Houbraken Translated

RKD STUDIES

Volume 1, page 1-9


Page 1

THE

GREAT THEATRE

Of the

NETHERLANDISH

PAINTERS

And

PAINTRESSES.

It has been a custom as of old to erect images in marble or metal of men who projected above common people in the sciences and arts, to render their memory indelible, to book their names and actions on durable parchment against consuming time, and to hang their portraits painted on panels so that they might provide descendants with amazement and a path to emulation.

The truth of this saying is as clear as the sun, so that no one will require proof nor contest the priority of the noble art of painting relative to sculpture and the art of writing since, in addition, it is able to imitate facial features and other things of visible nature with such lively elegance and natural colour, and as a result with such incomparably greater perfection,

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so that all else is but like underpaint in comparison.

It is therefore no surprise that the art of painting was so highly esteemed at those times and in those places in which the sciences and arts reared their heads and the intelligence and diligence of distinguished men were spurred on and awakened by honour and reward (the true nurturers of these qualities). And how greatly the art of painting was esteemed of old by the Greeks is clear from these examples. Attalus, others say Ptolemeus, offered the painter Nicias for one of his works in which Ulysses was depicted, sixty talents, which is thirty thousand golden crowns. But Nicias refused to sell it but presented it as a gift to Athens, his city of birth. This same Attalus (according to the testimony of Pliny) gave 100 talents for a piece of painting by Aristides. Also, Asclepiodorus painted twelve images of the gods and Mnason gave him 300 Minen for each of them.*

Even in later days mentioned Pliny testified that Julius Caesar had Timomahus the Byzantine paint images of Ajax and Medea to be hung in the temple of Venus, the vegetation goddess, and paid 80 talents for them. Finally the high esteem in which they held the art of painting in olden days will be clear from Demitrius. Angry with those of Rhodes because they had sealed a pact with his enemy Ptolomeus,


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* According to the calculations of some, 3,600 mienen silver for the 12 painted images of gods add up to 63,000 guilders.

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killed Alcinous the Epirotean, a brave war hero, and captured a ship with rich cargo sent to him by his wife Phila, shipping it on to Ptolomeus. Demetrius arrived at that citadel with his army with the intention of destroying it with fire and sword. What happened? The besieged sent emissaries to beg that he punish only those who had deserved it by their misbehaviour but spare a work of art by Jalchus, which Protogenes of Caunus was at work restoring. Desirous of seeing this work of art, Demetrius is so moved by this marvellous depiction that he changes his mind. See Plutarch in the life of Demetrius. Thus one sees that the most famous authors amongst the Greeks and Latins revered the art of painting highly and wrote about it with great praise.

But as far as their works of art, as well as the books that people say that Antigonus, Protogenes, Theophanes, Euphranor, Xenocrates and Apelles wrote about the art of painting (the latter dedicated his book to his pupil Perseus) are concerned, they went the same way as much of their philosophy, as we only know that they wrote books about their learning and sciences but that since they have together been destroyed by all-consuming time, nothing but the fame of their works of art and their learned writings has escaped oblivion.

More fortunate than the Greeks are the Italians because the books that they wrote about the art of painting and the lives of the painters,

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wrested from the decay of time, are still extant; there being the writings of the knight Giorgio Vasari. He wrote until the year 1567, making use of the annotations of Lorenzo Ghiberti, Domenico Ghirlandaio and the great Raphael, as well as of Giovanni Baglione, who wrote up to the year 1642, being a sequel to Vasari. Carlo Ridolfi also wrote a book about painters, but he only treats the Venetians. Leonardo da Vinci wrote about the art of painting in Italian, with a long introduction by Raphaël Trichet du Fresne. Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo wrote on proportion of the measurements of the body. But this cannot serve us as our aim, nor can Franciscus Junius, although I must say to his fame that his breast was filled with a wonderful longing and sympathy for art, since he did not spare himself the inimitable effort to delve into everything that one needs to know about the praise and promotion of art from indistinct antiquity, but carried on praiseworthily and placed a crown on the head of art that will not be obscured by the envy of time and ignorance, and therefore reached his goal.

After him, Karel van Mander took up the pen, and not only described the didactic lessons of art in verses but as an example for descendants was also the first to record the remembrances of the Netherlandish painters (so that these might not be stifled in the grave of oblivion).

A considerable time later, Cornelis de Bie from Lier took up the sword but fenced mainly for the glory of his compatriots and paid little heed to Dutch painters.

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After this time there were also French writers, such as André Félibien, Florent le Comte and Roger de Piles, who described the biographies of some of the most important Dutch painters and somewhat clarified for me things about which I was still in the dark.

But I was able to extract greater service from the precious work of The German Academy by Joachim van Sandrart /of Stockau /High-Princely Pfaltz- Neuburg Council. This work describes the art and art practitioners from their earliest beginnings, just like Van Mander, and in addition, in 180 depictions, shows the most famous Greek, Roman, French, German and Dutch painters, rendered in copper by the most important engravers. It is truly a work by which the author achieved undying fame, and it is also especially to be lauded because he praised the Dutch as well as the German artists with little partiality according to their accomplishments. And though he, like others, follows and copies Van Mander (with respect to those who are described by him), just as the entire organization of the work is made on the same last, he has more of them on his list because he continues to the year 1675. However, the case is such that we can say with Seneca: The ones who have preceded us have done much; but there still remains much for us to do. Let us then try to increase these things that we have received, and pass on this augmented inheritance to our descendants.

It is incontrovertible that the following centuries, including the one in which we live, could yield artists worthy of fame, that the favour of the art-nourishing muses

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is not limited to any clime or location, that those who live outside Greece and Rome are not be taken for inferior latecomers, and that the region in which the Dutch language is spoken, no matter how small compared to Italy and other lands and kingdoms, was in no way infertile in its understanding and compass in the production and nurture of commendable intellects nor deprived of praiseworthy artists, but that the goddess of art had famous artists blossom both of old as in recent times within the Dutch lion’s garden.

Karel van Mander, whose diligence must be praised by all, argued the first proposition with many an example; and the latter saying we, who are determined to follow his Schilder-boeck, will show primarily with respect Netherlandish artists.

However, we have not been able to determine this so precisely that we must not sometimes take an outside leap to neighbouring lands because many of our distinguished painters, both past and present, moved with their household from Germany, Switzerland, the region of Jülich, the region of Cologne, and so forth, to Gelderland, Brabant and other surrounding provinces, as well as to Holland, and practised their art there, living out their days as natives. They include Caspar Netscher, born in Prague, in Bohemia, Johannes Lingelbach and Abraham Mignon in Frankfurt, Johann Liss II in Oldenburg, Peter Paul Rubens in Cologne,Gerard de Lairesse in Liège, Govert Flinck

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in Cleves,Nicolaes van Helt Stockade in Nijmegen, Ludolf Bakhuizen and Frederik de Moucheron, in Emden, Ernst Stuven in Hamburg, Dirck Ferreris in Enkhuizen, Gerard ter Borch II in Deventer, Lambert Jacobsz in Leeuwarden, and a great many in Brabant.

In contrast stand Dutchmen who, stimulated by wanderlust, spent their entire lifetime outside their fatherland and practiced their art in the service of foreign courts. Concerning these we have often had to look beyond wild seas and steep alpine mountain ranges for information, which did not prevent this book from wearing the name of The Lives of the Netherlandish Artists on its forehead.

Karel van Mander, to get to the point (after he had composed a list of then living artists), closes his book with the year 1604, and thus some hundred years have passed from that time until now without anyone following along the same lines in the Dutch language. In this respect it was high time (so that the damage of so great a loss need not be taken to heart by anyone) that the pen be picked up before all-consuming time had entirely erased the remembrance of many.

Blessed nine muses, nurturers of honest arts and sciences on Parnassus, who bathed in the tingling glow of Apollo's head ornamentation, give your favourites, when they beseech you, that same fire kindled in their bosom, rally their spirit and grant their minds a clear understanding of matters,

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favour my intention and help me unwind things wrapped in obscurity by oblivion, so that I may receive an illuminated view of the darkness and bring art onstage according to her worth, and all of the practitioners according to their worth, so that finally, after my exhausted diligence, I may say with Horace:

I have completed a commemoration of the people
that can brave steel.

But it seems to me that I hear from the sidelines: What are you letting yourself in for? What moves you, uncompelled, to bear such a load on your shoulders, to wake while others take their rest, to be in your exertions always overburdened with analyzing, researching and hunting down things that have long been forgotten and, finally, to worry yourself about something from which you could discharge yourself, especially in such a century as that in which we live, in which everyone is out for himself, and almost no one for the benefit or profit of others? And since in this corrupt age one can not only expect little thanks from many for that effort but, on the contrary, meddlers (to whom the saying The best helmsmen stand on shore, can be applied) will carp and split hairs about the writing style, arrangement and joining of words (though they have never demonstrated their competence).

How now? Shall I abandon this praiseworthy intention, which leads to the fame of artists and the support of noble art, because of the meddling of the night brood of Momus, which is not able to endure the light of science in its owlish face, and deprive those who

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yearn and fervently long for it? No! Reason teaches me that to be helpful to each other's benefit (in any form whatsoever) as well as to one's own is the chain that links human society.

How sweet it would be if all people dedicated their abilities to every particular and general benefit and if the artists among themselves were prepared, as one body, and each individual as particular part, to serve one another, demonstrate helpfulness, and thus build up art! Whoever is for himself alone (says the maxim) shows he is a miser. But it is to be lamented that the world is becoming ever more corrupt, and that this evil nature is the reason why many who could create something for the benefit of the whole and the inquisitive in particular, hold back their pens. For as quickly as anything comes to light, it is attacked by satirical and slanderous missives, a crime that discourages and forever strangles all admirable scholarship.

The renowned poet of De Ystroom also saw things this way when he said:

Did not Scaliger accuse Flaccus’ lyre’
So
divine in sound and grace,
Of out-of-tune strings?
And is not
Ovid’s noble spirit
Accused of
having been inexperienced,
Too loose and excessive?
Who, then, would expose himself to this light
If heroes are charged with such failings?

It was a strange concept of my master

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