Francis van Bossuit, attr. to

Brussels 1635–1692 Amsterdam

Pair of ivory reliefs

Height: 19.5 cm
Lenght: 16 cm
(Each, circa)

Bathseba at her Bath
Loth and his Daughters

Private collection, Frankfurt, until the 1930s;
By descent to a private collection, United Kingdom.

Both ivory reliefs depict events from the Old Testament dealing with the dialectics of love and death.

One relief refers to the story of King David who lusted after the beautiful Bathsheba. In order to possess her, David sent Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, to war and to his certain death. Van Bossuit shows the beauty undressed at her bath, holding David’s letter written by the matchmaker. The contextual quality of this depiction lies in van Bossuit’s interpretation of Bathsheba’s role in this highly unjust plot: her innocent reticence exculpates the voyeuristic viewer who takes pleasure in the sensuous nudity.

The second relief shows Lot with his two daughters. After the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, the three had fled into the mountains. As the daughters feared they would remain childless, they gave their father wine and made him drunk so that he would not recognise them. They made him seduce them in turn on two consecutive nights. The plan was successful and both daughters became pregnant. Bossuit’s masterly depiction of the seduction scene shows one of the daughters handing her father a jug of wine while the other, already undressed, moves towards where she sleeps.

Francis van Bossuit was originally from Brussels and is considered one of the most outstanding ivory artists from the Netherlands of the 17th century. He received his training as an ivory sculptor and clay modeller roughly between 1645 and 1650 in his native city and later in Antwerp. A period of several years spent in Italy, where he was a member of the artists’ guild of the Netherlands, had a strong influence on the development of his artistic style. He also met Balthasar Permoser (1651–1732) in the Eternal City with whom it is presumed he had very close artistic ties. Van Bossuit not only became familiar with works from antiquity while in Rome but also closely examined the work of François Duquesnoy, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Allessandro Algardi, among others. He returned to his native country shortly before 1685 and worked in Amsterdam until his death.



In 1727, long before Raphael, Michelangelo or Bernini, Francis van Bossuit, who died in 1692 in Amsterdam, is honoured by the publication a monograph on his work that has preserved his name for posterity. Based on drawings of many of van Bossuit’s works made by Barend Graat (1628–1700), the sculptor’s son-in-law Mattijs Pool (1676–1740) creates copperplate engravings and publishes these under the title Cabinet de l’Art de Sculpture par le Fameux Sculpteur Francis van Bossuit. This novel type of publication is very successful as van Bossuit’s work is held in high esteem in the late 17th and early 18th centuries in the Netherlands.

Matthijs Pool –, CC0,

17th century


When Francis van Bossuit is born in Brussels in 1635, Philip IV of Spain, called ‘The Great’ or ‘King of the World’, rules over the Burgundian Netherlands. He is considered the last Spanish sovereign to rule on the basis of Great Power politics. Philip IV himself dabbles in painting and poetry, promotes the arts and appoints Diego Velasquez – who paints frequent portraits of the monarch – as court painter.

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez – [1], Gemeinfrei,



Its rarity and long, dangerous transport routes makes ivory an extremely precious material; its value is considered to be on a par with gold. Until the late 18th century ivory is used to make religious and secular works of art of the highest quality. This situation only changes after the colonialisation of the African continent and India, as well as through advances in hunting techniques. At the end of the 19th century more than 800 tons of ivory reach Europe; the material is used excessively and the very existence of the elephant is under threat.

Image: public domain