Henk van Nierop, Ellen Gravowsky, Anouk Janssen (eds.), Romeyn de Hooghe: De verbeelding van de late Gouden Eeuw. With introductory essay by Henk van Nierop and contributions by Anna de Haas, Henk van Nierop, Inger Leemans, Joke Spaans, Michiel van Groesen, Donald Haks, Meredith Hale, Adri K. Offenberg, Huigen Leeflang, Garrelt Verhoeven, Piet Verkruijsse, Elmer Kolfin, Paul Knolle, Marc Hameleers, Truusje Goedings, Margriet Eikema Hommes, Piet Bakker and Dirk Jan Biemond. Cat. exh. Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteit van Amsterdam, December 10, 2008 – March 8, 2009. Zwolle: Waanders Publishers, 2008. 310 pp, 150 color, 50 b&w illus. ISBN 978-90-400-8557-4.
Joseph B. Dallett, Romeyn de Hooghe. Virtuoso Etcher. Edited by Andrew C. Weislogel, with a contribution by Tatyana Petukhova LaVine. Cat. exh. Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca (NY), August 8, 2009 – October 11, 2009. Ithaca (NY): Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, 2009. 96 pp, 65 illus. (mostly in color). ISBN 978-1-934260-11-1.
The Dutch etcher Romeyn de Hooghe (1645-1708) enjoyed a glorious career in the latter half of the seventeenth and the early years of the eighteenth centuries. Undoubtedly, he was the most successful printmaker of his age in Holland with an oeuvre of over 4,300 etchings comprising of mostly book illustrations and circa 800 loose prints. He is mostly known for his depictions of historical events but, in two exhibitions that celebrated the 300th anniversary of his death in 1708, he is shown to have been a much more versatile etcher and even an all-round artist. The exhibition at the Special Collections department of the University of Amsterdam comprised largely of prints and books from their own holdings and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University displayed a selection of Romeyn de Hooghe etchings from the famous Joseph B. Dallett collection. The two accompanying publications are in a way complementary. The Amsterdam book is a collection of essays on diverting aspects of De Hooghe’s life and art by various specialists. The Cornell publication, compiled by the collector and scholar Joseph B. Dallett himself, is traditionally organized with a short introduction followed by 57 full color photographs with their own catalogue notes offering in depth studies of individual prints.
Although the title of the Amsterdam exhibition, Romeyn de Hooghe. De verbeelding van de late Gouden Eeuw, presents the artist as a chronicler of the later Dutch Golden Age (the word verbeelding being a pun, meaning both ‘depiction’ and ‘imagination’), the publication pays homage to him in most other aspects of his life, thought and art as well. Besides, as an appendix, an updated short title list is given of printed books that contain illustrations by De Hooghe. The first set of essays is mostly dedicated to the artist’s life and ideas. More than once, it is stressed that his glorious career stands in contrast with his personality as described in contemporary sources, mainly satirical texts and pamphlets. He was portrayed as a blasphemer, a pornographer and a thief. But how could a man as terrible as Romeyn de Hooghe have received so many important commissions? Or rather, should the satirical texts mentioned above be used as documentary sources in the way it is done by some of the authors? The artist’s deeds were especially criticized in Het Boulonnois hondtie of 1681, probably by Govert Bidloo. He is accused of being a kleptomaniac, a fiddler, a forger and a fornicator. The author and the artist were well acquainted since at least as early as 1675 and they appear to have continued their collaboration for many years after the publication of the text. Was there really a fight between the two friends as serious as to justify such grave accusations? Or were the accusations in Bidloo’s text deliberately so outrageously exaggerated as to ridicule charges of much lighter offences? Did the author simply try to help his friend? Also Romeyn’s output as printmaker is used to reach conclusions on the artist’s thoughts and preferences. From the large number of pro-House-of-Orange prints, one could possibly count him as member of the Orangist-league. But is it safe to assume he was sympathetic to the Jewish cause from just a few etchings with specific Jewish subjects? It is sometimes too easily forgotten that De Hooghe was an artist by profession who had to earn his daily living by his work.
The artist’s versatility as an etcher is stressed in essays on portrait prints, news prints, political prints, satirical prints and maps and other topographical prints. Of course, the distinction between these genres is arbitrary and, perhaps, anachronistic but the various authors remind us of this fact regularly. In fact, some of Romeyn de Hooghe’s most famous prints are clever combinations of the aforementioned genres. Lesser known aspects of Romeyn de Hooghe’s life and art are discussed in a further set of essays dedicated to his plans for a school of design, his paintings and his designs for decorative arts, respectively. Several legal documents regarding the founding of the school of design give detailed insights on De Hooghe’s didactic ideas. Not only printmaking was going to be taught. Drawing, painting, sculpture and pattern making (for decorative arts) were considered just as important. Moreover, an education in the arts was supposed to be provided for both the children of the city’s nobility as well as for orphans and other needy. The division of work in De Hooghe’s studio becomes clear from the detailed documentation on the painted decorations in the town hall of Enkhuizen, one of his large-scale painting projects. Romeyn proves to have been the designer and overseer rather than the painter. The actual execution was left largely to workshop assistants and/or hired hands.
The Cornell publication provides many elaborate and well documented catalogue texts and the choice of etchings shows most aspects of De Hooghe’s career. In most cases, prints were chosen that are not discussed or only briefly mentioned in the Amsterdam catalogue. The focus of the notes is on iconography. Notwithstanding the clear explanations of the prints’ subject matter, sometimes an elaboration on the circumstances of the publication of an individual work is badly missed as well as a discussion of De Hooghe’s imagery in the light of iconographic traditions. On the other hand, in a few cases, new information is brought forward. For instance, two new devotional manuals can now be added to the aforementioned short title list, an edition of Thomas a Kempis’ De Imitatione Christi printed in Cologne in 1669 and one printed in the same town in 1670 (cat. nos. 6 and 7).
Both exhibition catalogues offer a thorough inside into Romeyn de Hooghe’s life and art. None of them pretends to be a definitive study on the artist. The Amsterdam publication was written for the larger public but, at the same time, provides a status quaestiones in De Hooghe studies and a starting point for further research while the Cornell publication provides much additional information. The well-documented and eloquently composed texts bring so many new aspects to light that, inevitably, at the same time they also raise new questions.