Houbraken Translated

RKD STUDIES

Volume 2, page 240-249


Page 240

that are great in invention, firmly drawn, and vigorously brushed?

We had said of our Ludolf Bakhuizen that he knew how to imitate nature wonderfully well, and continue that this was also the reason why his art was in demand at most of the courts.

In the year 1665, the gentlemen burgomasters of Amsterdam had him paint a large work, full of the bustle of all kinds of ships, and yachts and their mercantile city in the distance, for which they gave him 1,300 guilders and another honour or gift above and beyond that [1]. This work served as a present for Louis XIV, King of France, who was greatly pleased with it and had it placed in the Louvre together with other handsome art of the brush. Cosimo III de' Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany [2], Friedrich I, the King of Prussia, the Elector of Saxony, and various German princes did not only buy his art works but also came to visit him in person in Amsterdam to make their own choice from what he had made. Just as he also had the honour that Peter I, the great Tsar of Muscovia not only came to visit him (while he stayed here for some time) but also desired that our Bakhuizen draw various types of ships in his presence. And his majesty drew some ships on paper at the same time (being especially inclined to learn the fundamentals of ship building). To his knowledge of naval architecture and to the respect that foreign art lovers have for his brushwork, the top poet David van Hoogstraten alludes in the following verse, in which he speaks out to his praise:

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1
Ludolf Bakhuizen
The 'Spiegel' with in the background the silhouette of Amsterdam, dated 1666
canvas, oil paint 127 x 220 cm
lower left : AN.DE SPIEGEL 1668 LUDOLFF BACKHUYSEN
Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv./cat.nr. 988

2
Ludolf Bakhuizen
Ships in a storm, dated 1667
canvas, oil paint 65 x 79 cm
lower left : LB 1667
Florence, Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), inv./cat.nr. 464 (1913)


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Oh art jewel of Amsterdam!
Oh honour, Oh
splendour of your family!
Later descendents will know you
As long as brush and pens are everywhere
Valued and highly esteemed;
As long as shipping retains its power;
And ship building
highly esteemed:
Can tempt the eyes of connoisseurs.
Then your ship painting strives
To surpass all other artists.
And
shimmers in the eye of Amstel’s denizens,
Who gratefully preserve your name;
Your name not spread here alone,
But spread
out through all places,
Down to the princely courts,
Which praise the work of your hands.
Then you help poets to material,
On which to expand in your praise.
Then you necessitate Apollo and Apelles,
To pronounce your eternal fame.
The arts of painting and poetry
Entered
into mutual alliance
Honour you with wreaths,
And
praise you to heaven’s vaults,
Where your pen, so unsullied,
So
precise, so refined, fills creation.

His zeal for art stayed with him to the end of his life, although he was exceptionally often plagued by the stone or gravel, which he took for a harbinger that had come to foretell his departure, which is why he prepared himself so well for that great journey and accepted it with such

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comfort that when the hour approached that he had to depart from here (thus it is said) not the least fright or change could be discerned. He died in the year 1709 [= 1708], on the 7th of November, being 78 years old.

If one were to see all the art works that he ever made together, one would be surprised at the man's diligence, and all the more if one further considers how much time he must have spent teaching calligraphy, for which he had discovered mathematical foundations or fixed rules and which he taught to various children of prominent merchants (as he was famous for this), in addition to a multitude of executed drawings and etched plates. From which we must conclude that he hardly let an hour of him time slip away idle, a zeal to which the moralizing poet Jeremias de Decker alludes most edifyingly and emphatically in the following verse.

Do not let the most priceless of all
Slip away from you carelessly:
It is
Time, which quickly glides:
Never will he return.
Oh! How
few is the number,
Who measure the hours as they pass
!

A case that is rare, and of which I know of no other instance, remains for me to mention. As it is customary in Amsterdam that those who have accompanied the deceased to the interment should be offered a glass of wine and that this be supplied by the survivors, he had taken the care and arrangements for this on himself.

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For he had himself gone to the vintner to taste the wine required for his own funeral and had it put away in sealed bottles. After his death they also found a small sack of money in which he had as many guilders as he was years old counted out for those who would carry him to his grave, as well as a written list of the names of the painters whom he had selected from the bent, with the instructions to consume it together.

In addition, to show that the passion for art stayed with him to the evening of his life, it remains to say that he etched plates under the title of De Y Stroom en Zeegegezichten etc. [= The Y River, and Sea prospects] in the 71st year of his old age [3-4]. He also always had an unusual predilection for poetry and thus maintained friendships with the most esteemed poets of his time, especially with Misters Petrus Francius, Joan van Broekhuizen, Joannes Antonides van der Goes and David van Hoogstraten. Among various poems made about him and his famous art, the Latin poem by Joan van Broekhuizen is praised above all. The meaning of which, translated by the mentioned Hoogstraten, adds up to this:

Aeolus, to be followed by no one,
When you angry and enraged
Toss the wet of the sea to the heavens,
Where everything shakes and
moans and cries out,
And
a terrible lightning storm blows in
Shakes everything from the ground upward,
And
howls with lightning, blow upon blow:
And roaring thunder bolt:
Or caresses the
piling up of the waves,

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3
attributed to Jacob Gole after Ludolf Bakhuizen
Portrait of Ludolf Bakhuizen (1630-1708), c. 1701
paper, mezzotint 185 x 147 mm
lower center : L. Bakhuizen out 71 jaar.
The Hague, RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History

4
Ludolf Bakhuizen published by Ludolf Bakhuizen
Allegory of the Amsterdam sea trade with a view of the IJ, c. 1701
paper, etching ? x ? mm
Amsterdam, Stadsarchief Amsterdam


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And has all the heavens clear up,
And guides the ships to the harbour;
Oh mute poet of the sea,
What will I first rise to the top?
Your work, which could capture this so well
Or your matchless understanding?
When you take the brush to hand,
And paint the
cavernous sea after life,
Leander’s heart begins to shake,
So that he regrets even courtship.
Ulysses is frightened before the wild salt.
The eye moving to the other side,
Sees the shepherd cheerfully singing,
While lying on the shore,
To the rustling of the Ionian
Sea.
Who gave you this art,
Bakhuizen, to strive so high?
What master took you so far?
That was no human work, oh no.
But you received this gift
From Venus herself, risen from the sea.

We have placed his portrait at the top of Plate I and crowned the decorative frame with a ship, with a writing pen below.

We have already brought a group of alert men in art on stage, and such who out of a knowledgeable concept have addressed the most important matters in art works and have also directed most of their art and energy to introduce the attributes fittingly according to reason and dedicated them as examples for the youthful painter (to follow this praiseworthy path). Now it

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pleases us to introduce some failings with respect to this, to avoid them.

Philips Angel II in his Lof der schilder-konst [Praise of Painting] is of the opinion that an upright painter must have experience with and knowledge of all histories to prevent any false steps that may spring from ignorance. Amongst many (says he) I have encountered a piece by an important painter whom I do not wish to mention. His intention was to depict the widow of Zarephath with her little son gleaning wood outside the city, where the prophet Elijah encounters her, about which you can read in 1 Kings 17. This history requires torrid dry air, barren fields and trees scorched black, which, due to the drought that lasted a whole year on end, had lost their lush green foliage. But instead of paying attention to these facts he had depicted the air filled with mists and clouds and storm winds. The latter he had wished to express by a grain mill that he had placed on the city walls, bent down at the four ends of the sails. In addition he had supplied the meadows with a host of cattle and trees rendered as green as in the first days of May. It is well-observed by our author as proof that the painter will not even have read the historical description in advance, at least not paying attention to this saying of the prophet: as truly as the Lord God of Israel lives, before whose face I stand, should dew or rain fall on the land, etc.

How that windmill came into the head of that painter (in the way that they are presently used) I know not, seeing that it is used there as anachronistically as the pickled herring in a work by Jan Steen, in which he depicts the fable of

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Mitra from Ovid, since the practice of salting herring and other fish was discovered only 300 years ago by one Willem Beukelszoon of Biervliet. See Batavia Illustrata page 365.

We do not wish to make an issue of such mistakes by painters who are still alive. But he who long ago depicted the devil as he confronts Christ with temptations in the desert with a monk's cap, is known amongst the practitioners and lovers of prints, as when great masters have placed tonsured brothers at the cross of Christ or the Ascension of Mary, which is no more fitting than if one were to depict the penitential preacher Jonah under the tree of the Ninevites wearing a jabot and cloak as are now used by such folks. But that someone has depicted tonsured brothers with the Ascension of Mary may be excused when one considers that such scenes were made for clerics who probably wanted it that way and that such people are prone only to talking and will not tolerate contradiction.

The great Paolo Veronese has repeatedly dressed figures in old-time histories after the fashion of his own times. Thus he has them sitting in apron-stringed tunics, slashed trousers and Spanish collars when he depicts the wedding at Cana in Galilee [5]. That is no more fitting than what Pater Abraham a Sancta Clara tells in his booklet of Ambachten [Trades] of a painter from Austria, who had depicted the Raising of Lazarus and in it a funeral bier on which lay a statue of the crucified Christ, with two burning candles and a holy water font next to it.

I also recall having seen a work by the great

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5
Paolo Veronese
The Wedding at Cana, between 1562 and 1563
canvas, oil paint 677 x 994 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv./cat.nr. 142


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Rembrandt, depicting Martha complaining to Christ that Mary is not doing her share of the housework and is leaving it all to her. There sat Martha shown baking cakes under the chimney piece in the way that is customary in this country, in a Liège iron pan, at a time before Liège had been named Liège.

All such errors originate from a lack of historical and antiquarian insight.

But this manner of reprimand Franciscus Junius (often praised by me for his wise judgment) appears to contradict on page 331 of his third book, armed with sayings from Horace and others, where he says: It is therefore not at all my opinion that people, while searching for the highest perfection, should judge every detail by a repulsive and haggling grumpiness according to a clever understanding of the rules of art, because one should make minor concessions to the elevated understanding of great masters, meaning that we should be relaxed about minor mistakes without ignoring major and insupportable failings in them. It appears that people wish to place themselves above others with respect to truth, or at least do not consider that we are human beings who can err, when they do not wish to excuse the mistakes made by others.

But Junius, this does not touch me. It is not my intention to test everything according to the cleverest understanding of the rules of art and to then to avenge and censure everything that runs counter to it, knowing full well that the great masters made mistakes. The great Homer is sometimes wont to slumber says Horace, with whose artful

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translator Andries Pels, I speak about the art of painting as he does about poetry:

Not that I desire a poem just so perfect,
That I would not excuse a mistake by the poet,
When striking a
lute a string may sometimes give another tone.
When heart and hand desire, one grasps by adventure,
Even if one
expects to play B major, one may get B minor.
Nor does the arrow always hit what eye and bow aim for.
Thus, I know
how to make allowance for a blemish or two,
Which
springs from neglect or human weakness:
As long as the greatest part of the work is excellent.

Art is long and our life short
said Hippocrates. And Joost van den Vondel said with respect to poetry: one climbs the steep heights of Parnassus slowly while panting and sweating. These sayings indicate that the arts are acquired slowly and that the course of a life is too short to reach the perfection of art (which takes a long detour). Most of us sink into the grave when half way. Only few reach the top. Yes, what do I say, no one has ever come so far as to master art in all its perfection. Some have made amazing progress in it, but no one has ever been immaculately perfect and believe me, it will never happen that we encounter someone who is perfect in all parts of art. Raphael, whose art of the brush is honoured as divine, also has his failings but so many fewer that he is praised all the more, which is why he still keeps his fame as

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prince of painters. No one will balk if I sometimes point to shortcomings that have crept into the work of alert men, as they serve as beacons of fire carefully to avoid the unknown reefs of shortcomings that lead to shipwreck.

I no more want to excuse myself than censure others, because I have often strayed as well by following others on their path. Nor is it my intention to consider no one a great master in art if he is not free of all failings. It can’t be. After all, we still do not have an example of someone who had progressed so far in art that one can say that his works are perfect; for we are all human beings who are subject to failings, and as a consequence to censure. Should anyone appear who can say without vanity and claim on firm ground and by visible manifestations that he understands art perfectly, we and the entire school of art will offer him praise beneath the foliage of that radiant crown of honour.

As further excuse we must also say in good faith about our greatest painters what Andries Pels says about the most famous poets:

And it grieves my heart when Hooft or Vondel sometimes errs.

Failings or mistakes are subject to censure, as are students under their instructor, and thus it is necessary that the mistakes are pointed out to improve on them or

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