THE Kaiser Friedrich Museum is of great importance for the study of the Netherland schools of painting. In few museums as complete an array of the various painters who constituted those schools may be found. Not alone do we find here masterpieces of the men of the first rank, but those of lower standing are as numerously and as well represented. Most of these works were purchased soon after the founding of the museum, principally owing to Waagen’s predilection’ for the Netherland schools.
Although in an historical-critical sense the Flemish and the Dutch schools of painting are specifically and racially distinct, this fact is often lost sight of, and thus we find here the paintings of the Netherland schools more or less mixed. I have endeavoured in arranging the order of our visit to the various rooms to restore as far as possible the separate consideration of the two. The Primitives of the fifteenth and the painters of the sixteenth centuries, however, will have to be considered together since their works are found promiscuously on the walls of the first four rooms. It will be possible later on to be historically more exact by following the order as indicated on the guide printed opposite the groundplan of this floor (see page 6).
ROOM 72 THE ST. BAVON ALTARPIECE OF THE BROTHERS VAN EYCK
One of the richest treasures of the Museum is part of the famous altarpiece painted by the brothers Hubert van Eyck (1370-1426) and Jan van Eyck (1390-1441), on the order of the Ghent patrician Jodocus Vyt and his wife Lysbet Burlut, and given by them as a votive offering to the St. Bavon Church in Ghent.
This altarpiece was begun by Hubert van Eyck about 1420, who left it unfinished at his death in 1426. In 1429 Jan van Eyck continued the work which he completed in 1432. In 1559 King Philip II of Spain ordered a complete copy of this magnificent altar made by Michiels van Coxie (1497-1592), which was exceedingly successful, but never reached Spain.
The original work was for centuries in Ghent, but unfortunately was dismembered when in 1815 six of the eight panels that composed the wings were sold to the art dealer Nieuwenhuis of Brussels for 3,000 guilders, and by him sold to the English collector Solly for 100,000 francs, or 40,000 guilders. With the Solly collection these six panels came to Berlin. The two panels with the nude figures of Adam and Eve, being deemed unsuitable for a church, had for many years been concealed in the cellar of the Ghent cathedral, but are now in the Brussels Museum. The original centrepiece remained in Ghent, but that part of the Coxie copy was acquired by Berlin in 1823. The wings of this copy are today in the Munich Pinakothek and in Ghent. The outsides of the original wings here have been sawed from the insides só that all the paintings are hung together (512-525).
When the wings were closed the altarpiece showed in the upper part the ” Annunciation ” in two paintings (520, 521) of Gabriel and Mary. The lower parts of this outside showed four figures in Gothic niches, in the centre the two Johns (518, 523), the patron-saints of the Ghent church, painted like statues, grey on grey; and flanked on either side by the kneeling figures of the donors (519, 522).
When the wings were opened on Sundays and Feastdays the view revealed the apocalyptic scene of the “Adoration of the Lamb” (524), which filled the entire lower part of the centrepiece.
Above this, in the middle division, was the God-father (525) both are here the Coxie copies of the original in Ghent on the left is Mary (525D), and to the right John the Baptist (525E) here the work of Carl Friedrich Schulz, of Gelchow, who copied them from the originals in Ghent in 1826. A Predella, depicting Purgatory, was below the altarpiece, but has long since been lost.
On the panels of the shutters in the upper parts, relieved against backgrounds of blue sky, are groups of angels, to the left the ” Singing Angels ” (514. Plate XXV), to the right the ” Angels around the Organ” (515). Alongside of these panels were the nude figures of Adam and Eve, which fail here, thé originals being in the Brussels Museum. On the lower part of the wings are two panels on each wing. On the left wing the ” Just judges ” (512) and the ” Champions of Christ ” (513 ), and on the right wing the “Holy Hermits” (516) and the “Holy Pilgrims” (517).
The conception of this monumental work must be ascribed to the elder van Eyck, who also painted the large figures of the God-father, of Mary, and of John the Baptist here in copies. The entire wings here in the original and the Adoration of the Lamb here Coxie’s copy were from the hand of Jan van Eyck.
No such marvellous painting as this had ever before been seen in Flanders, and when first shown it created a profound sensation. Crowds flocked from far and near when the wings of the great altarpiece were opened to see its beauties. It was the first important oil painting ever produced, and its authors had carried this new method at a bound to the highest perfection of execution, with a complete understanding of this mechanical medium to acquire the purest harmony of colour.
But it went further in its revolutionary power. Not only was it technically the high standard for the new method of painting, its spirit was new. The van Eycks were the first to open their eyes to the full reality of nature and human life. The feeling of nature is in all these paintings far more developed than it was at the same period in the south, even with Gentile da Fabriano, or Masaccio. And the human figures are given with an expression of life, of vital existence, so convincingly and with such simple means that each is surrounded by a nimbus of personal distinction.
The main thought of the altarpiece is to represent the deliverance of the human race by the sacrifice of the Lamb. On the outside the Annunciation foreshadows the approaching deliverance, celebrated by the Church festival within, to which knights and pilgrims come. In a green and charming landscape the mystic lamb, whose blood streams from its breast into a golden chalice, stands upon an altar hung with red damask, its top covered with a white cloth. Adoring angels with parti-coloured wings, bearing the instruments of the Passion, kneel around the altar in a flower-strewn meadow, while hosts of worshippers – martyrs, popes and bishops on one side, and on the other the virgin-saints are seen advancing through a verdant country. In the foreground of the scene is the fountain of living waters, around which are grouped prophets and fathers of the church, together with poets and philosophers gathered from all quarters of the globe to do honour to the Lamb of God.
And presiding over this feast of sacrifice the majestic figure of God the Father, somewhat over life-size, robed in red and crowned with a triple tiara, sits enthroned. With Him are the Virgin and the Herald.
The angels of the heavenly choirs take part with deep sounding organ tones for the northerners were far advanced in church music. These singing and musical angels are as lifelike as human beings. There is nothing pointing to their heavenly origin. They have no wings, nor are they wrapped in the ethereal folds imitated from the antique. They are presented merely as young singers and musicians, dressed in the magnificent heavy brocades and velvets then woven on the looms of Bruges and Ghent, and although with heavy stiff folds still they give for the first time the impression that human bodies are inside these garments.
Indeed, as Sir Joseph Crowe has well said, ” the solemn grandeur of church art in the fifteenth century never found out of Italy a nobler exponent than Hubert van Eyck, in whose great altarpiece a fine display of realistic truth is combined with pure drawing and gorgeous colour, and there is a happy union of earnestness and simplicity, together with the deepest religious feeling.”
ROOMS 70, 68, 69 — NETHERLAND PAINTINGS OF THE 15TH AND 16TH CENTURIES
In these three rooms we find the early Nether-land paintings displayed which we will consider in a more or less historical order. Room 70 still contains a number of the works of Jan van Eyck.
Jan van Eyck loved sunshine, joyousness and the spirit that bubbles in nature and in man. Only twice did he paint a passion scene. One of these is in the St. Petersburg Hermitage, the other one is here, a ” Crucifixion ” (525F). Suffering and sorrow are here so strongly shown that the painting was first accredited to a Spaniard of the end of the century. Many critics hold it for that reason to be a work of Hubert van Eyck. Still the beauty of the landscape and the charm of the figures of Mary and John point to Jan, although the work antedates the Ghent altarpiece.
The ” Head of Christ (528) is a full-face image built on the vera icon, the so–called authentic portrait of the Saviour which was frequently copied in the Middle Ages. This was an archaic-cut emerald, which was originally in possession of an early emperor in Constantinople, and later was given by Sultan Bajazed II to Pope Innocent VIII. The immobility and severity of the face is intensified by the minuteness in which the tiniest folds and ridges in the lips are depicted.
To appreciate Jan van Eyck to the fullest extent one must study his portraiture, wherein the national distinction between Teutonic and Italian art is clearest discernible. In Italian portraits the men are proud and self-conscious, their eyes seem to look clear and steady into a bright world. The women, sometimes with a slight smile, are taken apparently at the happiest moment. In the north on the contrary there is not a vestige of sentiment, not a shimmer of ideality, but with astounding care the human being is presented as he exists, not in a particle different from his usual appearance. Every individual particularity, even to the smallest wrinkles, is given with a fidelity that equals photographic exactness. This clear truthfulness extends so far that sometimes we note the drawn, con-strained expression of a person who has long been posing. The whole object of the portrait was to show the person as he was yesterday and to-day and would be to-morrow, in sharpest characterization of drawing and colour, and with the exclusion of every stylistic peculiarity.
Jan van Eyck’s ” Man with the Pink ” (525A), indicating that he is a bridegroom, is a marvel of natural, almost aggressive truth, the highest that exact imitation could produce. The man of sixty looks out of the picture with a sharp, keen glance. The face is wonderful in the exact reproduction of all its lineaments and irregularities, even the out-standing ears are shown without any esthetic improvement. The hands are truly too small in comparison with the face, but still perfect in drawing, the muscles and veins clearly indicated. Also the bust-portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini (523A), the Italian merchant who represented in Bruges a mercantile house of Luccha, is remarkable for the truth, even of its homeliness. The watery blue, small eyes, peering from under the thin eyelids over a long arched nose give an expression of stupid simplicity, until the fine lines around the mouth and nose reveal a character of breeding, keen calculation and subtle strength. Everything, however, is also here surpassed by the painter’s quality of the whole. The accent of characterization, the luminosity of the flesh, the clear and transparent skin that even in the shadows reveals itself against the glowing red of the headcloth, and the fine harmony of these colours with the olive green of the dress, make a wonderful combination. Two other portraits, one of Baldwin de Lannoy, Knight of the Golden Fleece (525D), the other a full-face, beard-less man (523C) with a fur-lined coat, are of equal importance.
Besides these portraits van Eyck painted several small Madonnas, which in their rniniaturelike execution are little jewels. Also here we find the fundamental mark of the change in sacred figures to the fullest reality. Against the striving of the older masters to make their saints slender, with gentle, ethereal features, and idealized figures, these Madonnas are homely Netherland women, and the child is a puny, miserable wight. But while van Eyck deprives these personages of their abstract purity and spiritual heavenliness, and lets them appear like common clay, he makes up for this by making them the centre, or rather the soul of beautiful, natural surroundings.
In the little jewel which is the smallest painting in the museum is shown ” Mary with the Child and the Carthusian” (523B), and despite its minuteness it may measure in largeness of conception with the amplest creations. In an open hall, through whose arches a city is seen with a watered valley, and wooded hills in the far distance, stands the Madonna with the nude child in her arms, who extends his hands in blessing over a kneeling Carthusian monk. St. Barbara presents this protegé. The little painting is’ wonderfully preserved, and the colours light as brilliantly as if it had just left the master’s easel. All details are perfectly shown, the lace on the baldacchino over the Madonna’s head, the people on the marketplace in the distant city each figure there may be seen as in life. Even the single trees on the far-off mountains may be discerned, and the birds high in the air can be recognized from their flight and shape as wild geese. And yet this painting, only 7 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches, with all this execution of detail which makes us wonder with what kind of brushes it was painted, is by no means small and puerile, but gives as large an impression as an altarpiece by the luminosity which surrounds the figures with an intensity which could rouse the envy of modern pleinairists.
A somewhat larger panel, 12 x 6, as marvellous in its effect, is the ” Madonna in the Church (525C). Here the Holy Lady stands full-length in a magnificently painted cathedral interior, such as the greatest architectural painters of the seventeenth century have not surpassed. Her head with its golden jewelled crown reaches unto the rafters, and is wonderful in its dignified bearing and soulful features. Through the church windows, partly with white, partly with stained glass, the evening light streams with magical, poetic effect, never surpassed by the greatest chiaroscuro painters that came later.
The influence of the work of the brothers van Eyck has been more powerful and has extended further than that of any other painter who ever lived. Technically they revolutionized the manner of painting, and their method of oil painting was universally adopted. But they were also the first to introduce humanism into the subject of painting, and Jan was the first to give landscape its true place in art. Few names of direct pupils in their studio are known, but for a hundred years every painter in the Netherlands, in Flanders or Holland, was consciously or unconsciously influenced by the work the van Eycks had done, although many added thereto a sturdy independence and original invention.
Petrus Cristus (1400-1472) was one of the earliest of these followers, although he only partly understood the meaning of their Work. His ” Portrait of a Girl ” (532) is interesting in the light effect but leaves a strange impression by its homely realism. Her hair is brushed stiffly from her fore-head under a prodigiously high cap, her brown, Chinese-like eyes, the visible cheekbones, lean cheeks and thin lips, her narrow shoulders and flat breast, do not have an attractive appearance, while the expression of the face mirrors a disgruntled and selfwilled character. In two religious pictures (in the next gallery, 68) Petrus strives more closely to follow the example of van Eyck; one of these, the ” Last Judgment ” (529B) being founded on Jan van Eyck’s work in the Hermitage. The other panel (529A) is divided in two parts, the upper showing the ” Annunciation,” the lower-half the ” Birth of Christ” In these works also we find the light-effect the best factor, while the figures are but weak, stilted imitations of the Bruges master.
Rogier van der Weyden (1400-1464) was a stronger man. While he could not attain to van Eyck’s skill of painting, nor his detail, nor his colour, he was more emotional and dramatic, and carried the humanism, the democratic feeling in art we might call it, much farther. The Passion scenes were his favourite topics, which he depicted for the common people with force and pathos. In the next gallery (69) we find his famous ” Johannes Altarpiece ” (534B), showing in three panels the birth of John the Baptist to the left, in the centre John baptizing Christ, and to the right the beheading of John (Plate XXVI). The portals through which the scenes are displayed are decorated with the statuettes of the apostles. The exaggeration of expression truly makes the scene drastic and convincing, but this is carried on also to an exaggeration of form and movement which makes the drawing knotty and stiff.
Next to this hangs his ” Mary Altarpiece” (524A), also in three parts. To the left is the holy family, where Mary worships the child lying on her knees, while Joseph sits opposite her asleep. The centrepiece shows the lamentation of Christ, with the stark, stiff body held in the Mother’s lap. To the right is the appearance of the risen Christ to Mary. All these scenes are placed in Gothic interiors, showing landscapes in the background through porticoes.
Going back to Room 68 we view Rogier’s masterpieces, the socalled “Bladelin Altar” (535), which he executed in the fulness of his power after a journey to Italy. This work was commissioned for the high-altar of the church of Middelburg, in Zeeland, by Peeter Bladelin who from an ordinary burgher had become the treasurer of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, and had founded that city. The centre panel shows the Adoration of the Child by the donor. The Madonna is dressed in white, and the remarkably small child lies stark naked on a whisp of straw on a northern winter night in a ruined cabin, open on all sides. Joseph holds a small candle, but golden light emanates from the body of the child and the head of Mary. By contrast with this lowliness we view on the right wing three kings, dressed in sumptuous splendour, kneeling in an Italian landscape, and looking in adoration skyward where a tiny babe is floating on a cloud. On the other wing we find a Flemish interior where the Sibyl of Tibur shows to the Emperor Augustus the vision of the Madonna holding the Child seated on a balcony outside the casemated window. In these scenes of the Holy Night there is no room for excitement and pathos, and the restraint the artist put on himself resulted more agreeably than. his earlier work. His weakness as a draughtsman is apparent in the disproportion of many parts. The head of the Madonna is excessively large compared with the rest of the body, and the angels worshipping with her are diminutive dwarfs alongside of Bladelin. All Rogier’s failings and excellences are also found in an old copy (534) of his ” Descent of the Cross,” whereof the original is in the Escorial. Returning to Room 70 we find there still the portrait of a young woman (545D), the portrait of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (545), and a half-figure of the Madonna (549A) all by Rogier.
The art of the unknown Brabant painter who goes by the name of the Master of Flémalle (active 1430-1460), but who has been lately identified as Jacques Daret, places him in the frontrank among the early Flemings. If Jan van Eyck was a realist and charmed the eye with the beauty and loveliness of his colours, if Rogier van der Weyden held the hearts of the people with his pathos, the Flémalle Master may be considered as the Romanticist who depicted the sacred stories with noble and poetic feeling. His ” Crucifixion ” (538A) is a notable advance. Dark-robed angels are winging through the air around the high cross on which the body of ivory whiteness hangs. It is the first body drawn with an aim to anatomical exactness. The figures around the foot of the cross vary in giving satisfaction. John’s expression of grief by putting his fist in his eyes is overdrawn, and the posture of Mary Magdalene, dressed as a Saracen woman with a large white turban, who twists her neck awkwardly to look up at the crucified body, is far from pleasing, but one of the most charming of figures thus far produced is that of a young girl, dressed in the simple gown and cloak of a burgher-maid, who touches Mary with deep sympathy and affection. She is a lovely child her beautiful features, so expressive of love and woe, are finely framed in the loose folds of her white hood. The patient care bestowed on the painting of the hands, which is a patent mark of the van Eyck school, is also here prominently noted.
The portrait of a man (537A), with a beardless, fat face and tousled hair against a white back-ground, is not beautiful to look at, but beautiful in its technique. Another portrait (537), of a young man, is more attractive but not so strong and expressive.
There has recently been added a small triptych (not yet catalogued) attributed to the Master of Bruges who painted about 1475. It shows a monk under the cross, who receives the crown of life while a satyr mocks him. Saints and donors are pictured on the sidewings.
A still further advance is seen in the work of Hans Memlinc (1425-1495). Therein we note the sincerity, the purity of the man; there is tenderness in his pathos, and an echo of the ecstatic feeling of the Madonnas of the Middle Ages. We need but compare the half-figure of the Madonna by Rogier van der Weyden, in which the features are earnest, even hard and stern, with Memlinc’s ” Madonna with the Child ” (528B) which hangs next to it. Here, with the same type of face, we find greater gentleness and charm. The same refers to his ” Madonna Enthroned ” (529) of beautiful colour and attractive landscape setting. In his portraiture he was exceedingly strong in characterization, with excellent flesh-painting, even seen in an early work, the portrait of an old man (529C). But Memlinc can only be fully appreciated in Bruges where his masterwork, the Florein altarpiece, hangs in the St. John’s Hospital.
Contemporary with these men, in the early part and middle of the fifteenth century, there were also in the north, in Holland, several painters at work in whom we recognize the van Eyck foundation, but also the diverging tendency which later widened and separated the Dutch from the Flemish school. For the Flemish school gradually became more bold and florid, while the Dutch school remained sincere and serene.
The earliest known painter in the north was Albert van Ouwater (active 1430-1460), of Haarlem, who is mentioned in old records as a great ” landscape painter,” but of whom only one example is known to exist, which is found here, and that a church interior with the ” Raising of Lazarus” (532A). While the Italians always present this scene as taking place in the open country with a rock tomb, here Lazarus had been buried in the Choir of a church, as was customary in Holland. The broken floorslab shows the open grave whence Lazarus arises at the command of Jesus who is surrounded by His disciples. Opposite Him, at the other side of the grave, stand the antagonists, richly dressed Pharisees, whom Peter, standing between the groups, seeks to persuade to believe what their eyes have seen. The Choir is surrounded by a solid partition reaching half-way up the columns between which it is built, leaving a perspective view of the arches and windows of the church behind. Through the grated door of this partition the crowding heads of a multitude are seen, pressing against the bars to view the miracle. This painting, so beautiful for its colour, light-effect and expressive drawing, was taken by the Spaniards at the sacking of Haarlem in 1573, and sent to Spain.
Another Haarlem painter, who received his first instruction from Ouwater, was Dirk Bouts (1410–1475), who settled in Louvain in Brabant when about forty years old, where Rogier van der Weyden had some influence on his work. His masterpiece was an altarwork which he made for the Peter’s church in Louvain, where the central portion, showing the Lord’s Supper, is still found. Two of the wings are at present in Munich, and the other two are here in Berlin. These represent the antetypes of the Lord’s Supper, the feeding of the people of Israel : ” Elijah fed in the Desert ” (533), and the ” Paschal Feast” (539. Plate XXVII). This one shows six persons standing around a table, ready for the journey as was the Mosaic behest, to eat the Paschal lamb. It is a plain Dutch interior with coloured tile floor. Alongside of Bouts’ strong palette, the colours of Rogier van der Weyden seem flowery and sweet. The landscape in the ” Elijah ” panel is quietly impressive, although the figures are rather stiff. Two Madonnas (545B. C.) are later works, and more in the Flemish style.
Another pupil of Ouwater was Geertgen van St. Jans (1465-1493) who died at the age of twenty-eight. This Leyden artist has an individual place as a landscape painter. His ” John the Baptist ” (1631) is placed in a fine hilly park of soft green verdure, with many animals roaming about. A recently acquired and not catalogued “Mary with the Child, and St. Michael with the Donor” is by a pupil of Geertgen van St. Jans.
An unknown painter whose work has been found in various places in Flanders, which all point to the Bouts influence, has been styled the Master of the Ascension of Mary (active before 1470). Lately he has been identified with Dirk’s son, Aelbert Bouts. His “Annunciation ” (530. Plate XXVIII) shows him to have been more Flemish than his father, the types of the faces are more heavy, and the interior more ornate than we see it in the latter’s work. A comparison of the two plates may well help to note the distinction between the northern and southern schools.
Before we continue with the early Dutchmen in the next gallery, we note that three panels by French Primitives have also found a place in Room 70. Two of these are wings of a reliquary from the cloister of St. Omer, by Simon Marmion, a miniature painter of the end of the fifteenth century, who depicts here with great delicacy the legend of St. Bertin (1645) in ten scenes, like book illuminations. The third picture is by Jean Fouquet (1415-1480), who also commenced as a book illustrator, and whose ” Book of Hours ” in the Chantilly Museum is famous. He was the principal French portrait painter of the fifteenth century and a protege ,of the Treasurer Estienne Chevalier, the favourite of Agnes Sorel. Fouquet painted Estienne on a votive panel (1617), being presented by his patron-saint St. Stephen. This portrait would look better were it not surrounded on the wall by the more serious and thorough work of the northern men. By comparison the Frenchman’s work is flat, and its beauty has only a decorative quality.
In the next room, 68, we continue with some early Dutchmen of the sixteenth century. The original Hieronymus Bosch (1460-1516), who hailed from North Brabant, has here a panel ” John on Patmos ” (1647A) which bears only a few marks of his fantastic imagery a queer freaky creation is seen in the corner. It bears, however, full evidence of his fine, rich sense of colour, the delicate pink of the seer’s mantle, and the blue of the angel’s robe, as well as his refreshing landscape vision.
The most famous of the North Netherlanders was the renowned etcher and wood engraver Lucas van Leyden (1494-1533). Dying young he still has taken a prominent place with the few paintings which he has left. Three of these are found here. With him realism, which for so long had pushed itself forward, at last assumes full control of the art of the century. His St. Jerome doing penance in the desert, before a crucifix fastened to a tree (584A), as well as the Madonna with the Child (584B), excel in pure drawing and luminous colours. His ” Chess party ” (574A) is one of the first examples of the social genre of which the next century was to produce so many masterpieces. No less than ten spectators are gathered around the two players, and they furnish a wonderful tableau of physiognomic variety.
Jacob Corneliszoon van Oostsanen (1470-1533) has formerly been known only as a wood engraver, but a few of his paintings have lately been discovered. A small altarpiece (607) with the Madonna and Child, sitting behind a stone breast-work over which an Oriental carpet is thrown, in the middle panel, and on the wings the donors with their patron-saints, reveals a strong Renaissance influence in its architectonic setting. The landscape on the middle panel is beautifully carried out with a number of small, naive gente figures.
True portrait painting was as germane in the north as it was in the south, and Jan van Scorel (1495-1562), who had a school in Utrecht, was one of the leaders. His training had been received on his wide travels and during his residence in Rome as court-painter to the Holland-born Pope, Hadrian VI. The Italian influence which emanated from him did not, however, find as ready soil as it did in Flanders during the sixteenth century, causing the school there to decay until revived by Rubens. Scorel’s portrait of Cornelis van der Dussen (644), the secretary of the city of Delft, and that of a lady (1202), are simple and energetic, of clear colour and firm modelling.
A still better work is by Maarten van Heemskerk (1498-1574) whose ” Portrait of a Girl ” (570. Plate XXIX) is a typical example of the portraiture of the period. It is done with a slight, smooth brush, no detail slighted, and wonderfully lifelike. In his genre, notably mythological subjects, he followed more closely the Italian style, as seen in a Iarge panel that relates the myth of Momus (655), the god of faultfinding, who picks flaws in everything the other gods have done, cavilling at women, the creation of Vulcan, because they do not have a window in their breast so that one might examine their inner being; at the horses of Neptune because they have to kick with their hind heels without seeing their enemy, and so on.
Antonis Mor (15124578), of Utrecht, became famous because of his travels to England and Spain, where he was extensively employed. The double-portrait of the Utrecht Domheeren van Horn and Taets (585A), seen in half-length, is a fine group of manly men, effectively dressed in the white garb of their order.
A small genre by Jan van Hemessen (1494-1560) is one of the most charming productions in this room. The artist came from near Antwerp, but died in Haarlem. His ” Gold-weigher ” (656A) shows a lovely young girl in a luxurious velvet dress, seated at a table and weighing gold coins ; a magnificent golden goblet stands near her delicately formed hand.
We will now enter Gallery 69 to return to the Flemish painters. The earliest one here still belongs to the previous century. Hugo van der Goes (1430-1482) is best known for his large Portinari altar-piece in the Uffizi, a painting which next to Velas quez’ Pope Innocent in Rome has been called the finest in Italy. It certainly places him next to the van Eycks as the greatest artist of the Flemish school. He advanced on the van Eycks in revealing new and greater wonders in colouring; and further, his figures are even more like human beings than the types which the van Eycks painted. His ” Adoration of the Shepherds ” (1622A), a predella of a lost altarpiece, excels in the contrast between the quiet worship of the parents and angels and the animated enthusiasm of the shepherds, yet all so full of character. A newly acquired panel is a composite work of van der Goes and Dirk Bouts, and depicts the Preaching of John the Baptist, who points out the Nazarene walking at the other side of a narrow stream.
Gerard David (1450-1523) was a pupil of Hans Memlinc, and in his early work almost as attractive as his master. In his later years he lost much of his charm, as may be seen in his ” Crucifixion ” (573). The composition is very formal and rigid. The sky is ashy grey, the foreground cold green, and the far-away hills intense blue, the fleshtones are smooth as enamel, and in the garments blue and violet, purple and yellow are mixed truly not a quiet, harmonious colour combination.
The Antwerp painter Quentin Massys (1460-1530) may be regarded as a transition painter.
With him the early Flemish tendencies have come to full fruition. The genre and landscape parts are now of equal importance to the figures, but in religious works the figures assume greater force, and express the mobility of the members, the nature and character of each personage becomes now the artist’s principal aim. Massys added thereto architectural backgrounds, and from this Italian example other peculiarities of Italian painting spread, until the indigenous Flemish art became a thing of the past. As an example we see ” Mary with the Child ” (561. Plate XXX). As the Mother kisses her Child on the lips, her eyes are sunk into his, her whole body and soul closes over the child, there is human feeling displayed, real mother-love. At the same time there is a curious mingling of Italian elaborateness in the splendid throne, and genuine Flemish feeling in the stillife on the table before the group, the round loaf of bread and platter with butter. His ” Weeping Magdalene ” (574C) is even more expressive in the heartbreaking sorrow of the penitent. A ” St. Jerome ” (574B) is by his pupil Marinus van Roymerswaele (active 1521-1538), although formerly given to Massys. It is still more Italian in its concentration of light, contrasting with Flemish diffusion of light.
The most distinguished landscape painter was Joachim Patinir (active 1515-1524), in whose ” Rest on the Flight to Egypt ” (608) the figures take but a secondary place, the sweeping landscape being his main object. Still the human interest is well cared for. Joseph is coming with a donkey from a populous hamlet, and in another village in the middle distance the slaughter of the innocents is shown.
The last of these Flemings, who by study with Leonardo da Vinci had become thoroughly Italianized, was Jan Gossaert, called Mabuse (1470-1541). His ” Christ on the Mount of Olives ” (551A) is very naturalistic, with a scattered, strong light-effect that picks out the faces, tree-tops and a floating angel in a confusing manner. Also the ” Mary with the Child ” (650) ; and two nude paintings, ” Neptune and Amphitrite ” (648) and ” Adam and Eve in Paradise ” (661), savour more of the south than of the north. His ” Portrait of a Man (586A) is a serious and dignified document.
Passing from this room through Cabinet 65 we enter Room 62.
Rooms 62, 63, 60 – RUBENS, AND FLEMISH PAINTINGS OF THE 17TH CENTURY
The principal works in Room 62, which is furnished with old Flemish furniture, will prepare us for the large Rubens Gallery which will follow.
A few paintings by Rubens are already found here, but some by other men must first be noted.
Flemish art had towards the middle of the sixteenth century become Italianized and had lost its racial characteristics, but towards the end of the century a revival took place whereby landscape and figures, especially of genre, were more racy of the soil. The Frankish strain in the blood of the populace of the South Netherlands, however, always asserted itself it is very evident in Rubens. Finally it caused the death of Flemish art, soon after the powerful personality of Rubens had been forgotten.
One of the first men to reassert independence was Paul Bril (1554-1626), who went to Italy but instead of following the methods taught there, taught Italians his own views of landscape painting. His ” Mountain-goat Hunt ” (714) shows a high, majestic rock-wall over which hunted and hunters are passing.
Only one member of the Breughel family is represented here, Jan Breughel the Elder, called Velvet Breughel (1568-1625), by whom we find five examples. His technique is indicated by his name, and especially the ” Vulcan’s Smithy ” (678) is a marvel of smooth, minute painting of detail. Thousands of pieces of armour and costly objects lie around in the cave, while Vulcan is awaiting the visit of Venus. These are painted with every nail and buckle and clasp showing. Just as tantalizing in its minutiae of animal and plant life is his ” Paradise ” (742).
A large double-portrait by Cornelis de Vos (1585-1651) is a magnificent group of a married couple, seated on a terrace of their park, dressed in rich, patrician garments. It is a dignified presentment, elaborate in its details of an abundance of lace adornment.
But the great master, Peeter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) greets us here. In this and in the large Rubens Gallery 63 and in Cabinet 60 there are twenty-three of his works exhibited, truly not a large number since the Munich Gallery has about eighty of his paintings, the Prado over sixty, and Vienna, the Louvre and the Hermitage each about fifty. Still the Berlin collection shows the master as completely in the various expressions of his genius as the Museums mentioned.
Rubens found in Italy his artistic training Michelangelo’s mighty forms, Titian’s brilliant, colour-glow, Veronese’s grand composition were amalgamated in him with Flemish humanism, often with broadness of meaning, and entirely lacking in subtlety. This is his weakness. There is nothing suggested in his work. With a loud blare of trumpets he marshals before us opulence of form, unrestrained action, mighty contrasts of passions, sensuous abandon. But he does this with such masterful power, such marvellous perfection of execution, such incisive hypnotism, that places him among the most exalted masters. Gorgeous shapes throng around his pencil numberless, startling us by the novel accidents of form and colour, putting the spirit of motion into the universe, and weaving all nature into a gay, fantastic Bacchanalian dance.
In this first room devoted to his work we find a sketch for a mythological composition, ” Shipwreck of Aeneas ” (776E), which need not occupy us long. The small ” Perseus delivers Andromeda ” (785) glows with the ardour of the hero as he unfastens the chains. An example of his historical painting is his ” Capture of Tunis by Emperor Charles V ” (798G). It is an interesting work because only half-finished, showing the broad, sweeping brown lines of first drawing, and in the middle foreground the completed group with all its colourful pomp.
Two portraits by Rubens are also in this room. The portrait of Isabella Brant (762A), the master’s first wife, in the sumptuous garments wherewith the artist always bedecked her, while he generally reveals to us the voluptuous beauty of his second wife, Helena Fourment, with little or no drapery. The other portrait is of his own child, his second boy (763. Plate XXXI), a perfect presentment of the charm and innocence of childhood.
On entering the gorgeous Rubens Honour-gallery 63 we view on the wall between the doors the colossal ” Conversion of Paul ” (762B). This is one of the most energetic of the master’s religious compositions. A company of ten people, four of them mounted, are suddenly thrown into the direst confusion by the appearance of the figure of Christ in the sky, bursting from a blinding light, and the man who was to become the first missionary of the Christians lies prone on the ground, stricken and called.
The ” Raising of Lazarus ” (783) is beautiful in its luxurious colour and animated figures, al-though the master’s volubility, as we might call it, comes out in the figure of Lazarus, which stepping out of the grave is the most robust of all. An early work, of 1614, is the ” St. Sebastian ” (798H), a vigorous youth tied to a tree, and a fine anatomical study. The ” St. Caecilia ” (781) is one of his latest works, dating from his death year, 1640. In it the features of his wife, Helene Fourment, are seen. She is seated, richly dressed in yellow silk, at a small organ, surrounded by putti. Her dainty fingers float over the keys as she is joyously looking upward. There is nothing mystic or ecstatic about this work, as in Raphael’s St. Caecilia. Rubens was not a philosopher, nor spiritually minded. He shows the real transport of music, which sounds even in the green and orange-tones in luscious harmony.
In the Rubens Cabinet 60 we find a sketch of his large altarpiece of the Augustine Church of Antwerp, ” Mary with the Child and Saints’.’ (780) which is as splendid in its composition as any of the large frescoes of Paolo Veronese. A fine ” Pieta” (798K) is also found here.
A class of subjects in which Rubens has never been surpassed are his Bacchanalian scenes. There the unbridled passionate fibre of the artist’s nature breaks forth in a sensuousness that often verges on sensuality. The most famous is the ” Bacchanal ” (776B, on the rear wall of Room 63), a scene of revelry and riot where drunken Silenus lurches forward in vinous stupor, supported by satyrs and accompanied by Bacchantes, wantonly leaping and beating on the tambourine. Nude children scattering flowers complete a scene of careless, abandoned animalism, designed only to show contrasts of colour in the light-reflections on dark and white flesh. On a par with this Silenus wassail is the ” Diana with Nymphs, surprised by Satyrs ” (762C), somewhat more quiet in movement but even more characteristic in sensuous action.
Naturally the antique sagas of heroes, gods and goddesses furnished abundant subjects for our prolific painter, on which he could lavish all the wealth of his coloursense, and fairly revel in voluptuous forms. Of such we find here ” Neptune and Amphitrite ” (776A), ” Mars with Venus and Amour ” (798B), ” Fortuna” (798C), ” Andromeda” (776C), and ” Diana’s Deerhunt ” (774). A ” Landscape at Sunset ” (776D) shows his broad treatment of the subject in distinction of the minute work of the earlier men.
A replica of an original in the Vienna Gallery, a group of four children, representing the Christ-child, John, a little girl babe as the Church, and a Cupid (779), is one of many repetitions Rubens or his pupils have painted of this subject, which are scattered among various collections.
Of the large number of pupils who hailed from the Rubens studio only two are represented here, Anton van Dyck (1599-1641) and Cornelis de Vos. Of van Dyck the Museum shows seventeen examples, six portraits, two mythological and nine religious pieces, among which the ” Crowning with Thorns ” (770). This dates from his first period and shows the powerful influence of the greater master. Also the ” Two Johns ” (799) is an early work in the style of Rubens. Two portraits, a Genoese nobleman and his wife (782B and C), are of van Dyck’s Italian period, and have the cachet of Titian imprinted. In the cabinet we find the portrait of Thomas François de Carignan, Prince of Savoy, which is of the same time. The portrait of this Prince in Windsor Castle is far superior. None of these works bear any evidence of the refinement which later characterized van Dyck.
By Cornelis de Vos is that one of the most charming of all children’s paintings, the ” Daughters of the Artist ” (832. Plate XXXII). They are seated on the ground, in their best Sunday ” bib and tucker,” and look so ingenuously at the spectator that it is no wonder to be one of the most popular paintings in the Museum. De Vos was a strong, individual artist of personal expression.
We shall find some further Flemish paintings in the last gallery (51), but now turn again to the Dutch school.
ROOMS 59, 58 – FRANS HALS, AND DUTCH PAINTINGS OF THE 17TH CENTURY
From the first there had been a distinction between Dutch and Flemish art, owing to the different racial characteristics of the two peoples. The political union between the north and south provinces up to the time of the abdication of Emperor Charles V had been merely one of being under the same ruler, but did not establish any amenities or much intercourse between the various districts. The South, or Flanders, with its Gallic blood, leaned towards and soon succumbed to the Roman influences of its Latin affiliations. The North, or Holland, of the Teutonic race, always voiced its spirit and manifested its individuality. The kernel of distinction may well be summed up in the statement that the Flemings, as did the Italians, painted for churches and the palaces of the rich, the Dutch painted for the home of the burgher. Not until the end of the seventeenth century did Dutch art succumb to outside influences, weakened and decayed.
We have seen some of the Dutch works of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but with the beginning of the seventeenth century the golden age dawned in Dutch art. A score of years before Rembrandt, the greatest master, Frans Hals (1584-1666) was born, who may be ranked only second to Rembrandt.
Frans Hals was foremost as a portraitist; even his delightful types of streetboys, bumboat women and topers are intrinsically character-portraits. He was a craftsman par excellence, succeeding by simple means to achieve the broadest results. He did not go into the mysteries of chiaroscuro, and was content to surround his figures. with ordinary daylight, but therein acquired a sovereign control over local tones in which he is only rivalled by Velasquez.
Ten paintings which came from his hand enable us to study his work as comprehensively in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum as in Haarlem, where his large militia and regent groups are found, for they range here in date from 1616 to 1660. The earliest dated work is a replica, possibly by Dirk Hals, of an original by Frans, now in the United States. This is ” The Jolly Clover-leaf ” (801D), in which a merry Dutchman has a well-dressed girl on his knee, while another girl standing behind holds a wreath of sausages over his head. The faces form a trefoil of humourous good-nature and enjoyment.
From the years around 1625 we have two half-lengths of a young married couple (800-801) and of a young nobleman (801F), in rich velvet doublet, large black flap-hat, and immense lace-collar, who seems to be dissatisfied with the world but tries to make the best of it and the artist unmercifully depicts the little success he seems to have, for the disgruntled state of his mind is ludicrously more apparent than the man’s attempt at bonhommie. Also the ” Singing Boy” (801A), with a long feather in his cap, beating time with one hand, and a flute in the other to play the interludes, is a capital piece of character painting.
Two other portraits came a few years later, of a young man (766) and of the controversial preacher Johannes Acronius (767). They are equally broad in technique and expressive of vitality.
From the middle period of the artist, about 1635, is that popular group ” Nurse and Child ” (801G. Plate XXXIII). This little heiress of Ilpenstein, in its fine flowery Dutch baby-clothes, is just as typical and jolly as the peasant, who has been taken in at the castle as nurse-girl, is simple and good-natured, and rather in high feather that she may show the young Freule to the visitors.
The famous ” Hille Bobbe, the Witch of Haarlem” (801C) is a comic grotesque, for the large bright pewter tankard which she grasps is not as fleshcreeping as the bubbling pot of witchcraft. The name is an ancient misreading of a writing on the back of the original frame from Frans Hals’ own hand : ” Malle Babbe van Haarlem ” Foolish Barbara of Haarlem. A rather poor replica of this work is in the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
The most monumental portrait is that of Tyman Oosdorp (801H), a life-size, half-figure, of brusque appearance. It dates of 1656. The knee-piece, life-size, of an elderly man (801E) is one of his latest works, of 1660, and is in the thin painting of these later years, but as expressive, as sure of touch, and, if anything, more refined than the earlier work.
In this room we find also two examples by Gerard Terborch (1617-1681), ” Paternal Advice ” (791) and ” The Scissors Grinder ” (793). The title of Paternal Advice was given by Goethe when he de-scribed this picture, but it is very doubtful whether Terborch intended to tell a story. It is plainly a genre painting of some people meeting for an afternoon liqueur and gossip, and intended to show the fine interior of a burgherhome and the shotted silk of the dress of the lady who stands with her back towards us. The ” Scissors Grinder ” is a genre which the aristocratic painter did not often select. A ruinous looking brick cabin flanks a courtyard with sheds, and the workman is busy grinding a tool for the farmer who lounges against a post. The farmer’s wife is combing her child’s hair. The detail, especially the painting of the weathered boards and crumbling masonry is masterly done, and the whole is bathed in a sunny colourscheme, which proves the artist to have been as much a master of outdoor effects as of interiors.
In Cabinet 58 we find a large portrait (753), by Paul Moreelse (1571-1638), one of the group of portrait painters just preceding Rembrandt, of which Ravenstein, Mierevelt and de Keyzer were members. By Thomas de Keyzer (1596-1667) we find a family group (750), all the members stately dressed in black, seated and standing around a green-covered table. Also. the portrait of an old lady (743), by J. G. Cuyp (1594-1651) is a deft and intimate presentation of a burgher vrouw.
A rarity is found here in two landscapes by Adriaen van de Venne (1589-1662), a man of whom not many works are in existence. He filled a place in Dutch art which Velvet Breughel occupied in Flanders, with this difference that van de Venne’s paintings of landscapes with little figures are more expressive, fresher and cooler, while Breughel’s little figures are often slurred, and his colour is dryer and hotter. The two landscapes ” Summer” (741A) and ” Winter (741B), by van de Venne, give two realistic rural scenes expressive of the seasons, Summer with travellers on the road, surrounded by beggars, and hunters crossing a brook, Winter with skaters enjoying themselves on the ice of a river with snowy banks and a white-robed city in the distance.
Two other landscape painters of note were van Goyen and Salomon van Ruysdael. Jan van Goyen (1596-1656) was a man of the greatest individual expression, who painted his Holland as he saw it, regardless of any principle of composition villages, dunes, or cities by the riverbanks, with a wide blue sky overhead and air to breathe. Such landscapes are his ” View of Arnhem ” (865D) and ” The Dunes ” (865). Of Salomon van Ruysdael (1600-1670) we have a view of the mouth of a river (901A), and two scenes of the flat country of North Holland (901B,C),one from his earlier years when he followed the style of Esaias van de Velde, the other, twenty-five years later, in which the influence of his nephew Jacob is easily discernible.
The large number of other paintings of the so-called Little Masters will be seen after we have first examined the next cabinet, exclusively devoted to the works of the ” King of Painters.”
ROOM 57 – REMBRANDT
We need not be surprised that the Kaiser Fried-rich Museum of Berlin is the place to study comprehensively and completely the works of Rembrandt (1606-1669), covering his entire creative period, from 1627 to 1667. For Dr. Wilhelm Bode, the greatest Rembrandt student, is in charge, and his scholarship has contributed to the selection of almost half of the twenty-two works assembled here. Most of the others came from the royal castles in 1821, where not a few had been since 1676, when the estate of the Prince of Orange was divided.
For a critical study of the life and works of the grand-master of painting I must refer to the chapter on Rembrandt in my book on ” The Art of the Netherland Galleries.” It must suffice here to point out that in all the periods of his art the master reached the same height. There is little or no development in his work. He often changed his method but always it was at the same height of supreme excellence the work of a genius. His earliest important work, the ” Anatomy Lesson ” of 1628, and ” The Syndics ” of 1660, painted in the same refined manner, are equal in artistic value, and could be exchanged as to dates. There is a cosmic unity in his work despite the marvellous extent of his creative genius.
Two self-portraits of 1633 and 1634 are like the many portraits he painted of himself about sixty times not so much intended to perpetuate his features but because in his own person he had always a ready model to give an artistic presentment of the human face and form in light-effect and drapery. Likeness of features was to him a minor consideration in his own case. The portrait of 1633 (808. Plate XXXIV) has long hair, a velvet hat with green feather, a steel gorget and a golden chain over a grey mantle. That of 1634 (810) has a black barette, brown mantle, fur collar and green neckerchief. The features in both are those of a strongly self-reliant man in which the trait of a kindly disposition is not obliterated.
This indifference for the face except as a piece of painting is noticeable in the portrait of the “Man with the Golden Helmet” (811A). His elder brother, who had taken over his father’s flour-mill in Leyden and after hard work had failed, had come to his rich painter brother in Amsterdam about 1650 for help, and the artist had used him as a model, principally to put on his head the golden helmet which he had among his curiosities. And the marvellous contrast between the magnificent headpiece and the rugged features of a hard-worked man does not give us so much a family picture as the document of a grizzly old warrior. But how much did Rembrandt love to paint that bright, mirroring, embossed helmet, emphasized by the red touch of velvet and contrasted with the dull tones of the withered skin.
The portrait of his wife Saskia (812) was finished in 1643, the year after she died. It is a memorial in which the master depicted in loving remembrance the features of one who had been his greatest joy. He bedecks her with all the pearls and jewels which he had bought for her adornment, and a gentle smile plays over her lips that recalls to him the sweetness of her disposition.
Hendrikje Stoffels was the friend and comfort of his later years. The finest portrait whereby we know her is the one before us (828B). She had come in Rembrandt’s household in 1647 as a plain servant girl from the country to take care of the young boy Titus. She went through the financial stress which worried her master all through the fifties, and she became to him all a woman could be. Rembrandt could not marry her, because he could not loose the usufruct of Saskia’s inheritance, nor would it have been possible for him to make restitution to Titus of the principal, which in the case of a second marriage he would have been obliged to do. The Church-consistory cited her and excommunicated her, but Hendrikje faithfully remained with Rembrandt as wife, nurse, helpmeet a martyr and a heroine for love’s sake. Well did the master place the wedding-ring which she could not wear on her finger on a ribbon around her neck, as she is looking out of the window, her right hand leaning against the casemate, and her left arm resting on the sill. It is a round full face of a simple, well-meaning charm.
The most imposing portrait group is the famous double-portrait of the ” Mennonite (Baptist) Preacher Anslo and his Wife ” (828L). The clergyman has just returned from the street and is seated at his study-table, still with mantle and hat on, relating something to his wife, a most charming, prim looking, middle-aged lady, with white coif and fluted lace collar.
In connection with this painting I would digress a moment to propound a theory, which may sound paradoxical, but which controverts much that is taught in art schools and written in art criticism.
One of the supreme excellences found in all the works of Rembrandt is his composition and this is generally understood to mean a deliberate arranging and composing of the divisions of the picture, the placing of its light-spots and shadow-masses, the flow of its demarking lines, the centre of interest and subsidiary detail, and various other phraseological minutiae, dear to the heart of academic instructors and Raphael imitators.
The matter of ” Composition ” is much discussed as a foundation principle of art. It is almost raised to the dignity of being a science, with precepts and directions as rigid as the rule of three. Books have been written on the subject, giving lines and measurements and intricate designs.
Flatly there is no such a thing as composition, in the sense of an acquired and developed dexterity, to be taught and to be learned. Composition is merely the manifestation of a sense of balance, of equilibrium in the artist. He must possess what among artisans is called a ” carpenter’s eye.” An eye that not only sees but feels right proportions, and not only copies from nature but instinctively adjusts nature so that the masses will balance and the lines not conflict. In the infancy of art some extraneous rules were laid down, and we had the classic lines of Mantegna, the architectural setting of the early Florentines, the pyramid form of Fra Bartolommeo, even followed by Raphael but great art is inspired. and does not go by rote.
A proof of this we find in some of the greatest works of the English school, where the academic catchwords “centre of interest,” “unity of de-sign” are ignominiously ignored. For instance, Turner’s ” Fighting Temeraire ” can be cut in half and make two complete pictures which is a heinous offence against the rules of composition yet, the Fighting Temeraire is a marvellous unit of surpassing splendour and power. And the same we find in all the works of Rembrandt. There is an utter absence of the sense of composing remember the mixed groups of his ” Nightwatch ” but his balance of form and of light and shade is absolutely perfect. In the Anslo portrait we find the figure of the man dominating the centre; the black dress of his wife, made positive by the white cap and collar, the face and hands, are to the right ; and to the left the table on which a reading-desk, a heavy folio and a brass candlestick, all receiving the light of an unseen window a perfect balance of harmonious values. All the works of Rembrandt, as well as the works of all the great masters, prove that we may only speak of composition as of a result, not as of a pons asinorum, a means to lead thereto. Composition cannot be taught, as mixing paint or holding the brush. It is one of the innate gifts that makes the artist. It is not subject to rules, but is a spontaneous expression of artistic genius. And that inborn gift was possessed by Rembrandt more consummate, more perfect, than by any artist who has ever lived.
Rembrandt’s portrayals of types have all the individual characterization of portraits. His ” Old Man with the Red Cap” (828J), the portrait of a ” Young Jew ” (828M), and of a ” Rabbi ” (828A) are fine examples of physiognomic observation, of a broad, sure handling of the brush, and a magic management of light-effects.
The majority of Rembrandt’s historical paintings are of scriptural subjects, and by preference of the Old Testament. Like all the religious pictures of the Dutch school they were not designed for churches, as with the Italians and Flemings, but for the home. And, again, not there for devotional purposes, but as reverent reminders of the sacred story. To make these presentations more intimate and useful for ethical application they were dressed in the garb of popular conditions humanized, not spiritualized.
We find here a number of these sacred themes. The “Vision of Daniel” (828F), the “Good Samaritan” (812B), Potiphar’s Wife accusing Joseph” (828H), ” Susannah and the Elders” (828E), ” Joseph’s Dream” (806), ” John the Baptist Preaching” (828K), and “Tobith’s Wife with the stolen Goat” (805) they are all presentations which may not lead us to worship, but surely will make us think of the lessons these incidents teach.
Rooms 56, 54, 53, 55, 52 DUTCH PAINTINGS OF THE 17TH CENTURY
The series of galleries which we will visit in the order above indicated contains the works of many of the important painters of the golden age of Dutch art, notably of the so-called Little Masters. In the last gallery we will find still a half dozen additional works by Rembrandt, of his earliest and of his latest years. If the reader will refer to the floor plan of the Gallery which appears on page five he will find Gallery 61 indicated; this Gallery, however, is filled with a loan collection, only temporarily exhibited, so that we cannot spare the space for a description of its contents.
The first name to be mentioned on entering Cabinet 56 is of Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-1682), one of the greatest landscapists of that century.
Ruisdael, Hobbema, van Goyen, and Aelbert Cuyp were the creators of pure landscape art. They were the first who developed the searching of the few Italian landscapists and of Claude Lorrain with their striving for idealization or classic effects, and who revealed the true inwardness of nature. They were the first to understand fully and to reflect clearly the peculiar poetry of landscape and their inspiration produced Constable, Barbizon, and the modern Dutchman. They painted simple, uniform landscapes, which entrance by the lively play of light and shade, colour and tone. They were the first sky-painters but then, no country has skies like Holland, their cloudmasses, their manifold form and colour, the effect of bursting sunrays and chasing shadows. Nature was not only seen by these men, but its intimate life was felt by them, and reproduced with a sympathy that none had ever expressed.
To this sympathy Jacob Ruisdael added grandeur, his colour rose to dramatic power. Twelve examples here show him in every phase of his expressive genius, from the earlier works of Dutch scenery to the later works when to catch the popular taste he followed van Everdingen’s example and painted rocks and waterfalls. Some of his paintings are views of dunes and bleaching-grounds such as he saw in his youthful years near Haarlem. Here he shows his mastery to give atmospheric life, the simple clearness and wonderful freshness of these flat stretches seen from the eminence of the dunes. But even early his melancholy disposition made him turn to solitude and sombreness, and we have the ” Oakforest ” (885G) with its pool in the hollow, on which water lilies float; the lonely hut under the heavy oaks (899C), heavily clouded over, and sad in feeling; and the ” Ruins in the Woods ” (884B). The ” Village in the Woods ” (884A) is more tense in expression with its angry sky, riven by lightning. A ” View of the Dam in Amsterdam ” (885D) has that silvery tone which sometimes lightens up his later works.
An exceedingly rare example is one of the few marines Ruisdael painted. This is a view of the ” Y before Amsterdam ” (884), which in his time was an arm of the Zuiderzee but now narrowed to a canal. The choppy waves and the towering, rolling sky ; the white spray churned up by the brown-sailed fishing smacks, the keeling vessels farther back, all shows the heavy weather that is blowing. The towers of Amsterdam are seen in the distance on the right. One of his last works is the ” Waterfall ” (899A), not a roaring torrent as van Everdingen used to paint, but a broad stream that narrows in the middle distance and breaks over jutting rocks. Still he seems to awaken strings that yield wild, broken music among the rugged trees.
The ” Wooded Landscape ” (886), by Meindert Hobbema (1638-1709), is one of his quiet, deeply felt scenes of trees and sky. It is difficult to choose between Ruisdael and Hobbema, for the work of each has supreme quality. The personal mood of the spectator will have much to do with awarding the palm, for Ruisdael appeals with his stern strength, Hobbema with his serene calm.
Aelbert Cuyp (1620-1698), the Dordrecht painter of polders, meadows and streams, with cattle and peasants, was the first painter of sun-light as it filters through the moist atmosphere of the lowlands. Four such scenes are depicted by him, whereof the ” River Landscape ” (861B)- is one of his masterpieces. Also the ” Farm ” (922C), by Adriaen van de Velde (1636-1672), is a masterpiece of that thorough landscapist, while his ” River Landscape ” (922B), with its reflections in the water of trees, a farmhouse and a fine white horse, is especially attractive.
A beginning is made in this cabinet, 56, with the genre painters who are so well represented in the Museum. First, however, we note two portraits, by Govert Flinck (1615-1660), Rembrandt’s closest follower, of a young lady (813A), and by Bartholomeus van der Helst (1613-1670), also of a young girl (825A).
Jan Steen (1626-1679) is the jolly chronicler who leads us to the intimate life of burgher and boor. He introduces himself, seated in a summer-garden (795), enjoying a pickled herring, while his wife assists their young offspring to drink beer out of a huge tankard. A number of people are lounging about at the long wooden tables under the arbour regaling themselves. Also in the next cabinet, 53, which we now enter, we see one of his delightful gatherings. This time it is the ” Baptismal Feast” (795D), in the taproom of his hostelry for Steen also kept an inn where the family gathered around the cradle will soon join the revelry of the company at table in the rear of the room.
The greatest of the genre painters was undoubtedly Jan Vermeer van Delft (1632-1675). His play of light, whether out-of-doors or in an interior, is the essence of refinement and delicacy. First we note his “Lady with the Pearl-necklace” (912B. Plate XXXV). The full signature on this painting was one of the means whereby Thoreau rediscovered, a generation ago, this master who had dropped entirely out of historical records and was an unknown man, whose few existent works, about thirty-five in all, were ascribed to other painters of his school.
Against a pale grey background the figure of the young woman stands as she fastens about her throat a necklace of pearls. She wears a canary yellow jacket bordered with ermine, and a grey skirt. In her blond hair a red ribbon is tied. Light streams through a window in the back part of the picture, touching the folds of the saffron coloured curtain hanging beside it, falling on the face and upper part of the figure of the lady, illumining the wall, and so permeating the atmosphere that even in the shadows the colours are blended in a wonderful harmony.
His other example is an interior with a ” Lady and Gentleman ” (912C), with most exquisite tenderest gradations of silvery light pervading the handsome sittingroom in which the light streams through a half-open, leaded window.
The man who in refinement of feeling stands next to Vermeer was Gerard Terborch, of whom we saw two paintings in Room 59. He excels in painting textures, and while his light is not so fascinatingly plein air as with Vermeer, it is still lovingly graded. Terborch’s colour, though some-what heavier, is still of exquisite harmony. A number of his cabinetpieces are found here, some of his later works of fashionable folks, others of his earlier Haarlem period of more unconventional types. ” A Young Married Couple ” (791H), the “Concert” (791G), the ” Doctor’s Visit ” (791C), the ” Smoker ” (791F), together with a few portraits are found here and in cabinet 54.
The one who stands on a par with Steen, Terborch, and Vermeer is Pieter de Hooch (1629-1677), famous for his contrasts of interior and exterior light in the same composition. His “Mother ” (820B) has that perspective of rooms whereby his highest attainment of light-management is demonstrated. The young mother is seated by the cradle in front of the usual Dutch bedstead built like a closet in the wall, and through a door at the side of the bed we look into an entry and the corner of another room, with a larger window and more brightly lit. De Hooch showed as much love of detail and perfection of painting stillife as Dou or any other of the Little Masters. In his “Company of Officers and Ladies ” (1401) he depicted one of those social conversation pieces so beloved by the Hollanders of his day.
The last of the genre painters who, alas, in his later years succumbed to the Frenchified taste of the time, was Nicolaas Maes (1632-1693). His ” Peeling Apples ” (819 C. Plate XXXVI) is one of those types of old women which he loved to paint, and which, in technique, are fully under Rembrandt’s influence. Still there is an individual conception in his work, even when he comes nearest to his master, which endears him to the art lover. Surely there is nothing more captivating than the placid old soul who sits there at the window, with her open bible on the sill, with her spinning-wheel, and the cruse in the niche in the wall.
Also the work of Jan van der Heyden (1637-1712), the best architectural painter, hangs here, with a view of a street before the Haarlem gate of Amsterdam (1623) ; as well as some poultry (876A), by Melchior d’Hondecoeter (1636-1695), and Stillife (948D, F), by Willem Kalf (1621-1693)’.
We have now reached Gallery 52, which still contains works of the same period. First we note a half dozen works by Rembrandt, for which no room was found in cabinet 58. We halt before his earliest known picture, painted in 1627, when the artist was but twenty-one years old. This is ” The Money-changer ” (828D ), also called the ” Antiquary,” which has all the broadness of treatment and powerful chiaroscuro of his later years. Of the next year we have ” Samson and Delilah ” (812A), a different treatment of the subject from the large one in the Count Schönborn Collection in Vienna. An interesting composition is another Samson picture, ” Samson threatens his Father-in-law ” (802). Samson stands in rich oriental costume before a house and shakes his clenched fist at his father-in-law who. is putting his head out of a window to see what disturbance is being made. The old man’s face shows his hypocritical regret and commiseration when he exclaims, ” I thought you had quarrelled and I gave her to one of your companions.” It is an amusing coincidence that this picture was painted in 1635, or the year after Rembrandt married Saskia, and it may have been a humourous reflection on .the antagonism which he had to overcome during the time of his courtship from the side of the Uylenborch family.
Although Rembrandt had not been long in the Latin school of Leyden which he attended, he did not quite forget the Greek mythology which was taught there, and when he settled in Amsterdam and heard that the cultured classes were interested in classic studies and enjoyed having something Greek in their rooms, he painted several mythological subjects. Of these we find here ” The Rape of Proserpina ” (823). But his mythology is as burlesque as Shakespeare’s ” Troilus and Cressida,” and the Homeric idylism becomes with him very realistic. There is nothing simpering about this elopement, for the strong-muscled Dutch maiden claws her abductor with great energy, while the fiery steeds plunge and drag the cart along at a furious gait.
Two works of his latest years still remain, “Moses breaking the Tables of the Law ” (811), of 1659, and Jacob struggling with the Angel ” (828), of the next year. Both have a strong pathetic feeling. Of his closest pupil Govert Flinck we have a “Casting out of Hagar (815), which in composition, light-effect, and brushwork shows the schooling he had. A somewhat earlier man was Nicolaes Elias (1590-1653), who was more in harmony with de Keyzer, Ravenstein, Moreelse, and the rest of that early group. His two full-length portraits of Cornelis de Graef, burgomaster of Amsterdam (753A), and of his wife (753B) are faithful and convincing. In the same style is the double-portrait of a nobleman and his wife (858), by Abraham van den Tempel (1622-1672).
Among the landscapes we single out a ” Spring ” (861G), by Aelbert Cuyp, and a characteristic ” Moonlight” (842), by Aert van der Neer (1603-1677). Also two of the latter’s conflagrations (840, 840A) are to be seen here. Several excellent landscapes with figures, among which the horses play an important part, are by Philip Wouwerman 0619-1668), and a mythological scene, ” Amarillis hands the Prize to Myrtill ” (956), an illustration of an Italian romance of the period, is by Cornelis
Poelenburgh (1586-1667), one who had too much leaning towards Elsheimer’s Italian manner to be considered a pure native painter.
ROOM 51 – ADOLF THIEM COLLECTION, AND FLEMISH PAINTINGS
The Thiem Collection is noteworthy for its many examples of the Netherland schools of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, by men whose works we have already studied elsewhere. The long left wall is entirely given to many Flemish paintings, an overflow from the Flemish cabinets.
There are several works by David Teniers the Younger (16104690), one of which is a portrait-group of the artist and his family (857), seated on the terrace of his country place, while the artist is playing the cello. The ” Backgammon Players ” (856), the ” Guardroom ” (866F) and the ” Flemish Kirmess” (866C) are examples of his tavern scenes, full of peasant types and jollity; while the ” Temptation of St. Anthony ” (859) and the ” Tortures of the Rich in Purgatory ” (866D) are replete with the fanciful, grotesque creations in which he followed Hieronymus Bosch.
Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678), the brusque, often somewhat coarse painter of the Rubens school,,-exemplifies in his ” Jolly Company ” (879), his conception of the old Flemish adage : ” As the old sing, the young peep,” by having grown-ups and children gathered around a table, loaded with drinks and eatables, joining in song to the tunes of a bagpipe player.
The stately, dignified portrait of the Marchesa Geronima Spinola (787A), by Anton van Dyck, is somewhat out of place among all these scenes of frivolity and levity. Several stillives by Jan Fyt (1611-1661), and by Frans Snyders (1579-1657) are also on this long wall.
On the little wall near the exit we find a few Flemish Primitives, a ” Madonna with the Child ” (529D), by Hans Memlinc, and ” Christ in the House of Simon ” (533A), by an unknown artist of that period.
( Originally Published 1912 )
The Art of The Berlin Galleries:Rooms 41, 44, 43. Venetian Paintings Of The 15th CenturyRoom 42 – Venetian And Lombard Sculpture, And Venetian PaintingsRoom 39collection James SimonRoom 45 – Florentine Paintings Of The 16th CenturyThe Spanish PaintingsThe French PaintingsThe English PaintingsThe German PaintingsThe Dutch And Flemish PaintingsThe Royal National GalleryRead More Articles About: The Art of The Berlin Galleries