Attributed to Hendrick van Cleve III

Antwerp, ca.1525 – Antwerp, after 1580


The construction of the Tower of Babel


Oil on panel
H. 33,6 cm. W. 54,6 cm.


Sale Palais Galliera (Lauren Guillon, Buffeteaux) 21 June 1974, as lot 29;
Collection May, Paris, France;
With Salomon Lilian Old Master Paintings, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, by 2005;
Private collection, Sweden


Salomon Lilian Old Master Paintings Catalogue, 2005, no. 5

Babel, biblical capitol of Babylon, is still famous for its legendary tower. The tower dates from the time when everyone spoke the same language . Some travelled east to start a new life. When they arrived at the Shinar plain, they decided to build their houses and to stay there. As they were experienced workers, they devised a plan to build a whole town. Crown of their work would be a tower, exceeding any other building, up to the sky, giving them divine status. But God got angry at this outward appearance of pride and to punish them he gave them all other languages. From then on they could not understand each other and people got spread all over the world. The place where the city would have been built, was called Babel, which means confusion.


Hendrick van Cleve was the son and pupil of Willem van Cleve I. After his apprenticeship he travelled to Italy, where he painted views of Rome and Tivoli. He became a master in the
Antwerp Guild of St.Luke in 1551/2. The present painting by Hendrick van Cleve III belongs to the same European tradition of paintings as those by Hans Holbein the Younger, Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Abel Grimmer. Van Cleve was one of the several painters and teams of painters who depicted the Tower of Babel in the 16th century. A similar painting by the artist is kept in Museum Kröller Müller, Otterlo, The Netherlands ( 628). In both paintings in the foreground, the founder of the city of Babylon, Nimrod, may be present, supervising the construction.

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