The Learned Eye takes its name from a passage in Franciscus Junius’s treatise on painting (1641) in which he argues for informed viewing as the essential skill on which critical aesthetic judgments must be based. This concept provides an appropriate framework for a volume dedicated to Ernst van de Wetering, whose acute and astute observations on the art of Rembrandt and his contemporaries have contributed to shaping the discipline of Dutch art history for more than thirty years. At a moment when the Festschrift or album amicorum is in danger of extinction due to publishers’ lack of interest, The Learned Eye presents an excellent model for the continuing viability of this venerable academic tradition. Beautifully produced, with many color illustrations, and yet available in an inexpensive paperback edition, this volume of essays by colleagues and former students of Van de Wetering manages to allow each author the freedom to showcase his or her own research while still assembling a fairly well-focused selection of topics. This is accomplished by bringing together essays that employ one or both of the methods for which Van de Wetering has become well-known: close study of the physical properties of paintings and careful reading of primary sources. With remarkable frequency, these methods milk new insights from materials that are already familiar. A pervasive goal is discernment of the conditions under which Dutch artists practiced their craft and interacted with their patrons. As a specific example, the concept of houding, or the artist’s manner of handling the paint, invoked by Van de Wetering in his study of Rembrandt’s methods (Rembrandt: The Painter at Work, Amsterdam 1997) and elsewhere, is addressed in several of the essays (see pp. 63, 87, 99, 108); that the authors’ deployment of the term is not entirely consistent simply affirms that the investigation of theory in relation to method exemplified by Van de Wetering’s own work is still a valuable avenue of inquiry.
Following an introduction and a brief biography of Van de Wetering by Thijs Weststeijn, the volume is divided into four parts. Part I, “The Work of Art,” focuses on technical examination of works of art, with essays by the conservator Karin Groen (on the use of red underpainting), the dendrochronology expert Peter Klein (on the use of wood in Rembrandt’s workshop, with impressive charts and graphs), the restorer Martin Bijl (on a portrait of Theodorus Schrevelius by Frans Hals) and the former drawings curator (among other talents) Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann (on the authenticity of a drawing by Rembrandt in Boston). Part II, “The Rules of Art,” includes four essays that combine the study of seventeenth-century art theory with analysis of specific works: Margriet van Eikema Hommes on methods of blending figural contours into a painted composition, based on examples in the Oranjezaal of the Huis ten Bosch (a useful examination of rarely-seen works, with many detail photographs); Anna Tummers on Albert Cuyp’s use of compositional motifs to create perspectival depth (with resulting doubts about the attribution of a painting in the Frick Collection); Arthur Wheelock on color symbolism in Dutch painting, with particular attention to notes in the TerBorch family album; and Thijs Weststeijn on the relationship between Samuel van Hoogstraten’s use of rhetorical concepts (affectus, enargeia, ornatus) and the work of his master, Rembrandt (an important contribution to our understanding of Rembrandt’s place in classical tradition).
Part III, “The Artist’s Reputation,” presents four relatively divergent topics. Christopher Brown considers the oil sketch by Anthony van Dyck for a decorative frieze depicting the annual Garter Procession; this work, if completed, would have been Van Dyck’s largest painting, and an early description by Bellori provides evidence for its significance to the artist’s career. Madelon Simons considers the role and status of architects at the Bohemian court. Mariette Haveman examines the commentary, unjustly neglected in her view, of Etienne Delécluze on the art and life of his master, Jacques-Louis David. Eric Jan Sluijter theorizes about why Hendrick Goltzius, at the ripe age of 42, turned to painting, and from whom he might have learned the art. The essays in Part IV, “Painters, Patrons and Art-Lovers,” approach three topics from the viewpoint of the owner or connoisseur. (The figure of the liefhebber, or art lover, has become a regular presence in Dutch art history thanks primarily to Van de Wetering’s fascination with the term.) Michiel Franken discusses the appreciation of copies in the milieu of Bernini, Poussin and their patrons Richelieu, Pozzo and Chantelou. Walter Liedtke situates paintings by Gerard de Lairesse and Jacob de Wit in their original context of decorative cycles for grand interior spaces in Amsterdam and The Hague. Henk van Os ends the sequence with a discursive meditation on the history of landscape painting, incorporating German Romanticism, Edward Norgate’s comments on Flemish landscape, and reminiscences of a field trip shared with Van de Wetering and others in 1965. One imagines that his essay might have made an excellent after-dinner speech at a banquet in Van de Wetering’s honor. Instead, with this volume, we are treated to a scholarly smorgasbord whose pleasures will be much more long-lasting.
The book concludes with a bibliography of Van de Wetering’s publications, beginning with a report on the restoration of a painting by Vermeer published in 1972 and ending with Volume IV in the Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, the series of monumental (and monumentally expensive) catalogues documenting the findings of the Rembrandt Research Project; this volume, reorienting the framework from chronological to thematic with a study of Rembrandt’s self-portraiture, is due out momentarily as of this writing. While it is for his guidance of the ground-breaking work of the RRP, which may ultimately take longer to survey Rembrandt’s paintings than the artist took to produce them, that Van de Wetering may be best known, competent contributions to The Learned Eye by younger scholars such as Thijs Weststeijn and Margriet van Eikema Hommes remind us that an equally important aspect of Van de Wetering’s legacy is his impact on his students at the University of Amsterdam and assistants at the Central Research Laboratory. Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes in front of a painting with him has caught a whiff of the infectious enthusiasm and fierce attentiveness that have touched generations of students and will continue to delight, provoke and stimulate all of us for many years to come.
Stephanie S. Dickey
Herron School of Art and Design
Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis