Cornelis van Poelenburch frequently signed his works Poelenburch or van Poelenburch but more often with the monogram C.P. Born in Utrecht between January 21, 1594 and January 21, 1595, he was the illegitimate son of an apparently well-to-do family. His father, nothing less than canon at Utrecht cathedral, died as early as January 6, 1596. Most probably Cornelis studied between 1607 and 1611 with Abraham Bloemaert, a Catholic like himself. Certain is his visit to Rome in 1617 where he stayed no longer than the beginning of 1627, and where as a member of the Bentvueghels he was known as cornelis van Wtrech Alias Satir and Cornelius poulenburc Alias Satiro, sobriquets most likely inspired by his bacchic and arcadian subjects. A visit to Florence is documented before 1621. (Poelenburch’s topographical drawings Bastille on the Banks of the Rhine in my view may indicate his route to or from Italy.) There are differing assumptions about the year of Poelenburch’s return to Utrecht, which may have occurred as early as before 1625, but definitely no later than the beginning of 1627. On May 30, 1629 he married Jacomina van Steenre. Courtly commissions since 1627 by the States of Utrecht for and by the Winter King Frederick V and his wife, Elizabeth Stuart who, having been driven out of Bohemia, were residing at The Hague since 1621, paved the way to London. In 1637 King Charles I, brother of Elizabeth Stuart, invited Cornelis to England where he remained, with brief interruptions, until 1641. Back in Utrecht at the beginning of 1642, he lived together with his wife at Oude Munsterkerkhof until his death in 1667.
The present publication is the fruit of its author’s long engagement with Poelenburch, one reaching back to a 1984 proefschrift carried out under the supervision of Anton W.A. Boschloo and Albert Blankert. The book begins with an account of the literature devoted to Poelenburch and his reception over the past centuries. This part is followed by a biographical account, an assessment of Cornelis’s position in the art market in the seventeenth century, and an overview of landscape painting from ca. 1590-1620. The final chapter treats issues pertaining to attribution, dating, chronology, and subject matter. The volume includes an extensive catalogue of Poelenburch’s paintings.
The book throws light upon Poelenburch’s Italian and Netherlandish patrons, which include several Roman cardinals, Grand Duke Cosimo II de’ Medici in Florence, the Dutch stadholder Frederik Hendrik and his consort Amalia von Solms, King Frederick V and his wife, Elizabeth Stuart, King Charles I of England, and Baron Willem Vincent van Wyttenhorst and his wife Wilhelmina (who in their residence in Utrecht had 57 paintings by Poelenburch). Especially revealing is the information about the prices of these acquisitions, multi-figure paintings of biblical or mythological subjects being the most expensive.
The catalogue of 290 paintings is divided into following subjects: 1-96 religious; 97-148 mythological; 149-158 classical history and literature; 159-186 landscapes with nymphs; 187-243 landscapes [with small-figure staffage]; 244-290 portraits and miscellaneous. Accordingly, Poelenburch is categorized as a cabinet painter whose smallest painting measures 9 x 5 cm, the largest 66 x 85 cm. Among the smallest paintings should be counted the very individualistic bust and half-length portraits as well as the pictures on the drawers of an elaborately decorated cabinet once in the possession of Alethea Talbot, Countess of Arundel, perhaps a gift from Elizabeth Stuart in 1636. 40% of the 290 accepted pictures are on panel, only three on canvas, with copper the most favored medium. Infrared-reflectography examination of Poelenburch’s paintings as well as an earlier study on the collaboration between Poelenburch and Alexander Keirincx (N. Sluijter-Seijffert and M. Wolters in Oud Holland, 121, 2009) reveal that the artist rarely used chalk for his underdrawings of landscapes but laid down his compositions with the brush and thin glazes which cannot be detected with IRR. Sluijter-Seijffert’s assertion that Cornelis inserted his figures into ready-made landscapes is surprising in view of the practice by Flemish small-scale figure painters of placing staffage into reserved, limited areas of their panels and canvases.
Since the collaboration between landscape and small-figure painters in the Northern Netherlands was relatively rare, it is possible that Poelenburch indeed set his staffage figures into finished landscapes, which however would not permit the term collaboration. For the present reviewer who is working on an oeuvre catalogue of the Flemish painter Alexander Keirincx (1600-1652), a specialist in forest landscapes, the statement that Poelenburch often collaborated with Keirincx was of special importance. The latter, a pupil of Abraham Govaerts in Antwerp, resided in Amsterdam from 1632 until his death in 1652, interrupted by a period in London from 1637 to 1641, when he lived next door to Poelenburch. Both painters were then receiving support from Charles I. Earlier the two artists were in contact with Frederik Hendrik and Amalia von Solms in whose private apartments hung three landscapes by Keirincx with “naakte vrouwtjes” by Poelenburch, as we learn from the stadholder’s inventory. Sluijter-Seijffert lists more than seventeen paintings with small figures in “mannerist old fashioned style“ with landscapes by Keirincx; more are documented in inventories. In addition, it is of particular interest to encounter also the list of works by other specialist painters with figures by Poelenburch: Bartholomäus van Bassen, Jan Both, Dirk van Delen, Nicolaes de Giselaer, Willem de Heusch, Charles de Hooch, Alexander Keirincx, Herman Saftleven, Roelant Savery, Hendrik van Steenwijck II, J. Ph. Van Thielen, Adam Willaerts und Cornelis Adamsz Willaerts (Appendix V, 184-288). Poelenburch also inserted into Potter’s fourteen-part painting his own Diana and Actaeon (cat. 141).
Beyond the 290 autograph works listed in the catalogue, we find many pictures in inventories described as painted in Poelenburch’s manner. His pupils are first mentioned in Houbraken’s Groote schouburgh of 1753; in vol. I, Dirk van der Lisse, Daniel Vertangen, François Verwilt, Warnard van Rysen, his “nephew” Willem van Steenree, and in vol. III, Johan van Haensbergen, who devoted himself exclusively to portraiture after the 1660s. Cornelis’s best pupil was without a doubt Dirk van der Lisse (1607-1669).
Especially revealing are numerous ricordi done by assistants in red chalk which not only record compositions but apparently were intended for the art market. Sluijter-Seijffert’s brief and succinct characterizations of subjects, techniques and styles of Poelenburch’s pupils and followers, Cornelis Willaerts, Jan Linsen, Toussaint Gelton, Claes Tol, Gerrit van Bronckhorst, Abraham van Cuylenborch, and Gerard Hoet I, help to establish the difference between pupil and master. The author’s conclusion that for several decades there flourished a Poelenburch school of classically inspired Italianate landscapes with satyrs and nymphs in ruins and grottos with little differences in stylistic characteristics is convincing. Poelenburch’s Italian experience, as Sluijter-Seijffert argues in detail, especially his familiarity with landscape painting from Rome and Florence of the 1590s to 1620s by Bril, the Carracci, Elsheimer, Saraceni, Tassi, Filippo Napoletano and the Netherlandish Italianates from Haarlem and Utrecht, resulted in his brightly lit, broad landscapes, sometimes suffused with pink light.
Cornelis van Poelenburch, 1594/5-1667: The Paintings, is an illuminating, clearly structured and definitive monograph on the artist, enriched by the publication of relevant early inventories, by a catalogue raisonné of the paintings by and after Cornelis van Poelenburch up to 1750, and by an index of names of persons and works of art.
(Translated by Kristin Belkin)