Abraham Bloemaert stands apart from artists of the Dutch Baroque for his remarkable career of over six decades. During that career, Bloemaert evolved from being one of the foremost Dutch mannerists, celebrated by Van Mander in 1604 as the ‘flower (bloem) of painting,’ to a major figure of the Utrecht School and, further, the provider of many Catholic altarpieces for both the Southern and Northern Netherlands, works that show a full assimilation of current trends in Flemish art. An important teacher of Dutch painters, he also authored a manual on drawing. Finally, Bloemaert was a leading court artist as well, producing elegant paintings of a variety of subjects for Frederik Hendrik and Amalia von Solms.
Despite Bloemaert’s importance among his contemporaries, remarkably little had been published on him, from the time of Gustav Delbanco’s brief catalogue from 1928, until the major monograph on the Bloemaert family by Marcel Roethlisberger and Marten Jan Bok(Abraham Bloemaert and his Sons, 2 vols., Dornspijk: Davaco, 1993). Gero Seelig’s book is in certain ways a response to the larger monograph, most importantly in providing in-depth studies of particular clusters of paintings within the extensive oeuvre. One of the foci of this book is a deeper evaluation of Bloemaert’s position vis-à-vis the Utrecht Caravaggists and his role in Utrecht landscape painting. Another chapter of the book is devoted to Bloemaert’s works at the Hague Court, seen in connection with those of Gerrit van Honthorst. Two other chapters investigate the group of altarpieces painted for Catholic Churches in the Southern Netherlands, as well as those made for the Dutch ‘hidden chapels’, of which few traces exist today. A review of current knowledge regarding those chapels is one of many useful discussions offered by these chapters. In bringing together the Catholic commissions, as well as the commissions for the Hague Court, the author seeks to strengthen arguments made earlier by scholars like John Michael Montias, Gary Schwartz and Martin Jan Bok. Namely, extant and documented works made on commission break with the stereotypical notion that Dutch artists chiefly worked for an ‘open market’ of collectors rather than patrons.
Seelig’s book is thorough in its research and rich in insights. This is seen throughout the text, from the review of sources and the state of research in the first chapter, to the sections which may represent his most significant contributions: the chapters on Catholic works and the discussion, which threads its way through the book, of the influences of particular types of commissions on Bloemaert’s stylistic and iconographic evolution.
The appendix lists a document discovered by the author (to be added to those compiled by Bok), followed by lists of dated, undated and lost paintings, and questionable attributions. Throughout these lists, the author imposes his own numbering system, adding to those of Roethlisberger and Delbanco. A concordance with the Roethlisberger numbers is, however, included several pages later. Six of the records of lost works appear to be additions to the Roethlisberger/Bok catalogue, and a few formerly accepted works are here included among the problematic group.
This book is rooted in the author’s dissertation, and its published format reflects that genre of academic writing in Germany. Nonetheless, given the variety of issues that surface in its pages, and their variable relationship to chapter headings, the book would be well served by a subject index. Its one index lists individuals named in the text. Further, except for the drawing represented on the dust jacket, all illustrations are in black and white. This is fully understandable, as color printing costs are now prohibitive for the academic market. As a result, however, the book has none of the sumptuousness of Roethlisberger’s publication – but then again, it is a very different, far more focussed study.
St. Lawrence University