In 1517, upon the death of Bernard Flower, the first Netherlandish glazier to serve at the English court as the King’s Glazier, Henry VIII chose the Antwerp-trained Galyon Hone as Flower’s successor. At a time when Netherlandish craftsmanship carried considerable prestige for the English – dating back to Burgundian splendor of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries – Hone can be seen both as continuing an earlier tradition and anticipating the future. For he and his countrymen were sought after precisely because their production of glass in a narrative pictorial mode contrasted so sharply with the late Gothic styles (and techniques) of their English counterparts. In the 1520s, Hone worked at the palace in Guisnes near Calais in connection with the meeting and jousts between Henry and Francis I. He glazed windows at Eton College Chapel, Hampton Court Chapel, and King’s College Chapel at Cambridge. Yet despite this level of patronage, Hone still faced challenges as a member of a foreign community practicing his trade in England. The Worshipful Company of Glaziers resented this alien presence and did their best to complicate the lives of these rivals. The Act of 1523 extended the authority of the City to enforce guild regulations across the Thames to Southwark and even weakened the liberties that came with an official denizen status (conferred by the Crown, the designation granted full residency rights, apart from the ability to inherit land). Hone, unusually, evaded the guild’s authority: he took up residency and moved his studio to St. Thomas’s Hospital, whose Church control was exempt from the City’s regulations (at least until the dissolution of the hospital in 1540).
Mary Bryan H. Curd recounts the Hone story in her second chapter of Flemish and Dutch Artists in Early Modern England: Collaboration and Competition, 1460-1680. One of five case studies (an illuminated manuscript, glass, tapestries, portraits, and prints), Hone exemplifies a number of themes important to Curd. As emphasized by the book’s subtitle, she investigates not only the presence of Netherlandish artists in England but also, more specifically, how they competed there. She stresses collaborations – both cooperations within Dutch and Flemish circles and projects that combined Netherlandish and English participants. Often, these immigrant and expatriate artists arrived with updated styles and studio practices. In order to overcome the challenges presented by often hostile English interests, original and innovative solutions were crucial. As with Hone, however, much of the output by the artists addressed by Curd now seems incidental to the larger stories of British and Netherlandish art – unfortunately so, I think, for reasons I advance below.
A useful introduction summarizes the English consumption of Netherlandish art, migration patterns from the 1480s through the mid-seventeenth century, and the artistic advantages of Flemish and Dutch studio practices over their English counterparts. Next, Curd turns her attention in Chapter One to an illuminated manuscript, commissioned in the early 1480s by Anne Beauchamp to celebrate her father’s life: The Pageants of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. Through fifty-five ink drawings by a Flemish artist, the manuscript (British Library Cotton Julius E.IV, article 6) presents the life of the Earl with depictions of battles and tournaments, royal receptions, and a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Attending to the material details of the book and its bi-cultural origins, Curd argues that its production brought together artist, patron, middleman, and scribe. She suggests possible economic incentives for such cooperation in “response to a bourgeoning book market in late fifteenth-century England, in which the demand exceeded the supply” (40). Yet, as Curd, acknowledges, The Pageants manuscript remains incomplete, but with a difference. Curd (following up a suggestion of Roger Wieck) sees The Pageants as a minute, a model book for the patron’s approval before the more polished manuscript was completed. In this case, however, the final book seems never to have been realized (or else it has been lost).
Chapter Two covers Hone’s place at the court of Henry VIII, and Chapter Three addresses two late sixteenth-century tapestry weavers, Richard Hyckes and William Sheldon. In the late 1560s Hyckes had fled the violence in Flanders and relocated to London, where he met Sheldon, an ambitious Catholic country squire who set up a network of tapestry weavers in London, Warwickshire, and Worcestershire. Their goal was to bring Flemish and English weavers to work alongside each other – partially in response to the ideals outlined in A Discourse of the Common Weal of This Realm of England (1581), which argued that an importation of skilled labor from the Continent would ultimately benefit England, since otherwise the nation’s raw resources would simply be exported to a skilled labor pool abroad. Hyckes supervised the Sheldon Tapestry Works at Warwickshire, and under his direction it made money. The larger goals of cultivating a national industry, however, were never realized. Rather than bringing large numbers of Flemish and English weavers together at Warwickshire, Hyckes used a network of weavers working in different locations. And while the Sheldon manufacture profitably met the local gentry’s desires for tapestries, without the patronage of powerful national figures, it never grew beyond a regional business. In the end, Curd sees this moderate success story as an informative example. Ambition, hard work, a skilled workforce, and even collaborative strategies aimed at maximizing technological innovations were not necessarily enough to achieve a national “economic impact or . . . widespread acclaim.” Close contact between a collaborative labor pool, proximity to production, and, especially, well-placed patrons were just as important.
The emphasis on collaboration serves Curd well when she turns her attention in Chapter Four to the familiar figure of Peter Lely. She emphasizes the painter’s flexibility in finding support: first from Charles I, then from the leaders of the Interregnum, and finally from the Restoration court of Charles II. She notes that Lely worked hard to achieve acceptance, even in the face of anti-Dutch prejudices. He was admitted into London’s Painters and Stainers Guild in 1647. Most importantly, she argues, his reliance upon collaborators – ranging in quality from Willem van de Velde the Younger to studio assistants – can be seen not as an artistic liability but as an indicator of his innovation in addressing a growing market. Curd suggests that a growing demand for the artist’s own hand can be seen as linked to this accelerated approach to production. Yet “ironically, Lely’s use of networking and collaborative strategies, which served him so well during his career, may have been partially responsible for his later loss of renown” (118).
The book’s final case study addresses the Amsterdam engraver Abraham Blooteling, who lived in London – at the invitation of Prince Rupert, then living at the court of Charles II – during the 1670s and continued to supply prints for London audiences from Holland until 1684. Understudied (especially during these London years), Blooteling was an early master of mezzotint who, like his Netherlandish predecessors, made his way in England through collaborative efforts and a sophisticated network of both Dutch and English colleagues and supporters. Not only did he establish high standards for the London practice of this new form of intaglio, Blooteling successfully read both the English and Dutch markets, returning to a successful career in Amsterdam. As Curd notes, his role as a reproductive printmaker has relegated him to scholarly obscurity. His bi-cultural work in Holland and England has further contributed to his neglect.
In sum, Curd’s book makes a valuable contribution to 1) the field of British art studies, 2) the growing area of Anglo-Dutch studies (cf. Lisa Jardine, Going Dutch, 2008), and 3) no less importantly, Netherlandish art history. Certainly, for the most part Curd does not deal with top-shelf canonical artists, but she helps elucidate an enormously important context for understanding the exceptional contributions by the likes of Van Dyck or Rubens. On the English side, the book brilliantly suggests the vital role that Dutch art played in moving the London art world from a late medieval sensibility into the early modern period. Curd’s focus on particular media neatly corresponds to contemporary demands for those particular art forms. On the Dutch side, the book fits nicely within a growing awareness that Netherlandish art was, in many ways, a global affair – taking inspiration from around the world but also affecting artistic production outside the Low Countries.
The case-study format provides the source of the book’s scholarly achievement but also defines its limits. Well-chosen examples guide readers through this two-hundred-year period. For the most part, Curd signals other relevant materials along the way (the notes and bibliography are especially helpful), and by singling out particular figures, she reinforces the importance of whole categories of artistic practitioners who otherwise remain nameless. Yet, for all its strengths, the discrete narratives of a case-study model raise questions about their representational validity (or at least utility) and also force readers to connect the pieces. While such drawbacks are inevitable, her approach pays real dividends for Curd, particularly in allowing her to explore the collaborative character of Netherlandish artistic activity in England during the early modern period. And the resulting new questions surely count to the credit of this informative book’s scholarly significance.
Craig Ashley Hanson