amstel, Andreas Ruhl and Joachim Patenier.

Article Sources:

De Jonckheere, Catalogue, Number 11 (2011).


This painting was bought at auction at Bonhams in 2011.  The following information is available on the Bonhams website.

Bonhams Catalogue 2011

[Photograph of Painting in sale, Bonhams, 2011]

“Auction Details:

Old Master Paintings London, New Bond Street

6 July 2011 14:00 BST

Auction No. 18875

Lot Details

Lucas Gassel (Helmont circa 1500-circa 1570)

The grounds of a Renaissance palace with episodes from the story of David and Bathsheba, an extensive landscape with mountains and a harbour beyond

oil on panel

51 x 68cm (20 1/16 x 26 3/4in).


Robert A.D. Fleming

J.E. Hope of Edinburgh

Sale, Christie’s, London, 20 December 1929, lot 41 where bought by Leggatt for Jervis Wegg, godfather of John Rickards, to whom he bequeathed it and thence by descent to the present owner


W. Meyers, The Illustrated London News, 31 May, 1930, illustrated in colour (as The Master of Brunswick)

Frank R. Davis, ‘Sixteenth Century Painters and Real Tennis, The Illustrated London News, 29 July, 1950

A. de Luze, A History of the Royal Game of Tennis (Kineton, 1979) ill. p. 216

R. Morgan, Tudor Tennis a Miscellany (Oxford, 2001), pp. 105-115, ill. p. 54

The present work is one of a group of paintings that originated in Flanders in the years between 1530 and 1560, three others of which are attributed to Lucas Gassel. The appearance of eleven of the pictures is known and there are several more which are only known by hearsay. Four of the series are in public collections. As well as the present painting, the series comprises: Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford (oil on panel, 45 x 69 cm., attributed to Lucas Gassel); Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts (oil on panel, 45 x 69 cm., attributed to Herri Met de Bles); Marylebone Cricket Club, Lord’s, London (oil on panel, 52 x 73.6 cm., attributed to Jan van Amstel); formerly the Duque de Palmella (oil on panel, 34.3 x 45.7 cm., attributed to Lucas Gassel); Lord Aberdare (signed and dated ‘A.R. 1559’, oil on panel, 50.7 x 66 cm., attributed to Andreas Ruhl); Dr. Restrelli (signed and dated ‘LG 1540’, oil on panel, 90 x 115 cm., by Lucas Gassel); formerly Weerth Collection (oil on panel, 71 x 90 cm.); Private Collection, Chicago; Louvre Museum, Paris (bistre drawing, 23.7 x 35 cm., attributed to Lucas van Leyden); Kende Gallery, New York, sold 1951; Sale, Christie’s London, 8 July 2005, lot 19 (dated ‘1538’, oil on panel, 64.7 x 91.3 cm., by Lucas Gassel). 

All the pictures have the same basic layout, but each differs in its details. The Gardner and the present paintings are close copies of eachother, but show slight differences in the backgrounds. In the right foreground is King David’s palace, and from the upper window he observes Bathsheba bathing in a pool to the far left of the composition. He is also shown standing on the steps of his palace handing Uriah the letter that will lead to his destruction. In the middle of the foreground is a Real Tennis court and to the left of this is a rectangular enclosure for the game of Boule à l’Anneau, in which a ball is propelled through a vertical ring by means of wooden clubs (rather like Pall Mall, the precursor of the modern croquet). This game was common in the Low Countries during the 15th and 16th centuries. Behind the tennis court is a pleasure garden with archers competing, on the left of which is an ornamental fountain. Beyond the garden is a maze. The other features in the distance show much wider variation, some pictures showing mountains and others estuaries and sea coasts with a variety of buildings in different positions.

By the 16th century tennis had become one of the most popular of all games in the royal courts. The court shown here is similar in construction to those at Falkland, Bruges and Richmond, but these pictures are of tremendous interest to Real Tennis players because they show details of 16th century courts that would otherwise be unknown. This and all the pictures, except one, show a cord suspended across the court but no net. This and seven of the other pictures show the floor to be paved. This corresponds with the description of the game given by the humanist scholar, Luis Vives, in 1539 in his Latin exercise entitled Leges Ludi (The Rules of the Game). It also ties in with the appearance of the floor of the 16th century court at Tübingen, and with Garsault’s description of a French court in 1769 being paved with squares of Caen stone, each one foot square. All the pictures with one exception show galleries cut out of the side wall which provide accommodation for spectators. Spectators are also seen sitting in the court by the net, a custom which still survives in the early form of tennis played in Tuscany. Above the galleries is a broad band painted on the wall. It has been suggested that this is the dead-ball line which became the bandeau of the Real Tennis court.

The present composition corresponds with four others which show a singles game (rather than the doubles game shown in three others). The rather flamboyant strokes depicted are not necessarily thought to be what would be expected in modern Real Tennis, but it is possible that the rules by which the game was played in these pictures are not quite those by which the game is played today. Interestingly in an article for the Sunday Times on the 29 August, 1976, the paper’s tennis correspondent, John Ballantine, made an observation on the two figures in the Lord’s version, which correspond closely to the players in the present painting: ‘Figure A [on the left] is preparing a forehand almost identical with renowned modern and revolutionary “loop” of the Wimbledon champion Bjorn Borg and he has his eye impeccably fixed on the ball in sound textbook style. Figure B [on the right] has followed through on a top spinback handdrive just like Ilie Nastase, although the twirl of the legs is more à la Suzanne Lenglen.’ The stooping figure on the left side of the court, who appears to be holding a square flat object, is thought likely to be the marker marking a chase.

During the 15th century, antique writers, such as Galen, inspired humanist scholars to advocate the revival of ballgames for exercising the body, resulting in the building of purpose-built tennis halls by the illustrious Sforza, Medici, Gonzaga, Este and Montefeltro dynasties in Italy, which emulated the descriptions of villas in classical antiquity. It cannot be established whether this group of paintings is the first to depict a tennis court, since it has been suggested that Donatello may have depicted one in the background of a bronze relief of the Miracle of the Repentant Son on the San Antonio Altar in Padua’s Basilica del Santo. He and his contemporaries would no doubt have been aware of such a structure from Leon Battista Alberti, who wrote about a space for the game of tennis (giuocare alla palla) near the portico of the palace or villa in Book V of his De re aedificatoria. Nevertheless, this series would still appear to be the earliest known depiction of a game of tennis in play. 

The hedge garden in the centre of the composition represents what has been termed the ‘Labyrinth of Love’, which is a precursor of the type of hedge maze that became popular during the Elizabethan period, when the hedges were taller so that you could not see over them. They were popular with courting couples who could wander within them. It is thus most likely symbolic of courtly love and intrigue. The tree in the centre of the maze (and of the composition itself) is a lime or linden tree, which in Germanic and Celtic mythology represented the cosmic axis and survives in popular culture today in the form of the maypole.”