This book is in many regards an extraordinary contribution to Dutch art history. It is the product of nearly fifty years’ of engagement with Cornelis van Haarlem, the gifted painter whose twenty-year association with Karel van Mander and Hendrick Goltzius was a driving force for Late Mannerism in the Netherlands. The book is also beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated, placing it in an increasingly rare category in the current market of art historical publishing.
The author, Pieter van Thiel, now retired from the Rijksmuseum, recalls becoming interested in Cornelis Cornelisz in the early 1950s. By his account, Frans Hals was seen as the demigod of Haarlem painters, while Cornelis was looked upon as an eccentric, misguided precursor. However, the work of Van Thiel and two other art historians would reverse this trend: Van Thiel’s doctoraal scriptie on Cornelis van Haarlem (Amsterdam, 1959) was completed during the same period as the dissertation of his mentor E. K. J. Reznicek on Hendrick Goltzius (Utrecht, 1961) and that of Konrad Oberhuber on Spranger (Vienna, 1958). While the three scholars can be said to have resurrected artists of major significance for the late sixteenth century, Van Thiel had the farthest distance to go. Prior to Van Thiel’s publications, Cornelis van Haarlem had been the subject of only an early and very summary dissertation by Friedrich Wedekind (Leipzig, 1911).
For that reason, this monograph fills a chasm in modern scholarship on Dutch Late Mannerism. It does this very effectively, thanks to the author’s assiduous efforts in the areas of paintings and drawings connoisseurship and documentation. The assembled oeuvre contains over 300 paintings, of which thirty-three are known through written documentation but not through photographs. In addition, five painted modelli for prints have been located – testimony of a larger activity, as the catalogue lists twenty-three prints after this artist, published within and outside Holland. Although Van Thiel took care to publish on Cornelis’s drawings early on, in 1965, the number remains small: thirteen drawings in pen and ink or chalk, and seven studies in oil on paper. Supplementing the catalogue is a thirty-page list of other untraceable works referenced in inventories, sales catalogues and other documents, compiled from the resources in the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie and seven Dutch archives. The author has also included a long list of rejected attributions, as well as indices of subject matter, present and previous owners, and a general index. While the author acknowledges that his discussions of iconography and of the technical execution of paintings are incomplete, the notes and bibliographic references cite whatever studies have appeared in these areas.
The first chapter of the text that precedes the catalogue documents Cornelis van Haarlem’s evolving signature, as well as his genealogical background and biography. The second discusses his training, and his association with Karel van Mander and Hendrick Goltzius (once regarded as evidence for the foundation of a ‘Haarlem Academy’). Chapters that follow offer overviews of his paintings, print designs, drawings, pupils and workshop, and reputation (in effect a historiographical survey). The final chapter focusses on works that have drawn particular attention in recent scholarship: compositions made in collaboration with Hendrick Laurensz Spieghel and the paintings for the Haarlem Prinsenhof.
Van Thiel’s assessment of the artistic context of Haarlem in the 1580s reflects current art historical thought. He aptly frames Cornelis not “as a Mannerist, but as an adherent of sixteenth-century artistic theory, in particular as put forward by Karel van Mander” (p. 3). The collaborative efforts of Van Mander, Cornelis Cornelisz. and Goltzius to integrate theoretical ideas in their work are what Van Thiel deems the real contribution of these artists, and a satisfactory explanation for the later labelling of their collaboration as an ‘academy.’ Van Thiel comments further that “the real ambition of Van Mander and his colleagues has been pushed somewhat into the background by the attention paid by art historians to Haarlem Sprangerism, which seems to have been little more than a passing whim” (p. 5).
At the same time, however, material that Van Thiel has brought together would allow further reflection on notions of artistic creativity that are bound up in the elusive rhetoric of seventeenth century writers on art. A case in point is seen in Van Mander’s and Schrevelius’s references to drawing from “living and breathing antique sculptures,” and from “things which most nearly approached antiquity.” While these are read as oblique references to creating figures out of elements drawn from human models, in a Zeuxian sense, figure drawings made from models by the Haarlem circle and their followers are astonishingly rare. What Van Thiel is able to demonstrate instead is Cornelis’s integration of figural motifs from Michelangelo, Raphael, Maerten van Heemskerck and other sources, in images freely composed in his imagination. But sculptural source material could be also pursued further in connection with Cornelis Cornelisz. Van Thiel cites Anthony Radcliffe on the relationship between works by Goltzius and the sculptor Willem Danielsz Tetrode. [In fact, more extensive links between compositions of the Haarlem circle, artists’ drawings after Roman sculpture, and the bronzes of Tetrode, have been revealed in the recent exhibition catalogue by Stephen Goddard and James Ganz, Goltzius & the Third Dimension (Williamstown, 2001).] What is however missing from Van Thiel’s discussion is some consideration of the large collection of plaster, wax and clay sculptures left behind as part of Cornelis’s estate, and listed on pp. 270-272. Surely these testify to the artist’s regular practice of working from three-dimensional models.
While the author has taken pains to determine visual sources and to connect versions of specific compositions, there are isolated cases in which comments might be redirected. In connection with Cornelis’s two paintings of the Massacre of the Innocents (1590, 1591; cats. 41, 42), Van Thiel cites two prints as having possibly “stimulated the artist’s inventiveness:” an engraving by Philips Galle after Frans Floris, and one by Aegidius Sadeler after Tintoretto (p. 80). However, while the first print might have been known to Cornelis Cornelisz., the second could not have – at least not by the time at which these early paintings were made. At its earliest, the Sadeler print would date to 1592 or 93, but as I have argued on the basis of its style (Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton, 1990), it must be much later (c.1620). Occasionally, too, concepts like ‘copy,’ and ‘variant’ are interchanged: e.g., catalogue no. 182, the Norton Simon painting of Venus and Mars, which is seen in reverse and with many altered details in a purported ‘copy’ (fig. 152; ‘whereabouts unknown’).
In reconstructing Cornelis van Haarlem’s career in large part (to my mind very successfully), Van Thiel pays close attention to the artist’s historiographic fortunes. The peak of Cornelis’s career was spent in the company of Goltzius and Van Mander, and gloriously reflected in Het Leven and in Schrevelius’s early monograph on Haarlem. However, Cornelis lived until 1639, long after the deaths of Goltzius and Van Mander, and seems to have undergone both a decline in the quality of his work and a parallel decline in reputation. Constantijn Huygens (1631) dismissed him in his Vita (c.1631): “In his own time he was considered a celebrity; that [his art] could have given pleasure in our time as well is something he would not have achieved easily” (p. 183). Later seventeenth-century biographers either drew material from Van Mander or omitted the artist altogether.
However, the picture of Cornelis van Haarlem that emerges from Van Thiel’s monograph also provides visual evidence to the contrary. Cornelis transmitted ideas in the form of subject matter to early seventeenth-century artists: not only to the history painters Joachim Uytewael and Abraham Bloemart, as the author indicates, but also the Utrecht painters who are often narrowly classified as followers of Caravaggio, as well as the young Rembrandt and Jan Lievens. Cornelis van Haarlem’s multiple compositions of Democritus and Heraclitus, of tronies, and of couples, both harmonious and ill-matched, must have provided fodder for that ‘Golden Age’ generation.
St. Lawrence University