One side-effect of 2006, the 400th anniversary of Rembrandt’s birth, is the attention paid to Pieter Lastman. Perhaps Lastman is destined forever to be known as Rembrandt’s teacher, but it is time he emerged from Rembrandt’s shadow. The question mark, provocatively placed at the end of the title under review, asserts that it is time indeed. This catalogue commemorates an exhibition held at the Hamburger Kunsthalle. It consists of three thoughtful essays and 29 catalogue entries; these include two paintings by Jan Pynas and one by Tengnagel, and three drawings by Lastman. The final work is Rembrandt’s Simeon and Hannah in the Temple of 1626, in the Hamburg Kunsthalle. At a glance, Lastman’s work is contextualized in his Amsterdam milieu and with reference to the coming phenomenon of Rembrandt, who would eclipse Lastman’s reputation for the next centuries. The organization of the exhibited works is not chronological, but thematic. Paintings are grouped into three divisions: ancient literary subjects with some connection to Dutch theatre (cat. nos. 1-6); themes of salvation and revelation in biblical subjects (cat. nos. 7-14); and expressive communication, also in biblical subjects (cat. nos. 15-29).
Christian T. Seifert’s essay, “Pieter Lastman, Constrijcken history Schilder tot Amsterdam – kunstreicher Historienmaler zu Amsterdam,” surveys the critical fortunes, literary and artistic contacts, and aspects of the development of the artist. Lastman was regarded by his contemporaries as the foremost history painter of his generation in Amsterdam, according to Balthasar Gerbier (1617), Theodor Roodenburgh (1618), and Constantijn Huygens (ca. 1630). Among his acquaintances were fellow artists, playwrights, and poets, with whom he enjoyed exchanges of artistic and literary ideas. In brief, Lastman’s artistic development was shaped by his Italian years (1603-07), his enduring interest in Italian and ancient art, and his goal of creating paintings as theatrical tableaux. Lastman’s confrontation with Caravaggio began during his Roman sojourn; yet it was his study of the Madonna of the Rosary, in the possession of Louis Finson and Abraham Vinck in Amsterdam 1616-1619, that decisively altered his concept of a stage-like arrangement of figures in a painting.
In the geographically concentrated milieu of the Amsterdam artists, Finson’s arrival in Amsterdam would have been news, and the presence of his three Caravaggio paintings would have created a sensation. Lastman would have known the paintings in Finson’s possession, as he is documented as testifying twice about pictures owned by Finson. After the artist’s death, Lastman was called upon to evaluate the genuineness of a St. Andrew by Caravaggio (on 25-11-1619). Later, Lastman was called upon to ascertain that a copy of the Madonna of the Rosary was in fact painted by Finson, when it was sold to Jacob van Nieulant (on 27-2-1630).
The impact of studying the Madonna of the Rosary is evident in Lastman’s work of 1617, in which there is a sudden shift from figures arranged parallel to the picture plane to figures clustered and towered in diagonal and circular arrangements. The comparison of two versions of The Meeting of Odysseus and Nausicaa, of 1609 (Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum) and of 1619 (Munich, Alte Pinakothek) bears this out most clearly, as the narrative requirements are the same (page 17). Other paintings immediately dependent upon the Rosary Madonna for greater dramatic interaction among the figures and for a pronounced spatial three-dimensionality include Paul and Barnabas at Lystra (1617, Amsterdam, Amsterdams Historisch Museum; cat. no. 11) and The Judgment of Midas (1618, Turin, Galleria Luigi Caretto; p. 20, fig. 8).
Adriaan E. Waiboer’s essay “Lastmans Opferdarstellungen und ihre weitreichende Wirkung,” examines the scenes of sacrifice that were rendered frequently by Lastman, and had an enthusiastic reception in the paintings of Amsterdam artists. Among other artists, Salomon Koninck, Willem de Poorter, and Jacob de Wet studied Lastman’s sacrificial scenes for their presentation of the specific and essential vessels, altars, costumes and musical instruments. Houbraken praised Lastman’s accuracy in representing ancient sacrificial rites; however, Houbraken admitted that he had never seen any of Lastman’s paintings but knew Vondel’s poem on the Sacrifice of Lystra. This is a well-known case in which the literary account of a painting became the vehicle for securing the fame of the artist. Yet Lastman had indeed done his homework on the apparatus of ancient sacrifices, and acquired his knowledge from books and art, from antiquity and the Renaissance. Having done so, he very likely wished to demonstrate his expertise, which he applied in his multiple versions of Manoah’s Sacrifice, Paul and Barnabas at Lystra, and Abraham Sacrificing Isaac. He was attracted to other themes that involved altars, animals, and vessels; these included the Lamentation over the Death of Abel, Iphigenia, Orestes and Pylades, and Dido Sacrificing to Juno.
Martina Sitt’s essay “Pieter Lastman und Rembrandt – von der stummen Sprache des Körpers zur Verdichtung von Emotion,” discusses how Lastman and Rembrandt treat similar subjects, yet choose slightly different moments of a narrative text. Consistently, and hardly surprising, both consider speech and body language for expressive purposes. Rembrandt turned to Lastman’s compositions throughout his career, both for overall thematic models and for prompting new considerations of familiar subjects.
One consequence of a relatively recent Rembrandt year, 1991, was the first exhibition devoted to Lastman, with a catalogue by Peter Schatborn and Astrid Tümpel with Christian Tümpel, Pieter Lastman: leermeester van Rembrandt. This catalogue featured 22 paintings and 15 drawings by Lastman, broad surveys of the works of Jan Pynas, Tengnagel, Venant, and Moeyaert, and numerous comparisons among their works. Since then, several exhibition catalogues highlighted paintings by Lastman; these include Dawn of the Golden Age and Greek Gods and Heroes in the Age of Rubens and Rembrandt.
Of the 22 paintings by Lastman in the 2006 Hamburg catalogue and the 22 paintings in the 1991 Amsterdam exhibition, twelve overlap. One of these is a picture whose interpretation has been radically revised in recent years: Hippocrates Visiting Democritus in Abdera (1622, Lille, Musée des Beaux-Arts; Hamburg 2006 cat. no. 2; Amsterdam 1991 cat. no. 13). This subject is among the oddest in the visual arts, yet it achieved a certain popularity in Lastman’s circle. Discussed with respect to iconography by A. Blankert (1967) and with respect to pictorial tradition by B. Broos (1991), the subject has been more recently interpreted as a protest statement against the Contra-Remonstrants, with specific identities for the main characters. By examining the historical circumstances and familial connections among Lastman’s associates, specifically Jan Pynas, whose painting of 1614 (Amsterdam, Museum Het Rembrandthuis; cat. no. 3) evidently was the pictorial model for Lastman, S.A.C. Dudok van Heel connected the episode, as presented in a play written by the humanist preacher Venator (published in Alkmaar 1603) with the disputes between the Remonstrants and the Counter-Remonstrants. The Pynas and Lastman paintings may be understood as satirizing the relationship between Venator and his orthodox colleague Hillenius, and demonstrating sympathy with the Remonstrants.
Lastman’s drawings generally seem to have been made for their usefulness in paintings. Most of the accepted drawings are of single figures, drawn in chalk on colored paper, that were adapted in finished paintings. Among these, two depict a young man upon a horse and a pleading woman; these figures appear in the grand Roman Women Pleading before Coriolanus (1625, Dublin, Trinity College) and are included in the Hamburg catalogue (cat. nos. 21 and 25). As individual collections become better known, the drawings associated with Lastman will gain attention. One example of this is the Standing Man with Outstretched Arm, in black, red and white chalk on yellow prepared paper (Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum), which was used for the painting Elias and the Shunamite Woman (1616, Moscow, Puschkin Museum). Because this sheet emphasizes the facial and gestural expressiveness of an individual, it seems a precursor for the studies of expression made by Rembrandt and Lievens.
A few extant drawings are detailed compositions intended for other works, and their scarcity gives one pause; surely Lastman made careful plans for his elaborately crowded paintings, and we may posit lost sheets used in developing grand designs. One lively and highly finished chalk drawing of a complete design, The Angel Leaving Tobias and his Son (Amsterdam, Museum Het Rembrandthuis; cat. no. 14) is here considered as by Lastman. The sheet corresponds so closely with the 1618 painting in Copenhagen (Statens Museum for Kunst) that it had been regarded as a copy after that painting (Amsterdam 1991, cat. no. 38).
A more integrated understanding of Lastman’s methods of crafting his compositions undoubtedly will be achieved once greater consideration is given to the various drawings that may reflect stages in the development of full compositions.
Lastman’s work was last catalogued by Kurt Freise in 1911. An oft-repeated desideratum is an updated catalogue raisonné for Lastman. His oeuvre has yet to be comprehensively defined, although much progress has been made in the past few decades. Still to be fully examined are Lastman’s study of ancient and Italian art, his relationship to Rubens in shared approaches to antiquity and literature, and his work in the context of topical events. At some level, perhaps Lastman may even be regarded as a “Dutch Rubens,” for his erudition, antiquarian expertise, and liveliness. We may regard Lastman as a creative force independent of Rembrandt, and we may anticipate forthcoming studies of the artist, including a monograph by Astrid and Christian Tümpel and a doctoral thesis by C.T. Seifert.
Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington
1. Volker Manuth, ‘ “Michael Agnolo van Caravaggio, die te Room wonderlijcke dinghen doet”: Over Rembrandts kennis van het leven en werk van Caravaggio,’ in: Duncan Bull, ed., Rembrandt-Caravaggio, exh. cat., Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, February 24 – June 18 (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum/Zwolle, Waanders), 2006, pp. 180-93, esp. p. 191.
2. Het Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam (Zwolle: Waanders). See also the exhibition catalogue that established Lastman and the artists close to him as a group: Astrid and Christian Tümpel, The Pre-Rembrandtists,E.B. Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento, 1974.
3. Ger Luijten and Ariane van Suchtelen, eds., Dawn of the Golden Age: Northern Netherlandish Art 1580-1620, exh. cat., Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (Zwolle: Waanders), 1993; for Lastman, see nos. 245-49. Peter Schoon and Sander Paarlberg, eds., Greek Gods and Heroes in the Age of Rubens and Rembrandt, exh. cat. National Gallery, Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Athens, Netherlands Institute, Athens; Dordrechts Museum, Dordrecht, 2000-2001; for Lastman, see nos. 45, 46.
4. See Hamburg 2006, no. 2 for bibliography.
5. S.A.C. Dudok van Heel, De jonge Rembrandt onder tijdgenoten: Godsdienst en schilderkunst in Leiden en Amsterdam, Nijmegen, 2006, p. 140.
6. Thomas Döring, ed., Aus Rembrandts Kreis: Die Zeichnungen des Braunschweiger Kupferstichkabinetts, exh. cat. Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig, September 21 – December 17, 2006, no. 33.
7. Peter Schatborn, in: P. Schatborn and Astrid Tümpel, with Christian Tümpel, Pieter Lastman, leermeester van Rembrandt, exh. cat. Het Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam (Zwolle: Waanders), 1991, no. 38, with reference to a number of other drawings that are more clearly copies after paintings by Lastman.
8. Kurt Freise, Pieter Lastman: sein Leben und seine Kunst, Leipzig, Verlag von Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1911.
9. See recent bibliography in the Hamburg catalogue, and also the attribution of a Sophonisba invention to Lastman by A. Golahny, ‘A Sophonisba by Lastman’, in: A. Golahny, M.M. Mochizuki, L. Vergara, In His Milieu: Essays on Netherlandish Art in Memory of John Michael Montias, Amsterdam, 2006, pp. 173-81.