Frankfurt’s Städel has a distinguished history, and it is sensibly offering its own treasures to the public in a series of exhibitions of the permanent collection, including remarkable holdings in Netherlandish art. Jochen Sander began this process in 1996 with a catalogue, “Die Entdeckung der Kunst,” and it continues with this fine drawings catalogue, supervised by Annette Strech. Sander used a variety of media, focused on paintings but also including sculptures, miniatures, and some of the drawings in this latter catalogue, in order to depict the major shifts in visual culture from “International Gothic” to what Belting has called the “era of art.” His book, which would make an excellent primer for university classes, deserves translation and a wider audience
By contrast, although also focusing on Frankfurt’s own holdings, this recent publication aims less at wider public education and a book where the objects exemplify historical issues than at a more traditional collection catalogue of a regional school. Because Städel himself (1728-1816) and later Passavant (1787-1861) had such precocious interest in earlier Netherlandish materials, this collection has rich examples of early drawings; in addition, it also has a surprisingly full cache of Dutch eighteenth-century works, which can be studied with rare comprehensiveness. In between, its sixteenth- and seventeenth-century drawings include works by the most celebrated masters: Goltzius (3) and de Gheyn (6); Rubens (5) and Rembrandt (8), in examples representative of their major themes and periods, often in varied materials (chalk, ink, wash).
The title derives of course from Dutch art theory and the contrast, drawn by Van Mander, among others, between images ‘from life’ (naer het leven) and ‘from the mind’ (uyt den geest). Frankfurt even has one of the celebrated Roelandt Savery drawings ‘naer het leven,’ which used to be ascribed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Two Jewish Scholars, no. 44), and this catalogue also devotes a full section to early landscape drawings, including topographical studies (Venice by Hoefnagel, no. 20), an anonymous record of St. Peter’s under construction (no. 19), and two fine, characteristic sheets by the anonymous Master of the Small Landscapes (nos. 21-22). Portraits also figure in these works ‘from life,’ including a tiny Johan Wierix bust roundel (no. 23), two chalk works by Goltzius (one of hands, no. 33; the other of Gillis van Breen), de Gheyn’s remarkable deathbed double likeness of Karel van Mander (no. 39), and two studies in chalk by Van Dyck for hisIconography (nos. 29-30, Hendrick Steenwijck the Younger and Adam de Coster).
Several phases of Netherlandish art are uncharacteristically well displayed. Silverpoints by both Petrus Christus (Falconer, no. 1) and Gerard David (sketchbook page, no. 2) are complemented by careful presentation pieces by Jan de Beer as well as the leading exponents of Italianate form during the sixteenth century, from Gossaert and Heemskerck, to Spranger, Goltzius, and Bloemart. Genre imagery of the Dutch Golden Age appears in splendid examples by Dusart, the van Ostades, and Maes, among others. Landscapes of the same epoch range from Jan Bruegel and Bril to Doomer and Cuyp.
But one of the lasting values of this catalogue will be its serious publication of the last phase of traditional Dutch drawings. Beginning with a portrait by Houbraken of the dealer, Jacob Moelaert (no. 83), the eighteenth century finds representation in fables by Picart, a mythology by Willem van Mieris, three studies by Jacob de Wit (nos. 86-88, the first for an Amsterdam canal house ceiling), and three works by Troost (nos. 103, 105-6). New media, including gouache or watercolors and subtle pastels dominate these different works, as do new sites of arcadian landscapes, pastorals, or ruins. And the roster of artists will surprise all but the most learned specialist: Rademaker, Pronk, La Fargue, Prins, van Drielst, van Strij, Lamme, Lauwers, Henstenburgh, Buys, and Schouman.
Another, earlier artist unknown to me before is Christiaen Jansz Biezelingen, active in Middelburg before 1600, whose richly colored, small-figured Adoration of the Magi of 1584 (no. 14) unfolds within a vertical format of vast ruins and background landscape. Such are the pleasures and the discoveries of this well-researched and well illustrated catalogue, which makes even familiar objects better known and well located in up-to-date scholarship. The museum and its staff deserve congratulations and thanks for presenting their fine collection to a wider public.
University of Pennsylvania