A monograph on the Dutch artist Pieter Claesz. Soutman (c. 1593/1601-1657) has long been one of the desiderata in the history of seventeenth-century northern art since he combined the art of Holland with that of Rubens and his studio in Antwerp. Kerry Barrett’s catalogue raisonné of Soutman’s life and work admirably accomplishes this task and provides us for the first time with a detailed biography of the artist, often deduced from circumstantial evidence only, and an in-depth analysis of his work.
Barrett begins her monograph by pointing out that Soutman’s works should be understood as Netherlandish, produced by a Dutch artist who thrived in Catholic, Flemish Antwerp. This is one reason his oeuvre has remained so elusive and marginal to the histories of Dutch and Flemish art although in the seventeenth century such a division did not exist. Apparently born c. 1593/1601 instead of c. 1580 as previously thought into a wealthy Haarlem family of brewers who remained Catholic in the predominantly Protestant Dutch Republic, Soutman likely began his artistic training in the circle of Hendrick Goltzius. However, rather than joining the painters’ guild in Haarlem, he traveled South, arriving in Antwerp in 1616 where he is first mentioned in the Guild of St. Luke in 1619, when he registered a pupil. Whether he officially entered Rubens’s studio is unknown. Barrett describes him tentatively as a “collaborative assistant” whose primary occupation consisted of producing workshop replicas. Among the early sources that mention Soutman as one of Rubens’s six pupils is Rubens’s nephew, Philip (in De Piles, 1677).
Soutman probably left Antwerp in 1624 to enter the service of Sigismund III, king of Poland, and his son Wladislaus Sigismund, with whom he likely remained until 1628 when he returned to Haarlem where he settled until his death in 1657. In the late 1630s and 1640s Soutman worked for the Dutch court at The Hague, participating in the decoration of the Oranjezaal in Huis ten Bosch. During its restoration between 1998 and 2001 it became evident that in addition to the Triumphal Procession in the lower frieze on the north wall (cat. PA-6) Soutman was responsible also for the Allegory on the Excellent Rule of Federik Hendrik, 1648-1650, on the north ceiling that earlier was thought to be by Pieter de Grebber (cat. PA-20).
The catalogue is divided into three sections: Paintings (including Copies, Attributed, Rejected and Lost Works), Drawings (Accepted, Rejected and Lost Works) and Prints. Of the twenty accepted paintings, the Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Stick of 1640, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington (cat. PA-3, illustrated on the cover) is the most recent discovery. One of Soutman’s most admired paintings, Emerantia van Berensteyn of 1634-36 at Waddesdon Manor was reattributed to him from Frans Hals only in 1959 (cat. PA-12). Two group portraits reminiscent of Hals are the Civic Guard paintings of c. 1642 today in the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem (cat. PA-7, 8). Among the nine rejected paintings (PR) are Doubting Thomas and Moses Striking a Rock in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, where Barrett supports the attribution to Arnout Vinckenborch (c. 1590-1620), first suggested by Hans Vlieghe (cat. PR-4, 5; c. 1617).
The drawings catalogue lists 38 accepted, 21 rejected and 41 lost works. Among the latter, the portrait of Emperor Frederick III (cat. DL-10) has since been located in a private collection in Antwerp. The color reproductions of several of Soutman’s later portrait drawings of Charles V, Frederik Hendrik, Willem II, Prince of Orange, or Hendrick Goltzius, dating from c. 1637 and 1640, show him as a fine and careful draftsman and portraitist.
The overview of the drawings opens with Soutman’s association with the Rubens studio. The primary example is the large Battle of the Amazons at Christ Church, Oxford (after Rubens’s painting now in Munich), that Giovanni Pietro Bellori attributed to the young Anthony van Dyck (1672) but that Barrett includes as Soutman’s preliminary design of c. 1619 (cat. DA-6) for Vorsterman’s six-plate engraving, eventually leading to the quarrel with Rubens and published only in January 1623. This strengthens her suggestion that Soutman was associated with the Rubens studio as an artist to prepare preliminary designs for engravings after Rubens’s paintings, which, however were not always put into print due to the problems with Vorsterman.
While The Battle of the Amazons certainly has passages that are reminiscent of Soutman, in particular the inclusion of red chalk, I would nevertheless heed Bellori’s opinion to the extent that this was the largest and most difficult engraving produced in the Rubens workshop so far, a task which – in my opinion – he likely would have assigned to Van Dyck rather than an assistant. It is also the very time of the Jesuit church decorations where Rubens had delegated the oversight to Van Dyck. The drawing does show more than one hand but in my opinion the freedom of the underdrawing in black chalk is more associated with the young Van Dyck than with Soutman. Since Van Dyck and Soutman apparently were collaborating on certain designs, I see no problem in including Soutman in the design but more as a follower and not as the person in charge (see El joven Van Dyck / The Young Van Dyck, exh. cat. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2012, no. 66). Another collaborative effort between the two artists seems to have concerned Van Dyck’s multiple compositions of the Taking of Christ – paintings and drawings –, showing a close relationship between the younger artist’s works and Soutman’s etching of 1628 (cat. Pr-6), impressions of which may date from the Dutch artist’s Antwerp years before his return to Haarlem in 1628. Moreover, Barrett suggests that Van Dyck’s and Rubens’s interest in the medium of etching in the early 1620s may have been inspired by Soutman who most likely had acquired the technique from Goltzius.
Finally, for the drawing of a Turkish Prince on Horseback in the British Museum (cat. DA-9) Barrett accepts the opinion of Kristin Belkin that both Rubens and Soutman were involved in its creation with Rubens in Italy copying around 1605 some of the figures from Elsheimer’s Stoning of St. Stephen of c. 1603-04 (Edinburgh), possibly in the presence of the artist. Later, Soutman, having come into possession of the drawing, added the figure at the left and reworked the design c. 1630 in preparation for his etching (Belkin, Corpus Rubenianum XXVI, 1, 2009, pp. 107-09, no. 13, fig. 45). While certainly intriguing, in my opinion there exists too much underdrawing in black chalk, especially on the horse in the right foreground to credit Rubens with the initial sketch in pen. In this context it should be pointed out that Barrett’s information is not always correct: Elsheimer’s Stoning of St. Stephenwas never in Rubens’s collection where, as she claims, Soutman may have seen it (p. 47). The entry in Rubens’s inventory cited by her refers to his copy after Elsheimer’s Il Contento, a quite different type of sacrifice. Furthermore, Rubens owned four paintings by Elsheimer, not five. Finally, and not insignificantly, the transcriptions of the Latin texts on the prints are surprisingly unreliable (though in the case of A Turkish Prince on Horseback, the inscription is not given in full).
The catalogue of prints is by far the largest section, comprising 193 engravings and etchings, arranged in roughly chronological order with present locations and a list of the individual states. Barrett’s thorough familiarity with the printing techniques of engraving and etching has assisted her in distinguishing prints made during Soutman’s time in Antwerp from those later made in Haarlem. She also was able to separate Soutman’s work from that of his later assistants in Haarlem, Jonas Suyderhoef (c. 1613-1686), Pieter van Sompel (c. 1600-after 1644) and Jacob Louys (1595-after 1644).
Many of Soutman’s etchings and engravings are based on designs available only in Rubens’s studio. Moreover, his preliminary drawings are less detailed than the final prints. In Barrett’s opinion the first states originated during the time Soutman was in Antwerp (1616-24) where he was associated with Rubens’s studio. A case in point is Soutman’s etching The Rape of Proserpina (Pr-40, c. 1628), which she argues was executed in the presence of Rubens’s oil sketch. Rembrandt later adapted the print for his own painting of 1631 (Berlin). Barrett further suggests that the small-scale etched prints after Rubens’s sketches, based on drawings after Rubens’s paintings or after works in the artist’s collection, might date from Soutman’s early years in Antwerp, soon after he left Haarlem. In her opinion the majority of the second and third states were produced later in Haarlem where Soutman received his own privilege in 1636.
Soutman’s paper portrait galleries begin in 1640 with the series of the Princes of Nassau (cat. Pr-63-73), ending with the Counts of Holland, Zeeland, and Friesland (Pr-154-192). His most productive time was around 1650 during his collaboration with Cornelis Visscher (c. 1629-1658). In total he rendered some 132 portraits of members of the various dynasties as well as famous people. Barrett realizes that Soutman’s division of labor consisted of his providing detailed portrait drawings for the engravers Suyderhoef, Van Sompel and Louys while he would add the freely etched ornamental frames surrounding them. This combination of highly finished engraved portraits surrounded by etched borders simulating ornate stucco frames, evoke painted portrait galleries.
The monograph ends with 54 comparative illustrations, a bibliography, indexes of names and works of art and present and previous owners. As Kerry Barrett states herself, “Pieter Claesz. Soutman’s technique, in paint and print, was more flexible than has been suggested and as a result, impossible to categorize in national terms that have roots in the nineteenth-century structure of art history and criticism.” Spanning both the Dutch and Flemish schools he was a truly Netherlandish artist.