The art collection of Schwerin’s Staatliches Museum was largely assembled by the Dukes of Mecklenburg, and in particular by Duke Christian Ludwig II (1683-1756). The merit of the dukes consists in having gathered and preserved a rich collection of Dutch and Flemish prints and paintings from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Since the early 1990s, the museum has been presenting those treasures to the public in a series of thoughtful exhibitions featuring various parts of the permanent collection. With the presentation of Gero Seelig’s catalogue of Flemish paintings under review here, another important aspect of the collection is unveiled for the first time. Apart from some large-sized pictures as Rubens’s early Lot and his Daughters or the enigmatic Night Vision by Jacob Jordaens, the majority of the more than 120 Flemish paintings are cabinet size. The emphasis is noticeably on genre painting, with masterpieces by Adriaen Brouwer, David II Teniers and David III Rijckaert, as well as on landscape painting, represented by artists such as Gillis van Coninxloo, Joos de Momper, Alexander Keirincx and, most of all, Jan Brueghel the Elder. That the latter’s work is well represented by a number of first rate examples may justify the catalogue’s title “Jan Brueghels Antwerpen.”
This user-friendly catalogue is divided in two different sections, both with alphabetically arranged entries. The first part provides an overview of the most important Flemish pictures from the museum, on show in the special exhibition. Each of these 64 paintings is handsomely reproduced with a good-quality color photograph and extensively described in an entry that comprises the relevant technical and biographical data, as well as offering a detailed stylistic and iconographic analysis and addressing problems of attribution. The second section lists and illustrates all Flemish paintings in the possession of the museum, and providing technical, provenance and up-to-date bibliographical information, at times supplemented with additional remarks. An enumeration of 32 lost or disposed pictures wraps up the catalogue.
Over the last decades a sharper light has been shed on an important number of Flemish seventeenth-century painters, other than the celebrated and ‘classic’ trio of Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens. Illustrative in this respect is the monographic research recently carried out on artists such as Jan Boeckhorst (Vlieghe 1990), Abraham Govaerts (Borms and Härting 2004), David III Ryckaert (Van Haute 1999), David II Teniers (Klinge 1993) and Cornelis Schut (Wilmers 1996). As a result of these sustained efforts, attributions continue to change. The new attributions related to those artists and assembled in the concordance table at the end of the catalogue are proof of the exemplary art historical research that the makers of the Schwerin exhibition have undertaken. And new attributions continue to be made. The author was seemingly unaware that the attribution to Gonzales Coques of the Painter’s Studio and a pair of pendant portraits (Inv. Nos. G 171 and G 2376-2377) was rejected by Marion Lisken-Pruss in her dissertation on the artist (Studien zum Oeuvre des Gonzales Coques (1614/18-1684), diss., Bonn, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, 2002. Scheduled to appear in the Pictura Nova series 2005/2006). Furthermore, the authors of the exhibition catalogue Pan und Syrinx: eine erotische Jagd (Kassel, Staatliches Museum, 2004) have challenged the attribution in the Schwerin catalogue of the landscape passage of the Pan and Syrinx (Inv. Nr. G 163) to Jan Brueghel the Elder, proposing instead Jan Breughel the Younger or his studio as the author. Moreover, other attributions can be questioned, such G 421: it’s hard to find a convincing resemblance to the work of Gillis van Tilborch; most likely it is an eighteenth-century pastiche from the type made by painters such as Jan Josef Horemans I and II and Frans Xaverius Hendrik Verbeeck. Inv. Nos. G 325 and G 2349 are probably done by a Dutch, instead of a Flemish artist.
The collection in its entirety presents a surprisingly representative selection of painting production in the Southern Netherlands from the end of the sixteenth until the beginning of the eighteenth century. In this respect it is a bonus that the ensemble with its predominance of small-scale pictures thus allows the viewer/reader to get an idea of the kind of paintings that decorated the walls of the burgher houses in a seventeenth-century Flemish town. If we were to reconstruct such a bourgeois house, Erik Duverger’s published inventories suggest that we would commonly find a ‘Lantschap met Pan ende Siringa vluchtende’, a ‘herrebergsken van Brouwer’, a ‘stuck van Huijsmans Lantschap’, a ‘schilderyken synde St. Antonis Temptatie, naer Davit Teniers’, a ‘schilderije Vismerct ende Scheepvaert voor de schouwe’, a ‘Conterfeijtsel representerende een Manpersoon copye naer Van Dyck’, een ‘schilderye vuytbeeldende de Dry Coningen’, ‘een schoustuck van Van Dauw wesende een Merct’ and ‘noch eenighe cleyn schilderykens’—in short, precisely the kind of high-quality, cabinet pictures comprising the collection of Flemish paintings in Schwerin. Presenting such a fascinating ensemble to a wider public in a finely-edited catalogue therefore deserves our gratitude and congratulations.
Karolien De Clippel