To review a pictorial handbook is not easy. This volume provides the equivalent of what P.J.J. van Thiel and the Rijksmuseum produced a generation ago, All the Paintings of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam(1976): a full pictorial roster of images – good, bad, and indifferent – in a major Dutch paintings collection. Coincidentally that same year, 1976, saw the founding of the Catharine Convent Museum in Utrecht as the national museum of religious culture in the Netherlands, formed out of three core collections: Bisschoppelijk Museum (Haarlem), Aartsbisschoppelijk Museum and Oude Katholiek Museum (both in Utrecht), to which was added the Stichting Protestantse Kerkelijke Kunst and significant loans of religious art from other major Dutch museums. In addition to the paintings in this catalogue, a number of liturgical objects are on view in the Utrecht installation, which forms a rare blend of historically minded art historical presentation, as if a fusion of the Rijksmuseum with the Amsterdam Historical Museum. Images in the Catharijneconvent span a period from the mid-thriteenth century through the twentieth.
Quite a few big names punctuate the collection, making more than a sampling of religious subjects and pictorial types. Perhaps the most striking images in the collection are Geergen tot Sint Jans’s Man of Sorrows (c. 1490 according to the catalogue) and a latter-day rediscovery, Rembrandt’s early (1626) Baptism of the Eunuch, a work published by museum conservator Henri Defoer in 1977. Another highlight, revealing the transition from Catholic to Protestant during the early years of the Dutch Revolt is a key work by Marten de Vos, Moses with the Tables of the Law (c. 1575), where the crowd of Hebrews consists of portraits historiés of the Antwerp family Panhuys. This catalogue provides the full transcription of texts on this important, if understudied picture, thus permitting further scholarship beyond its prior display as the cover image of the contextual 1986 Catharijneconvent exhibition of religious art during a year devoted to the period of Iconoclasm: P. Dirkse, R.P. Zijp, Ketters en papen onder Filips II. This lack of discrimination between the Northern and Southern Netherlands offers a welcome suspension of the anachronism of separating regions by modern Holland and Belgium.
Even with the presence of workshop imges and copies, some important artists can be seen in some depth. Fully six pictures derive from the enormous output of Pieter Coecke van Aelst (plus two others by the related Master of 1518), and a further four from Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen. Nine different images, including intact triptychs, stem from local son Jan van Scorel, whos oeuvre also forms a highlight of Utrecht’s Centraal Museum.
From the seventeenth century Thomas de Keyser provided both religious scenes and his more familiar portraits (of the Utrecht Remonstrant preacher, Carolus Niëllius and his wife; 1634) as well as a biblical scene with portraits historiés (1633). Indeed, portraits offer a serious segment of this religious collection, e.g. Michiel van Mierevelt’s images of Jacob Cats (1634) and Johannes van Wtenbogaert (c. 1635; copy). Besides the familiar “pre-Rembrandt” religious images of Claes Moyaert (God Appears to Abraham in Sichem, 1628), several portraits of identified sitters, ranging from 1631 to 1652 enhance our understanding of later contributions by the artist. In similar fashion, Pieter Franz de Grebber’s seven paintings from the 1630s and 1640s include both portraits and religious scenes. The Rembrandt circle is also well represented: Pieter Lastman (Crucifixion, 1625), Govert Flinck (Isaac Blessing Jacob, c. 1635), Ferdinand Bol (Sacrifice of Gideon, 1640), Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (Rebecca and Eliezer, 1662), and Arent de Gelder (Edna Blesses Tobias and Sara, c. 1705). At the turn of the eighteenth century, eight of Jacob de Wit’s religious works, including a splendid grisaille medallion (Ruth and Boas Surrounded by Orphans, 1745) show how Flemish classicizing could be practiced in Amsterdam.
Besides these important quantitative constituents, the collection also includes some other important and qualitative individual pieces, both familiar and novel. A remarkable large triptych of the Last Judgement with the Triumph of Death (c. 1550-55) by Hermann Tom Ring expands the geographical range into Westphalia amid revived Catholicism in Münster, almost the inverse of De Vos. Another portrait historié by Werner van den Valckert features the Preaching of John the Baptist (1623). Utrecht painters have prominent imagery: Baburen’s Crowning with Thorns (1622-23), Abraham Bloemaert’s Crucifixion(1629), Jan van Bijlert’s Calling of Matthew (1625-30). Neglected classical imagery can be seen in Cesar van Everdingen’s Holy Family(c. 1660), with a contemporary complement from Rubens’s circle in Abraham van Diepenbeeck’s Flagellation. Leading Haarlem painters include Salomon de Bray (Jael, Deborah and Barak, 1635), Pieter Saenredam (St. Lawrence at Alkmaar, 1635), and Frans Hals (Portrait of the Preacher Nicolaas Stenius, 1650).
Finally, a number of important religious works of varying kinds deserve mention. One major polyptych with glass paintings in its center and almost fifty separate scenes is devoted to the Martyrdom of St. Theodosia (1545). A full triptych epitaph, made for the Goes rederijker Matthis van der Straten (1555) and signed by Master Aegidius, is richly adorned with inscriptions and shows two simulated prints on the everyday side of its reverse. Several text panels of either the Ten Commandments with Moses (2 versions, S 45 and S 13) or “Solomon’s Prayer” (Proverbs 30; 1606) show later Calvinist emphasis on the Word. A large painted allegory, Triumph of Worldly Riches (Master LVC, 1663) loosely reprises the earlier didactic print by Maerten van Heemskerck (1564). Organ wings with the life of David (David Colijns, 1635-40) present an uncommon church furnishing of great importance throughout Dutch religious history.
Obviously such a work has tremendous scholarly potential. Emphasis of the individual entries is on provenance and literature with good transcription of texts but only passing references to thematic discussion, biography, or related images by the same artist. In short, this is a summary catalogue compared to the full discussions, e.g. the collection catalogues of the National Gallery, London or Washington, or the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt. Nonetheless, every student of Netherlandish art will be grateful for this valuable resource to an important but less familiar collection in Utrecht.
University of Pennsylvania