The book opens with an introduction of notable original methodology (‘”C ultural selection” and the Origins of Pictorial Species,’ pp. 1-15), which, in reference to George Kubler, invokes archaeology as a model on the one hand, and in regard to the bestseller biologist Stephen Gould, evolution biology on the other. Pictorial genres are compared to biological species that are more or less successful, and that are subject to a selection process ‘analogous to the historical model of evolution’ (p. 13). Investigated are ‘historical chains of succession, as paleontologists trace lineages of particular animal types’ (p. 14). The cultural biotope of the pictorial genres being examined is described in a brief summary of the urban development and culture of Antwerp in the first half of the sixteenth century – a boomtown that within a few decades succeeded in rising to Europe’s champions league of the most important metropolises. At the same time, the city was home to a vast number of artists supplying a growing local as well as international market (‘Antwerp as a Cultural System,’ 16-25).
The nucleus of the book constitutes five chapters, roughly up to the death of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. They treat the development of landscape painting (‘Town and Country – Painted Worlds of Early Landscapes,’ 26-52), the representation of money changers, bankers and beggars (‘Money Matters,’ 53-86), kitchen and market pieces (‘Kitchen and Markets,’ 87-102), peasant scenes (‘ Labor and Leisure – The Peasants,’ 103-132), and hell and diabolical images (‘Second Bosch: Family Resemblance and the Marketing of Art,’ 133-160). Two chapters deal with the later development of landscape painting, hell and peasant scenes among the followers of Pieter Bruegel in the Northern Netherlands (‘Descent from Bruegel I: From Flanders to Holland,’ 161-185) and in the Southern Netherlands (‘Descent from Bruegel II: Flemish Friends and Family,’ 186-207). One chapter is devoted to the early history of flower pieces and seascapes at the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth century (‘Trickle-Down Genres: The “Curious” Cases of Flowers and Seascapes,’ 208-225). In conclusion, the author interprets the development of the different pictorial genres as reflection of Antwerp’s culture in the sixteenth century: ‘these emerging genres in Antwerp constitute a coherent, consistent representation of humanity and nature, and “a moral compass” ‘ (‘ Conclusions – Value and Values in the Capital of Capitalism,’ 226-233, here p. 232).
The book cites many artists and works of art of the period, offering a compendium of sixteenth-century Antwerp painting in the respective categories. Silver presents detailed iconographic discussions of many images, developing the moral content common to many paintings, indeed whole genres, thus creating an iconographic panorama. Besides paintings, the author repeatedly refers to drawings and prints, especially those by Pieter Bruegel and Hans Bol published by Hieronymus Cock at his publishing house ‘Aux Quatre Vents.’
The language, the scattered references to Hollywood film genres and numerous apt formulations sometimes create the impression of a lecture. Ample references to the most recent literature in the field and numerous black and while illustrations make the book an ideal reader for students. This however leads to the result that those who are familiar with Flemish art may encounter few surprises, as far as the choice of artists is concerned as well as the art historical development in general and the respective literary references. As regards the development of early landscape painting, the author moves from the landscapes of Hieronymus Bosch to Joachim Patinir, Herri met de Bles, Lucas Gassel and Pieter Bruegel the Elder (with special reference to Walter Gibson). So too as to the subject of money changers where he begins with Bosch’s predecessors, moving on to Quentin Massys, Marinus van Reymerswaele, Jan Massys, Jan van Hemessen. In the discussion of market and kitchen scenes, Pieter Aertsen and Joachim Beuckelaer naturally take center stage (with reference to Elizabeth Honig’s work), just as Pieter Bruegel is the focus of peasant scenes (with reference to Hans-Joachim Raupp’s book). Silver’s own research in the genre of diabolical subjects in the following of Heironymus Bosch constitutes the background to that respective chapter.
In one or the other case, the reviewer may differ in the choice of subjects or details, for example the omission of perspective painting as a genre – admittedly a personal favourite of this reviewer. Be that as it may, perspective painting constitutes an exemplary case of genre innovation by an artist active in Antwerp, Hans Vredeman de Vries. Moreover, the discussion of the Seastorm in Vienna (inv. 290) – attributed to Bruegel not so long ago – in the context of the development of seascapes deserves further attention (297, note 44; 223-224). In the exhibition Die Flämische Landschaft (Essen, Vienna, 2003-04), the painting was attributed to Joos de Momper the Younger (cat. no. 80). In the slightly altered version of the exhibition shown in Antwerp and its accompanying catalogue (De Uitvinding van het landschap – Van Patinir tot Rubens, 2004, cat. no. 56), a footnote to the entry states that its author, Ulrike Middendorf, had rejected the attribution and thus the painting was shown in Antwerp as by an anonymous Antwerp master of the first half of the seventeenth century.
The Vienna panel most likely is cut, which considerably diminishes its role as an early example of an autonomous seascape. A thorough examination of the panel’s edges on the occasion of the exhibition would have been desirable, not least to help clarify the attribution to Tobias Verhaecht so adamantly rejected by Klaus Ertz (Flämische Landschaft, 2003-04, p. 136). In Antwerp the Vienna Seastorm hung across from Verhaecht’s huge Tower of Babel, with figures by Jan Brueghel the Elder (De Uitvinding, 2004, cat. no. 50). In my view, this positioning made the attribution of the Vienna picture to Verhaecht rather convincing. (The mountain specialist Verhaecht is not mentioned anywhere in Silver’s book.)
The present book however aims at more than a summary of new trends in Antwerp painting in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. According to its subtitle, The Rise of Pictorial Genres in the Antwerp Art Market: ‘this book offers an investigation of the origin and the early evolution of both the new pictorial types and their media, easel paintings and intaglio prints, as a local and historical Antwerp phenomenon’ (p. 1). The importance of the subject is without question. Antwerp was the cradle of several pictorial genres that were practiced in Northern Europe for centuries and that influenced the education of artists and their works into the nineteenth century. Larry Silver tackles a central problem of Netherlandish and European art history that has been addressed much too rarely and that should be understood as a collective task of the scholarly community. Because of the importance of the subject, it may be allowed to comment on the concept of the book and some of its conclusions.
Research into the Antwerp art market has revealed how much the trade in paintings and graphic works was connected to that in books, maps, sculptures, tapestries and keyboard instruments (Filip Vermeylen, Painting for the Market. Commercialization of Art in Antwerp’s Golden Age, 2003, pp. 79-99). Artistically and iconographically these relationships are highly significant. The development of certain themes, for example the Garden of Love (Silver, p. 180) should be considered with reference to other media. The cover of a virginal of 1578 by the Antwerp instrument maker Hans Bos in the Real Monasterio de Santa Clara and a dismantled cover in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (inv. C 1222) resemble a composition with garden pavilion and fountain in a print of the Prodigal Son among Prostitutes by Bartholomäus de Momper after Hans Bol of c. 1565 (Thomas Fusenig, Ulrike Villwock, ‘ Hieronymus Franckens Venezianischer Ball in Aachen. Eine neue Datierung und ihre Folgen,’ Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch, 61, 2000, pp. 145-176, especially p. 164). The instrument covers are very close to the moralizing print but their function suggests that the amusements represented on them are supposed to be perceived as affirmative and positive. (Instrument builders were members of the St. Luke guild. It should also be noted that Van Mander writes that Paul Bril until the age of fourteen painted the covers of pianos and similar instruments in the studio of a minor Antwerp painter.) The publisher of the Prodigal Sonprint, Bartholomäus de Momper, incidentally was the father of Joos de Momper, described by Silver as a typical specialist (pp. 194f.), particularly known for his mountaineous landscapes. Bartholomäus was also an art dealer and since 1565 the longtime tenant of the rooms above the Bourse in Antwerp, where an all-year-round art market took place since 1541/42 (Vermeylen, pp. 53-54).
The numerous connections between the origin of painted landscapes and other media, such as maps, illuminated manuscripts and tapestries, developed by Nils Büttner (Nils Büttner, Die Erfindung der Landschaft. Kosmographie und Landschaftskunst im Zeitalter Bruegels, Göttingen, 2000) suggest that landscape painting more likely is the product of the shift of an idea from other media into the medium of painting than that it developed from a hybrid context, as stated by Silver in regard to pictures by Patinir and others. To focus solely on graphic art and painting, as Silver does, may be compared, for example, to an archaeologist at a dig who in his classification limits himself to ornaments on ceramic ware while ignoring all other objects.
Moreover, the method of arranging the material in iconographic clusters impedes the focus on the historical-developmental hotspot of the 1530s-1540s. In figurative painting in Antwerp the until then successful late-Gothic pictorial formula was replaced by an italianized, classicistic repertoire of forms. This change happened in a closely interlinked artistic milieu. The artists who brought about the stylistic change were Pieter Coecke van Aelst, Jan Sander van Hemessen, the Master of the Prodigal Son, the Master of St. Paul and Barnabas (possibly identical with Jan Mandyn), the young Pieter Aertsen, Cornelis Massys, the Brunswick Monogrammist (possibly identical with Jan van Amstel), and finally Frans Floris. And of course Pieter Bruegel as the son-in-law of Pieter Coecke also belonged to this group. This situation provided the context – rightly recognized by Silver –& nbsp; for the development of Antwerp’s graphic art that contributed so decisively to the dissimination of the stylistic and iconographic innovations. This is the artistic milieu which gave rise to several of the genres discussed in the book so that it is natural to look for clues in the social and intellectual surroundings of this group. (The book mentions this connection in passing on p. 100). Firstly, there are numerous connections to Italy: Pieter Coecke translated Serlio and was himself in Venice and Rome; Van Hemessen painted an Allegory of Music(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) after a Venetian model, and so on. Secondly, a more concrete timeline may reveal the social and economical framework for the rise of the new genres. In the decades since 1520 the number of high level painters’ workshops seems to have remained at circa 120. On the other hand, the number of smaller workshops with at most one apprentice rose. Such one-man or two-men businesses could afford more easily the risk of bringing new products on the art market, especially a market that since about 1540 was expanding due to new marketing possibilities offered by the year-long open rooms above the Bourse. (For statistics, see Vermeylen pp. 129, 35ff; see also Maximiliaan Martens, ‘Antwerp Painters: Their Markets and Networks,’ Jaarboek Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, 2004/05, pp. 47-73, here p. 56, which appeared too late for the present publication.)
Within a concrete economical context, one wonders if the development of brand recognition or personal trademarks, as Silver suggests in regard to Bosch and Bruegel, may indeed be explained by a free market economy (pp. 2-3, and especially p. 155) and not rather as a result of the dissimination of humanistic ideas among artists and buyers, as found in older interpretations. The many painters active in Antwerp in the first third of the sixteenth century, collectively known under the name ‘ Antwerp Mannerists’, worked under very similar economic conditions. However, they did not develop a distinctive, individual style, apparently so that they were able to cooperate with other painters or with sculptors at any time. These artists are distinguished by a ‘ cooperative identity,’ a factor which has made it very difficult for connoisseurs, from Friedländer to the organizers and authors of the exhibition Extravagant! A Forgotten Chapter of Antwerp Painting 1500-1520, shown in Antwerp and Maastricht, 2005-06, to form meaningful workshop groups.
Moreover, several factors indicate that the innovations in the development of genres before the middle of the sixteenth century followed a different pattern than the pronounced specialization in Antwerp painting around 1600, discussed in Chapters 9 and 10 in relation to the Flemish Bruegel succession and the invention of flower pieces and seascapes. As Silver rightly points out, initially the representation of new genres is granted a certain measure of freedom and experimentation, formally as well as iconographically. However, the monomaniacal specialization of Abraham Govaerts as painter of forest scenes or Gijsbrecht Leytens as that of winter landscapes shortly after 1600 are examples, from the outset, of highly standardized products so that for a long time it seemed hopelessly futile to attempt a chronology of their works (cf. most recently Ursula Härting and Kathleen Borms, Abraham Govaerts. Der Waldmaler (1589-1626), Schonen, 2004). This standardization more likely is the result of outsourcing of specialized labor sequences from large workshops (e.g., Jan Brueghel’e s) than genuine innovation.
Silver presents a useful and well organized survey of the vast material, while giving us with a font of up-to-date information. The text is mercifully free of academic jargon, often humorous and always well argued. It is no doubt due to my expectations rather than the author’s intentions that the book leaves me with a contradictory impression, offering as it does an iconographic-iconological interpretation of Antwerp painting and graphic art in the sixteenth century – highly welcome as it may be – instead of a history of the development of the different genres.
(Translated by Kristin Belkin)