Cornelis van Haarlem | The Choice Between Young and Old, 1590


In the 1580s, Cornelis van Haarlem, together with the poet, painter and art theorist, Karel van Mander, and the painter and engraver, Hendrick Goltzius, was one of the principal exponents of the Mannerist style which enjoyed a brief but intense flowering in Haarlem. By the mid 1590s, however, when The choice between young and old was painted, van Haarlem's work was shifting towards a more temperate approach, in response to Goltzius’s own rejection of Mannerism. The violent contortions and exaggeratedly muscular nudes which typified his earlier style, gave way in favor of more restful poses and figure types, more akin to classical ideals of proportion and harmony.

This recently re-discovered picture by was painted at this pivotal moment in the artist's career. It represents a stark contrast to the exuberance of his youthful oeuvre, exemplified by early large scale works such as The Massacre of the Innocents (1590, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) and The Fall of Titans (1588-90, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen).
Van Haarlem treated the subject of The choice between young and old on at least three further occasions, all of which are early works, and each with a unique approach to the composition: one in the Staatliche Kunstammlungen, Dresden (1594); another offered London, Christie's, 8 December 2009, lot 6 (1594); and a third (1597) which is listed by van Thiel as "present whereabouts unknown" (see Literature, van Thiel 1999, cat. no. 219). | © Sotheby’s