Dutch and Flemish Painting 1500–1700

Of only moderate size, the Dutch and Flemish section at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart comprises some 70 paintings representing a span of two centuries. Several of the most significant works have come from historical collections - Hans Memling’s »Bathsheba at her Bath«, for example, acquired through the purchase of the collection Count Gustav Adolf von Gotter, the Prussian emissary to Vienna, in 1736, and Jan van Amstel’s »Christ Entering Jerusalem«, a painting from the ensemble of »Viennese Paintings« purchased from Count Reinhard von Roeder in 1748. Other important works joined the Staatsgalerie collection during the 19th century, most notably Rembrandt’s »Saint Paul in Prison«, which was purchased - as was Wybrand Simonsz. de Geest the Elder’s »Family Portrait« - at the auction of the Gräflich Schönbornscher Kunstbesitz in Schloss Pommersfelden in 1867. Along with paintings by Jan van Kessel and Allart van Everdingen (acquired in 1840 and 1845, respectively), works by Joos de Momper and Anton Mirou, presented as gifts to the Galerie by Prof. H. Rustige during the 1840s, represent early pioneering efforts in Dutch and Flemish landscape painting. »Madonna with Child« by the Master of Khanenko Worship and the »Descent from the Cross« by Colyn de Coter are part of a small group of works purchased in 1865 from the collection of Johann Baptist von Hirscher, Tübingen theology professor and later dean of the cathedral in Freiburg. This old collection has been steadily enhanced and expanded through donations and direct acquisitions by the museum since the 1950s. Since that time, the department has complemented its holdings through the addition of paintings by Albert Bouts, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Jan Davidsz. de Heem, Jan Steen, Emanuel de Witte and others.

A focal point of the collection is the landscape, a genre whose development can be traced on the basis of exemplary works from the first quarter of the 16th to the end of the 17th century. In his »Mountain Landscape«, for example, Joos de Momper remained for the most part true to the concept of the traditional overview landscape featuring a variety of bizzare individual motifs. Students and successors of the »Frankenthal School«, including Anton Mirou, dedicated themselves to the ideal of new type of landscape viewed from close up. Artists who pursued the »fantastical« tendency, including Alexander Keirincx and Jacob Jacobsz. van Geel, employed a common stylistic approach involving the deformation and exaggeration of individual pictorial elements to achieve an overall effect that transcended the realm of pure preception. As a medium for the expression of human moods and concerns, many of these works point ahead to the baroque landscape art developed during the early 17th century by painters such as Jan van Goyen and Jacob van Ruisdael, to name only two examples.

One of his early mature works, Ruisdael’s »Forest Landscape with Brook« already reveals the artist’s unmistakable landscape style, which is characterised by utmost presision in the rendering of individual natural forms which nonetheless remain subordinate to a higher overall structural concept. This uncompromising constructive approach and Ruisdael’s use of the principle of selection to imbue nature with greater potency give his landscapes a monumental, universal quality.

Significant contributions to the renewal of Dutch landscape painting in the first quarter of the 17th century were made by Jan van Goyen and Salomon van Ruysdael, artists represented at the Staatsgalerie by two highly characteristic paintings. Their »monochrome phase«, during which they focused upon tonal homogeneity to achieve maximum unity of visual effect, served as an inspiration for a number of their fellow artists, among them Claude de Jongh.

Alongside local motifs, landscapes from distant regions also drew considerable attention. Among the most important painters of such scenes is Allart van Everdingen, who introduced the theme of the Scandinavian mountain landscape into Dutch painting. Neither signed nor dated, »Mountain Landscape with Castle« is in many ways highly characteristic of his art, particularly as it retains the »immediacy and closeness to nature« that typify his smaller landscape paintings.

With his Brazilian motifs, Frans Jansz. Post occupies a unique position in Dutch landscape painting. In contrast to the singular style apparent in his South American works, the artist more nearly approached conventional Dutch landscape art during his post-Brazilian period, which produced his »View of Olinda and Vicinity«, now in the Stuttgart collection. Yet Post goes beyond both narrative and descriptive elements to communicate something of the character and the atmosphere of the South American country.

Like many others during the preceding 150 years, a number of 17th-century artists travelled to Italy in the hope of finding stylistic and substantive stimulus. Unlike their 16th-century predecessors, however, artists interested primarily in an encounter with classical Roman and Renaissance art, these later visitors to Italy, painters such as Cornelis van Poelenburgh and Jacobus Sibrandi Mancadan, focused their gaze primarily on the country’s natural landscape and the life of its people. The Italian landscape became their predominant theme, which many continued to pursue even after return to the Netherlands.

Seventeenth-century Italianate landscape painting was not concerned with Arcadian idealisation and idyllic mood alone, however. Wild, untouched nature, by virtue of its dramatic atmospheric content and its capacity to appeal immediately to emotions of the viewer, it was also granted aesthetic value in its own right. Among the exponents of this »romantic« approach to the landscape were the artists of »Rovinismo«, in whose paintings images of grottoes and ruins played a significant role. These painters emphasised the gloomy, bizarre aspects of crumbling, overgrown architecture and grottoes, integrating them into richly suggestive scenes veiled in mystery. With their picturesque appeal, such images call to mind pagan mystery plays or the cult activities of forbidden secret sects. These strange, nightmarish visions attracted such great interest during the era of Counter-Reformation and Inquisition that the themes of the Italianate masters were taken up by other artists who - like Rombout van Troyen - had probably never been to Italy themselves.

However, despite the popularity of their works and the large number of imitators they stimulated, the art of the Italianate masters had virtually no impact whatsoever on mainstream developments in landscape painting. [ EW ]

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