Houbraken Translated

RKD STUDIES

Volume 1, page 250-259


Page 250

PIETER DANCKERTS was born in Amsterdam in 1605. He was a good painter of portraits. His brushwork was esteemed both in the Netherlands as in other regions, as appears from the verse below, rhymed in his praise in his time.

Oh widely famed art which traverses many a kingdom,
When you handle your fine brush well after life,
As did many a time at the Polish court
De Rij, by whose hand
exist many commendable pieces.

Like the lustre of the sun, which is born from the dawn in the morning, sinks away exhausted in a misty evening hour, even so it is with human life. The year 1606 saw various suns rise on the horizon of the heavens of art and others, having shone over the entire world, descend into the grave. Amongst these was Karel van Mander I, skilful painter and author of the lives of the painters. We would also have been required (because of his contributions) to commemorate him amongst the most commendable Netherlandisch painters were not that his way of life and what he wrought are already described in detail, as found in the second edition of 1618, in the back of his work, so that we have nothing more to say about him (were it not that the year and month are overlooked there) but that his life ended on the 11th of September of 1606, when he was 58 years old, and that the excellent poet Joost van den Vondel wrote this verse in honour of his portrait [1]

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1
Jan Saenredam after Hendrick Goltzius
Portrait of Karel van Mander (1548-1606), 1604 (dated)
paper, copper engraving 175 x 120 mm
The Hague, RKD – Nederlands Instituut voor Kunstgeschiedenis (Collectie Iconografisch Bureau)


Page 251

SIC ITUR AD ASTRA

One sees the spirit of old Karel float,
In this print, but more lively in the work
Of the
Schilder-boeck, in which the painters live,
After their time, his pen in the
arena
Of
the art of painting, teaches the teachable youth to strive
And wrestle, after the example of nature,
And explains to them the
meaning of painting
From
Ovid’s poetry, that Jove’s lightning fire
Braves with his changes in guise,
So divine and artfully joined
When Mander untied her, and with that singing
Brought forth the oracles of that hero,
What does this picture
demand? Not gold, nor jewels,
A painter’s crown of the
noblest brushes.
MDCLVII

Also, that he left a son named KAREL van MANDER II, not unequal in art and intellect. He was especially famous for the painting of portraits, which is why he was summoned by the King of Denmark and made himself beloved by his art and behaviour and brought much fame and profit from there. This is confirmed by the prince of Dutch poets at the head of the verse that he made on the depiction of his royal majesty Frederik III of Denmark, Norway and Gottorp painted by our Van Mander [= Karel van Mander III] [2], where he calls him court painter of this majesty, and further announces:

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2
Karel van Mander (III)
Portrait of King Frederik III of Denmark (1609-1670), in armour, with a view on Frederiksborg, 1656
canvas, oil paint 211 x 121 cm
Hillerød, The National Museum of History Frederiksborg Castle, inv./cat.nr. A 4086


Page 252

The spirit of Van Mander, to paint the majesty
Of King Frederic, does not lack paint but the
panache,
Which glows with lively rays from four crowns
Or
projects divine elegance from his north star.
What council? The painter sits
worried and timid
In great matters art misses her power, and command.
Brushes are too light to match sceptres in weight
He therefore
in the distance paints the sea and sea palace
The Sont and Kroonenburg,
so that people might know the setting.
With marks of the crown, the
weak painter
Would strengthen his powerlessness, before he weakened in the race.
So art lowers its flag before the King’s lustre and throne.

And as he climbed to that height in art only by his sensible lessons of instruction, so there are also other commendable men grown out of his instruction, such as Jacob van Musscher I, Cornelis Engelsz., Hendrick Pot, François Venant etc., and especially Frans Hals.

It seems to me that the son of old Karel’s son [= Karel van Mander III] was also a practitioner of art, going by a verse that Joost van den Vondel made on his own portrait painted by him. It reads thus:

I closed a ring of ten times seven years
When Mander, whose brush, so richly gifted,
Trots to heaven
in his grandfather’ footsteps and fame,
Painted me, covered in gray hairs,

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Page 253

Since Frederick’s crown is respected and envied,
So my shade can live on after my time.
MDCLVII

We have seen by now that Antwerp has provided the longest list of painters for our theatre, but other cities, such as Malines, also placed their ingenious ones on the roll.

PETER FRANCHOYS was born in the year 1606 on the 20th of October. He first studied art with his father [= Lucas Franchoys I] and then with Gerard Seghers in Antwerp. His inclination tended most to the painting of landscapes with small figures, which he painted with marvellous precision and purely, so that Archduke Leopold took much pleasure in his work and kept him in his service for a long time. He died on the 11th of August 1654 and we leave it to his art to announce its master’s praise.

In that year 1606 was also born in Brussels LOUIS COUSIN also known as Louis Primo, nicknamed Jentiel. After he advanced so far in art that he could, as they say, pay his way (but under whose supervision I do not know) he went to Rome, where he remained active for 30 years. His way of painting was detailed, meaningful and precise, from which the Brabant word Jentiel found its origins. His art has the honour of being placed with the best art in the papal palace. He was still alive in 1660.

Sandrart, who also commemorates him among the artists, has it that his nickname gentile was

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Page 254

given to him in 1626 in Rome when he joined the bent; because he was able to present himself favourably, associated with great people and behaved as if a born nobleman.

This year 1606, exceptionally fruitful in producing good artists, also had REMBRANDT appear on the 15th of June on the Rhine outside Leiden.

His father was usually called Harmen Gerritz. van Rijn, being a miller of a grain mill between Leiderdorp and Koudekerk on the Rhine, and his mother was named Neeltje Willems van Zuijdtbrouck, who were able to secure an honest living with that profession.

Our Rembrandt van Rijn being an only son, his parents decided to have him learn the Latin language and to raise him to learning, to which end they sent him to school in Leiden. But the exceptional passion he had for drawing made them change their minds, which is why they subsequently placed him with Jacob van Swanenburgh to learn the basics of art, with whom he remained around three years, in which time he had advanced so far that everyone was amazed by this and concluded that something great was to be expected from him. His father therefore decided (so that he would lack no opportunity for a firm foundation for the advancement of art) to bring him to Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam, with whom he remained for six months, and after that time a few more month with Jacob Pynas, until he decided henceforth to practice his art on his own, in which he succeeded marvellously well from the beginning. Others want Pynas to have been his first

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Page 255

instructor in art. And Simon van Leeuwen, in his short description of Leiden, said that Joris van Schooten was the teacher of Rembrandt and Jan Lievens.

While he daily advanced his art diligently and with great passion on his own in his parents' house, he was visited now and then by art lovers, who eventually made overtures to a Lord in The Hague to the end that he should show and offer him a certain piece that he had made then. Rembrandt set off on foot for The Hague with this piece and sold it for a hundred guilders. He, wonderfully pleased, and unaccustomed to having so much money in his purse, sought at once to reach home by the quickest means possible, so that his parents might partake in the pleasure he took in it.

Going on foot was now beneath him, travelling by canal barge too common, so he went and sat on the coach going to Leiden.

Now when they stopped at the house Den Deil to change horses and all disembarked from the carriage to refresh themselves, our Rembrandt alone remained sitting on the carriage with his booty, not trusting it unattended. What happened? the manger hardly put away, while the coachman was already approaching with the rest of the people, the horses bolted and ran off with him, without bothering to turn until inside the gate of the city of Leiden, and stopped with the coach in front of their regular inn, which amazed everyone, asking him how it had happened, to whom he had little to say, but made off with his booty from the wagon

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Page 256

and headed for his parents, well-satisfied that he had thus been brought to Leiden more speedily than otherwise, for free and without any cost.

Now this splendid beginning had him look forward to financial gain and his passion for art increased accordingly, so that he gave satisfaction to all connoisseurs of art. Thus (as the saying goes) he got his hands full of work. And as he was subsequently often necessitated to come to Amsterdam for the painting of portraits as well as other pieces, he thought it good (seeing that this city was particularly advantageous for him, and his advancement there assured) to move his household there, which was around the year 1630.

Once there the work flowed in from all directions, as did a host of students, to which end he rented a warehouse on the Bloemgracht, where each of his students had a space of his own (divided with paper or sailcloth) in order to paint from life without bothering each other. And just as amongst youths, especially when a lot of them are together, something comic may sometimes occur, so it happened here too. For one of them, requiring a woman as live model, brought her into his enclosed space. This sparked the curiosity of the others, so that they, in their stockings (to avoid being heard) took turns spying on the event through a small tear in the paper, deliberately created to this end. Now it was a warm summer's day when this occurred, so that both the draughtsman and the model undressed until stark naked. What playful actions and

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Page 257

conversation occurred between those two, the observers of this comedy could tell. It so happened at the same time that Rembrandt came to see what his students were doing, proceeding to instruct them as usual by going from the one to the next until he eventually also came to the cubicle where the two naked lovers were sitting together, which he found tightly closed, and informed of the situation, silently watched the play for a while through the slit that had been made, until among other exchanges of words he heard them saying: Surely is it just as if we were Adam and Eve in Paradise, for we are both naked. Whereupon he knocked on the door with his maulstick and with raised voice, to the astonishment of both, called out to them: Because you are naked, that is why you must leave Paradise, compelling his student with threats to open the door from within, so that he entered, interrupted the play of Adam and Eve, converted the comedy into a tragedy, and evicted the would-be Adam and his Eve with blows, so that they could barely, while running down the stairs, get a portion of their clothes on their bodies, so as not to go naked into the street.

With respect to art he was rich in invention, which is why one not seldom sees depicted a multitude of differing sketches of the same subject, also full of changes with respect to the features, the way of standing, as in the disposition of the clothing; in which he is to be praised above others (especially those who apply the same expressions and clothing in their works, even as if they were twins). Yes, he excelled in that above all others.

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Page 258

And I know no one who has made such a multitude of changes and sketches of one and the same subject. This springs from attentive consideration to the many passions which are necessarily set in motion in such a situation and manifest themselves especially by fixed characteristics and also reveal themselves by varying movements of the body. To give an example, when Christ makes himself known to his disciples, who had gone with him to Emmaus, by the breaking of bread, there are various sketches [3] (aside from the two that have come out in print) [4-5] known to lovers of drawing. And there are a not smaller number of sketches of the figures of the two disciples when Christ had disappeared from their sight, which is why they stood aghast, amazed and astonished. We have taken one of these that pleased us most for the emotion of the astonishment observed in it, and the amazed staring at the empty chair in which Christ had sat a moment before but has now disappeared, as a guide for inexperienced youthful painters, and shown it opposite.

The initiated must not interpret my ambition negatively. It is to give the youth reason for observation and those who are not ungrateful will reward my efforts with thanks, because such examples are (as the Spanish maxim says) like the hand that leads oxen to water by the muzzle.

But one thing is to be lamented, that so capriciously driven to changes, or to something else, he completed many things only halfway,

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3
Rembrandt or after Rembrandt
The supper at Emmaus, c. 1640
paper, pen in brown ink, brown wash, heightened in white 199 x 182 mm
Cambridge (England), Fitzwilliam Museum, inv./cat.nr. 2139

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4
Rembrandt
The supper at Emmaus (small plate), dated 1634
paper, etching, drypoint 102 x 73 mm
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv./cat.nr. RP-P-1961-1037

5
Rembrandt
The supper at Emmaus, dated 1654
paper, etching, drypoint, 2nd state 211 x 160 mm
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv./cat.nr. RP-P-OB-158


Page 259

both in his paintings and even more in his etched prints. Here what has been done gives us an idea of all that is fine that we might have had from his hand had he so much as finished a thing according to its beginnings, as can be seen especially in the so-called hundred guilder print [6] and others, regarding which we must stand amazed at its manner of handling because we cannot understand how he knew how to carry it out from the initial rough sketch, as is also evident from what he has done with the little portrait of Johannes Lutma I [7] that one sees first in print in a rough sketch, subsequently with a background, and finally in finished form. And so it also went with his paintings, of which I have seen some in which things were finished in the extreme and the rest was smeared on as if with a crude tar-brush, without any consideration given to drawing. And he was not to be budged from this practice, adopting as explanation that a piece is finished when the master has achieved his intention for it, so much so that he is supposed to have obscured an entire beautiful Cleopatra to ensure that a single pearl had strength. An example of his obstinacy concerning this manner of handling comes to mind. It happened that he had a large portrait under way in which husband, wife and children stood. With this piece partially completed, a monkey that he owned unexpectedly came to die. Having no other canvas ready at hand, he painted the dead monkey in the aforementioned piece, to which the people objected greatly, not wanting their portraits to be put on display along with that of a disgusting dying monkey. But no, he had so much affection for that image of the dead monkey that

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6
Rembrandt
Christ healing the sick (The Hundred Guilder Print), c. 1648
paper, etching, engraving, drypoint 270 x 387 mm
Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet, inv./cat.nr. RP-P-1962-1

7
Rembrandt
Portrait of Johannes Lutma I (1584-1669), 1656
paper, etching, drypoint, 1st state 198 x 148 mm
Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet, inv./cat.nr. RP-P-OB-550


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