Lucas Gassel, David and Bathsheba, Sold at Christie’s, 2005

This is the catalogue entry (Christie’s, 2005) for the David and Bathsheba painting now in the International Tennis Hall of Fame Collection, Newport.  This entry has been reproduced in full with its own page because it also contains a good amount of information on the history of tennis in Europe.  

Click here to view this entry on the Christie’s website

Click here to view the entry for this painting in The International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport. 

Click here to view the list of all the David and Bathsheba paintings in this series.



Lot 19 / Sale 7067

Price Realized

Sales totals are hammer price plus buyer’s premium and do not reflect costs, financing fees or application of buyer’s or seller’s credits.

Estimate £60,000 – £80,00 ($104,280 – $139,040)

Sale Information

Sale 7067 
Important Old Master Pictures 
8 July 2005 
London, King Street

Lot Description

Artist: Lucas Gassel (Helmond c. 1495/1500-c. 1570 Brussels)

Title: The grounds of a Renaissance Palace with episodes from the story of David and Bathsheba, an extensive landscape beyond

Signature: dated ‘1538’ (centre right, on the plaque)

Media: oil on panel

Dimensions: 25½ x 36 in. (64.7 x 91.3 cm.)


(Presumably) Anonymous sale; Cologne, 1 October 1913, lot 717, as Anonymous.


L. van Puyvelde, La peinture flamande au siècle de Bosch et Breughel, Paris, 1962, p. 235.

H.G. Franz, Niederländische Landschaftsmalerei im Zeitalter des Manierismus, Graz, 1969, p. 112.

M. Weemans, ‘Le modéle scopique. Regard et paysage chez Henri Bles’, Actes du colloque ‘Autour de Henri Bles’, J. Toussaint, ed., Musée des arts anciens du Namurois, Monographies 21, Namen, 2002, pp. 211-24.


Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, De uitvinding van het landschap, 8 May-1 August 2004, no. 8, p. 102, illustrated, in the exhibition catalogue, Antwerp, 2004, note by S. Janssens.

Lot Notes:

This remarkable landscape is one of a handful of six related versions of the composition. The earliest is believed to be the painting generally attributed to Herri met de Bles in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (inv. no. P25W40). In addition there are three other versions also by Gassel: in the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut (inv. no. 1956.618.); formerly in the Rest[r]elli la Fretta collection, Como; and formerly in the collection of the Duke de Palmela, Lisbon. The last known version, by an unknown hand, is in the collection of the Marylebone Cricket Club, London. There is, in addition, a related drawing by a follower of Gassel in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. The present version is presumably that sold in the Cologne sale cited in the provenance above.

 That a version should be owned by a sporting club is not surprising. The composition is remarkable not only for its general quality and originality but also, and perhaps most importantly, for its depictions of the recreations of the Renaissance gentry. The reason for this is found in Rabelais’ 1534 comic novel Gargantua, in chapter 55 of which (‘Comment estoit le manoir des Thélémites’) is a description of the gardens of the Abbey of Thélème, an idealised place where those who live there are free to pursue Rabelais’ ideological ideal Fais ce que vouldras. Rabelais’ text included the following description that matches the composition in so many ways that it is clearly based on that text: 

’In the middle of the lower court there was a stately fountain of fair alabaster … Before the said lodging of the ladies, that they might have their recreation, between the two first towers, on the outside, were placed the tiltyard, the barriers or lists for tournaments, the hippodrome or riding-court, the theatre or public playhouse, and natatory or place to swim in, with most admirable baths in three stages, situated above one another, well furnished with all necessary accommodation, and store of myrtle-water. By the river-side was the fair garden of pleasure, and in the midst of that the glorious labyrinth. Between the two other towers were the courts for the tennis and the ‘grosse balle’. 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 butts and marks for shooting with a snapwork gun, an ordinary bow for common archery, or with a crossbow. The office-houses were without the tower Hesperia, of one storey high. The stables were beyond the offices, and before them stood the falconry … The venery, where the beagles and hounds were kept, was a little farther off, drawing towards the park.’ 

The tennis game represents what had become one of the most popular of all games in the royal courts of the sixteenth century. Simple ballgames had been common all over Europe since classical antiquity, but the earliest form of tennis seems to have originated in the Renaissance princely courts of Italy. Renaissance humanists such as Guarino da Verona and Vittorino da Feltre were inspired by antique writers such as Galen to advocate exercising the body, and were particularly fascinated by the ancient sphaeristerium, a manner of walled-in ballcourt, a sporting facility with which many luxurious Roman villas were equipped. By the second half of the 15th century (see G. Lubkin, A Renaissance Court. Milan under Galeazzo Maria Sforza, 1994) these had inspired the purpose-built tennis halls of the illustrious Sforza, Medici, Gonzaga, Este and Montefeltro dynasties (the first being thought to be that of circa 1457 at the Este Villa of Belriguardo) that became the setting for the revival of the ballgames of classical antiquity. The Humanist Prince experienced the game of tennis (gioco della palla) as an exercise for the recreation of the body as well as for the mind, whilst the tournaments played by the court professionals (of which the Sforzas employed the first in circa 1465) provided a form of indoor spectacle: a clear manifestation of the splendour and magnificence of his court. However, the Burgundian Duke Philip the Good may well challenge Italy’s claim as to the construction of the first walled-in tennis court (kaatsbaan). The city accounts for the years 1453-1455 detail the masonry costs for the ducal Jeu de Paume (an open court) erected at Bruges’ Prinsenhof Palace, the Duke’s favourite residence.

 By 1490 a new term for the game of tennis started to crop up in Italian documents: gioco della pallacorda or sometimes just pallacorda. The name provides evidence that the first tennis net (actually a cord at first), dividing the service and the receiving sides, originated in Italy. Similarly Cortesi provides the first known specific usage of the term ‘corda’ in a letter from 1490 that recounts how the young writer was involved in an interesting tennis match when he spent some time at the Medici court in Florence to study the grand life-style of Lorenzo the Magnificent. His own Roman team played a Florentine partnership of Piero de Medici, Lorenzo’s son. The losers of the Roman-Florentine match were to pay 25 ducati to the winners. This development seems to have spread quickly, however, as the the poem Le Jeu de Palme by Jean Molinet suggests that the net (or cord) was also introduced in the Low Countries by the year 1490. In this allegory Molinet, Duke Philip the Fair’s official chronicler, employed a tennis metaphor to describe how in July 1492 the City of Ghent was attacked by the army of the Archduke Maximilian: the metaphor was based on the similarity of the words for glove (gant) and Ghent (Gand), as at the time the players did not use a racket, and employed the phrase ‘dessus le corde’. Coincidentally, Duke Philip may actually have been one of the first tennis players to use a racket, as recorded in a match in 1506 he played at the royal tennis court of Windsor Castle; according to the inventory drawn up after his death (as a result of a game of tennis during which he had drunk too much cold water) in 1506, Philip owned ‘3 raquettes et 4 gants pour jouer a la palme’. There are clear indications that the racket was invented in the Low Countries and that the word ‘racquet’ is derived from the Dutch verb ‘raecke’ (= hit, strike). 

France also played a pioneering role in at least the architectural development of the game of tennis. By the mid-sixteenth century, France was the new playground of the High Renaissance architectural style, and when in 1555 a young theologian at the court of Ferrara, Antonio Scaino, published a manual, the Trattato del Giuoco della Palla on how ballgames were to be played in a refined, courtly manner, his examples of courts in the grandest manner, called Jeu à Dedans courts, were from France, as there was no such tennis court to be found in Italy: that in the Louvre and that in Le Grand Ferrara, Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este’s classical residence in Fontainebleau, both of which had probably been designed by François’ court architect Sebastiano Serlio. Magnificence and luxury in architecture was a popular topic among French humanist educators, including of course Rabelais, in the mocking of which the latter created his Abbey of Thélème. However Rabelais’ views on material splendour fell on deaf ears with François I who sought to outshine all his princely rivals in this area of architecture as much as every other, particularly King Henry VIII of England, a recent convert of the royal game, who by 1530 had ‘tennis plays’ erected at four of his favourite palaces: Greenwich, St James’s, Hampton Court and Whitehall. Jacques Androuet du Cerceau’s Les Plus Excellents Bastiments de France (1576) illustrates several of the French courts; in his drawings the French architect and engraver detailed thirty of France’s most beautiful châteaux, in twenty-one of which are depictions of jeux de paumes in play. Particularly interesting are his designs for Charleval (with four tennis courts laid out in the gardens) and Verneuil (with tennis players on court and spectators in the galleries), both of which architectural projects had actually been commissioned from him by Catherine de Medici, the Queen Mother.

It is hard to say whether these are the earliest known depictions of a tennis court. It is possible that as early as circa 1445 Donatello may have depicted one as the background to the bronze relief of the Miracle of the Repentant Son on the San Antonio Altar in Padua’s Basilica del Santo. That he and his contemporaries would have been familiar with such a structure can be inferred from Leon Battista Alberti who wrote about an undefined space for the game of tennis (giuocare alla palla) near the portico of the palace or villa in Book V of his De re aedificatori (1452, published 1485-1486). If that is the case, then this composition would still seem to be the earliest to depict a game of tennis in play.”