Wednesday 18 February 2015

Dutch (Netherlandish) Art in the 15th to 17th Centuries

Lecture notes for:

Art of the Low Countries in the 15th to 17th Centuries 

(A whistlestop tour)


Northern Europe had two great artistic movements in the first half of the second millennium.  The first was Romanesque Art which built upon the legacy of the Romans with an architecture that used rounded arches and basilicas and visual arts that had a hint of mosaics in their composition.  Romanesque Art was prevalent from about 1000 AD to 1150.

Romanesque Art was followed by the second great artistic movement: Gothic Art, which lasted from 1150 to 1375 . Gothic architecture first appeared in churches near Paris and spread rapidly.  It is marked by the widespread use of pointed arches.

The term “gothic” for medieval Northern European art does not refer to the art of “Goths”, it was invented by Italian Renaissance authors who considered it to be barbaric.

The greatest impact of Gothic Art on painting was the invention of oil paints.  Romanesque and Southern European Renaissance artists used paints based on temperas – paints mixed from pigments and egg yolk -  but Gothic artists slowly switched from this to oils.  The earliest recorded recipe for oil paints in Europe was given by Theophilus Presbyter (c. 1070–1125) in a text commonly known as the Schedula diversarum artium ("List of various arts") or De diversis artibus ("On various arts").

Gothic art spread across Europe from 1375-1450 in a movement known as  International Gothic Art. Dutch 15th century art has its roots in International Gothic painting.

The Wilton Diptych is a fine example of early International Gothic art.

The diptych is painted in egg tempera.  Oils give stronger colours.  One of the most accomplished early users of oils was Jan Van Eyck, a Burgundian artist.

A Bit of History

The Duchy of Burgundy was formed in the late tenth century as a Duchy of the late Carolingan Age.  With the dismantling of the Frankish Empire Burgundy became torn between France and the Holy Roman Empire.  In 1477 the Burgundians lost the Battle of Nancy to the combined forces of the Duchy of Lorraine and the Swiss Confederacy  with the result that the Low Countries became separated from the southern part of Burgundy.  The ruler of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, died in the battle and his daughter, Mary the Rich of Burgundy became heir to the Duchy.

Mary was ruler of a defeated Duchy and the recently formed States General of the Netherlands forced her to sign the “Great Privilege” which reinforced the movement towards autonomy for the Netherlands. Later that year she married the Archduke of Austria, Maximillien I so that Burgundy became part of the Hapsburg Empire.  The Netherlands declared independence in 1581 and this was finally recognised by the Spanish Hapsburgs  in 1648.  “The Dutch Golden Age” is usually defined as the period from about 1581 to around 1688 when, with the coronation of William and Mary, the English were able to exploit Dutch trade and financial links.

Dutch artists were liberated from the religious paintings of their Southern European counterparts because the Calvinist, Dutch Reformed Church was iconoclastic and forbade religious painting.  This led to Dutch Art becoming, transiently, an Island of cultural development because in the seventeenth century the rest of the art world was heavily influenced by what was known as the “Heirarchy of Genres”.

“He who produces perfect landscapes is above another who only produces fruit, flowers or seafood. He who paints living animals is more estimable than those who only represent dead things without movement, and as man is the most perfect work of God on the earth, it is also certain that he who becomes an imitator of God in representing human figures, is much more excellent than all the others ...".  André Félibien 1667.

Jan Van Eyck c.1390-1441

Van Eyck was born in Liege which was in the Duchy of Burgundy (modern day Belgium).  However, he spent his early career in The Hague, which is now in The Netherlands.  The New Historians of Art call Dutch painters “Netherlandish” to draw attention to their sanctimonious, postmodern credentials.

Van Eyck first worked in the court of John of Bavaria-Straubing in what is now the Netherlands and then joined the court of Philip the Good , the Duke of Burgundy, in Bruges, in about 1425.  He signed many of his pictures ALS IK KAN, which means “as I can” and this is a pun on his name.   Van Eyck was fortunate to be paid a large annual salary.

His greatest works are probably the Ghent Altar Piece and the painting of the Arnolfini Portrait.

The Arnolfini Portrait , finished in 1434, is also known as The Arnolfini Wedding, The Arnolfini Marriage, The Arnolfini Double Portrait or the Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife.  The painting portrays either Giovanni di Arrigo Arnolfini or his cousin, Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and an unknown wife.  There are many speculations about whether or not it celebrates a wedding or even a dead wife. 

Art historians are fairly unanimous that this portrait marks a breakthrough in art.  As  Ernst Gombrich puts it: " A simple corner of the real world had suddenly been fixed on to a panel as if by magic... For the first time in history the artist became the perfect eye-witness in the truest sense of the term"

The Portrait of a Man with a Blue Chaperon is an example of oil on panel painting.

Man in a Red Turban is sometimes thought to be a self portrait.

Hieronymous Bosch 1450-1516 and Pieter Brueghel the Elder 1525-1569

Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Hieronymous Bosch introduced the crowd scene into Dutch art.  Many of their paintings have numeous figures performing various tasks.

Lucas Cranach the Elder 1472-1553

Lucas Cranach the Elder came from Franconia, which was slightly south of the middle of modern Germany.  He was an important artist during the zenith of the Hapsburg Empire.  His style was influential in Northern European art of the sixteenth century.

Maarten van Heemskerck (1498–1574)

Maarten Van Heemskerck worked in Haarlem and spent the years from 1532 to 1536 in Italy.  He brought back the Italian style of a lighter, colourful palette and classical compositions.

Dutch Golden Age Painting

At the start of the seventeenth century the influences of International Gothic, Early Dutch and Flemish artists plus German and Italian influences combined to create a distinctive Dutch Art.

We have already covered Rembrandt Van Rijn as an individual painter and covered the origins of the Dutch Golden Age.  Rembrandt was skilled in a wide range of genres.  Many of the other artists of the Dutch Golden Age were especially skilled at a particular genre.  The discussion of these artists will be divided by genre below but it should be noted that many of these artists were more widely accomplished.

This discussion will miss out frankly Baroque artists such as Rubens because, although they came from the low countries these belong to general European art history.  The style of art practised in the Low Countries between 1600 and 1700 is often called “Dutch Baroque”.

The prosperity of the newly independent, seventeenth century Netherlands created a strong art market and the small area of the country meant that there was a tremendous cross fertilisation between painters.  Dutch towns followed the Belgian model of creating Guilds of St Luke to regulate the production and sale of art and these guilds provided a meeting place for artists (St Luke is the patron saint of artists).

Frans Hals 1580-1666

Frans Hals was born in Antwerp in 1580, the son of a cloth merchant, Franchois Fransz Hals van Mechelen  and his second wife Adriaentje van Geertenryck.  His family fled to Haarlem in 1584 during the Battle of Antwerp, when Antwerp fell to the Hapsburg forces during the Eighty Years war.  Hals remained in Haarlem for the rest of his life.

Hals was a contemporary of Rembrandt and greatly in demand for portrait paintings.  He was also an art dealer and art restorer and, like Rembrandt, went bankrupt in the 1650s.  He died destitute.

Notice the embroidery:

It looks far more realistic at a distance and is a marvel of painterly economy.

The Gypsy Girl shows how Hals shared Rembrandt's knack of capturing expressions.

Dutch Interior Painting

Jan Steen, Jan Vermeer, Pieter de Hooch, Nicolaes Maes, Gerrit Dou, Gabriel Metsu, Samuel van Hoogstraten

Gerrit Dou 1613 – 1675

Gerrit Dou was apprenticed for three years in Rembrandt's studio in Leiden.  Dou was one of the founders of the Leiden Fine Artists (Leidse Fijnschilders)  who strove to produce realist art without any trace of the brush strokes used to create it.  This technique took a considerable time to execute but became fashionable and commanded high prices.

Jan Vermeer 1632-1675  (also known as Johannes or Johan Vermeer)

His father was a silk worker and fairly prosperous, becoming an art dealer and publican.  Vermeer was baptised as a protestant but married a catholic girl in 1653 and coverted to Catholicism.  The couple had 15 children and lived in Delft.

In 1653 Jan became a member of the Delft Guild of St Luke, the local artist's Guild.  In 1662 he was elected head of the Guild.

Vermeer is possibly the archetypal Dutch Interior painter, basing many of his works on just two rooms in his house in Delft.

The Girl with a Pearl Earing is one of Vermeer's most beautiful paintings.

Sometimes described as a “tronie”, or head that caricaturises a type of person.  I think it is a genuine portrait.

Gabriel Metsu 1629-1667

In 1648 Metsu registered as a member of the artist's guild in Leiden. Along with Jan Steen he was a founding member.

Jan Havickszoon Steen 1626-79

Stein's parents were publicans and Catholics and, like Rembrandt, he attended the Latin School in Leiden.  (Rembrandt was 20 years older than Steen).  He studied under the German artist Nicolaes Knupfer.

Along with Gabriël Metsu , Steen founded the artist's Guild of St Luke  in 1648.

He married Margriet, who was van Goyen's daughter, in 1649 and he worked closeley with Van Goyen.

Steen is not strictly an Interior painter but he produced some excellent examples of the genre.

Pieter de Hooch 1629-1684

Born in Rotterdam, the son of a bricklayer and a midwife.  Learnt his skills under the masters of the Delft School such as Carel Fabritius and Nicolaes Maes.  Became a member of the art Guild of St Luke.

Nicolaes Maes 1634-1693

Maes was born in Dordrecht and  was the son of a prosperous merchant.  In 1648 he went to Amsterdam and became a pupil of Rembrandt.  His pupils were  Justus de Gelder, Margaretha van Godewijk, Jacob Moelaert, and Johannes Vollevens.

 Samuel van Hoogstraten 1627-1678

 Hoogstraten was an art theorist and maestro of perspective.

Samuel van Hoogstraten. View of a Corridor 1662

Still Life Painting

Dutch and Flemish artists such as Jan Davidsz. de Heem,  Daniel Seghers, Jacob Vosmaer, Ambrosius Bosschaert, Rachel Ruysch and Jan Brueghel the Elder produced some remarkable Still Life paintings of flowers.  The term “still life” is probably derived from the Dutch term “stilleven”, other languages tend to use words that mean “dead nature” for still life.  Many other painters, such as Frans Snyders, Willem Kalf  produced general Still Life paintings.

Dutch Landscape Painters

Aert van der Neer,  Jacob Van Ruisdael, Meindert Hobbema,  Jan Van Goyen, Jan Wils, Nicholaes Berchem. 

Nicholaes Berchem

Berchem was born in Haarlem.

Berchem is important as a a connection between Dutch artists, having been taught by Pieter Claesz, Jan van Goyen, Pieter de Grebber, Jan Baptist Weenix, Jan Wils and Claes Cornelisz. Moeyaert and having taught: Abraham Begeyn, Johannes van der Bent, his son Nicolaes, Isaack Croonenbergh, Simon Dubois, Karel Dujardin, Johannes Glauber, Pieter de Hooch, Jacob van Huchtenburg, Justus van Huysum, Dirk Maas, Hendrick Mommers, Jacob Ochtervelt, Willem Romeyn and possibly Jan Frans Soolmaker

Even more remarkable, he contributed small figures and animals (known as “staffage”) to the professional paintings of artists such as Allaert van Everdingen, Jan Hackaert, Gerrit Dou, Meindert Hobbema and Willem Schellinks.

The Ruisdael Family

Composed of Salomon van Ruysdael (1600-70) and Isaack van Ruisdael (1599-1677) and Isaack's son,  the yet more famed Jacob Isaacksz van Ruisdael (1629-1682).  The entire family were accomplished landscape painters.  Meindert Hobbema was Jacob's pupil.  Jacob composed his landscapes from numerous elements and few were pictorial representations of scenes.

Dutch Seascape Painters

Jan Van Goyen, Aelbert Cuyp, Willem Van de Velde the Younger, Jan Peeters, Jan van de Cappelle

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