That Inspired by Italy was the first exhibition of Italianate landscape painting in Great Britain is ‘really a theme for the philosopher.’ The phrase comes from a relevant source, Henry James’s comparison of Dutch and Italian view painting, in ‘The Metropolitan Museum’s ‘1871 Purchase” (Atlantic Monthly , June 1872). According to James, Jan van der Heyden’s so-called Quay at Leyden (actually an imaginary view) demonstrates the typical Dutchman’s ‘fidelity and sincerity,’ whereas Francesco Guardi, in two faithful views of Venice, trusts ‘mere artifice and manner’ to convey the ‘grace of his daily visions.’ The young critic cites ‘the great ‘Italian Landscape’ by Cornelis Huysmans’ as worthy of the new collection, but tows Ruskin’s line in dismissing the Venetian artist as ‘debauched.’ Desmond Shawe-Taylor, director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery, recalls in his foreword to the catalogue under review that Ruskin considered the ‘inbred vulgarity’ of Dutch art to be especially obvious when the painter tried to employ his imagination, for example in ‘that hybrid landscape, introduced by Wouvermans and Berghem.’
Dulwich has been a hothouse of such hybrids since 1811, when one of the two principal founders of the gallery, Sir Francis Bourgeois, left eight Wouwermans, five Berchems, and twenty-two other specimens to the college. His bequest, with its near absence of Van Goyens and the like, reflected the eighteenth century’s admiration of Claude, Cuyp, Both and other Oltramontani. Both the rise and precipitous fall of this taste were brought home to the present writer some twenty years ago when he recommended to Sir John Pope-Hennessy that the Metropolitan Museum purchase a big canvas by Berchem (now in the Getty Museum). ‘But it’s a corridor picture!,’ the English eminence exclaimed. That depends on where you grew up.
The exhibition itself was a memorable experience, with the sixty-two pictures (a third privately owned) hung tightly but effectively. Most of them are beautiful, but this is difficult to judge from the reproductions in the catalogue, which are sometimes misleading in color and scale. Overexposed details appear to have been selected with an eye to conservation issues, especially in the case of the cover shot.
Perhaps with a broad audience in mind, Laurie Harwood’s introductory essay surveys who went to Italy when (or not at all), and sketches in the movement’s sources (Bril, Elsheimer, Claude, etc). While a more thorough discussion of cultural background would have been welcome, the introduction and the catalogue section (also by Harwood) synthesize valuable information on the movement (much of it available in more scattered form in publications such as the Dictionary of Art and Frits Duparc’s insightful essay in Italian Recollections: Dutch Painters of the Golden Age [Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1990]). Harwood’s paragraphs on landscape painting in Rome during the pontificate of Urban VIII (1625-1644) provide useful kernels of information, such as the reminders that Philip IV ordered at least fifty landscapes from Claude, Poussin, Gaspard Dughet, Jan Both and Herman van Swanevelt for the Buen Retiro, and that, as Helen Langdon points out, Claude was esteemed by his contemporaries as ‘a master of naturalism’ (p. 21).
The mention of Philip IV’s commission might have been accompanied by references to other distinguished patrons of Italianate painters and their predecessors such as Gregory XIII (Bril), Cardinal Federico Borromeo (Jan Brueghel), Prince Orsini (Breenbergh), Cardinal Antonio Barberini (Swanevelt), and Innocent X (Jan Baptist Weenix). Cornelis Poelenburch secured a grand slam of supporters: Cosimo II, Charles I, Prince Frederick Hendrick, and, in the artist’s native Utrecht, Baron van Wyttenhorst, who owned fifty-five of his works. While not discussing taste per se, Duparc, in his essay of 1990, noted the positive reviews and high prices enjoyed in the Netherlands by many of the Italianate landscapists, in contrast to the fortunes of contemporaries such as Hobbema, Koninck, and Aert van der Neer.
Patronage is also relevant to the on-going question of who should be defined as ‘Italianate.’ For those who believe that the term is wrongly applied ‘to artists who never left the northern Netherlands but who worked primarily in an Italianate style’ (Laura Laureati, Dictionary of Art, vol. 9, p. 462), canonical names such as Cuyp, Wouwerman, Wynants, and Jan Weenix fly out of the pigeonhole. In choosing to include these masters, Harwood subscribes to the broader view that, as stated by Peter Sutton, ‘most Dutch Italianate masters produced the majority and best of their works not in Italy but after returning to the Netherlands,’ and that ‘seventeenth-century Dutch art theorists made no categorical distinction between a national and Italianate school of landscape painting’ (Masters of 17th-Century Dutch Landscape Painting, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1987-88, p. 45; the first quote paraphases a line in Albert Blankert’s ‘Introduction’ to Nederlandse 17e Eeuwse Italianiserende Landschapschilders, Centraal Museum, Utrecht, 1965; revised Davaco edition, Soest, 1978, p. 39).
Not only the category ‘Italianate,’ but also that of ‘landscape’ has limited modern thinking on this rich and complex subject, which is essentially the admiration of one country – or rather, a large part of European society – for the culture, monuments, natural environment and the past of Italy. Future studies of the Dutch Italianates, and much-needed monographs on Berchem, Both, Dujardin, Lingelbach, Poelenburch (one is promised), or J. B. Weenix, will do well to consider that patrons such as Frederick Hendrick, Charles I, and their courtiers collected not only views of Italy but also pictures of imaginary classicist architecture, paintings on pastoral themes, treatises by Vitruvius and Serlio, classical sculpture, travel literature, and memories of the Grand Tour (see A. Frank-van Westrienen, De Groote Tour [Amsterdam, 1983], which is subtitled ‘Tekening van de educatiereis der Nederlanders in de zeventiende eeuw’). One of the curiosities of current scholarship is that classical and Renaissance writers figure in our pages on the Netherlandish countryside but are not brought into the story of Dutch artists in Arcadia (for the former see H. Leeflang, ‘Dutch Landscape, The Urban View. Haarlem and its Environs in Literature and Art, 15th-17th Century,’ in Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, 48 , pp. 52-116, and W. Gibson, Pleasant Places: The Rustic Landscape from Bruegel to Ruisdael, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2000). One looks in vain for names such as Giorgione, Titian, and Campagnola in the Dulwich catalogue’s ‘index of artists,’ as one would also for Guarini, Ovid, Virgil, recreation, ruins, rustic, picturesque and schilderachtig had Dulwich provided the more substantial index such a publication deserves.
Christopher Brown makes a cameo appearance in the catalogue with eleven paragraphs on the Bentvueghels, the majority of whom were actually from Antwerp, like the supposed ‘flower painter Jan Frans van Bloemen’ (p. 39; called ‘Orizzonte’ for good reason). This essay on what the ‘Bent’ was, who were its members, their cute nicknames and ‘riotous initiation ceremonies’ is a fun read, but offers no discussion of landscape apart from a passing reference to companionable rambles in the Roman campagna. The sketches made there, in the transitory streets of the Eternal City, and in numerous short-lease studios are surveyed in Anne Charlotte Steland’s essay, ‘Drawings by Dutch Italianate Painters’ (smoothly translated by Delphine Lettau). With Renate Trnek of Vienna, Steland (in Braunschweig) is one of the foremost scholars of the Dutch Italianates (see the catalogue’s substantial bibliography), which is obvious throughout her twenty-two pages of sophisticated learning and connoisseurship. Her thirty-three illustrations, a few of them unforgettable, make one wish drawings were included in the show.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art