Houbraken Translated

RKD STUDIES

Volume 2, page 330-339


Page 330

to practice under the guidance of his intellect.

His preference went out to the painting of trees, landscapes and land battles, in which he excelled exceptionally, so that these pursuits were approved by impartial art lovers, and his fame therefore resounded to neighbouring France.

Monsieur Jean-Baptiste Colbert, important protector of art, at once appreciated his art work and had him paint some pieces which he first showed to Charles Le Brun (who was at once convinced of Van der Meulen’s competence and that he would be able to be of service to the King with the art of his brush) so that he thought it good to introduce him to the King to that end, as happened. The king then gave the order to summon him from Brussels to Paris.

Van der Meulen, who now saw that Fortune nodded at him from afar, broke up from Brussels with his household and entered the service of the King, who granted him 2,000 crowns annually and a free dwelling in Gobelins [= Paris]. In addition the King paid for his expenses when he followed the army. He was an eyewitness to most of the conquêtes or conquests of cities and other unusual events, and therefore had the opportunity to depict accurately in scenes both the cities with their fortifications and the bulwarks with all their equipment and appurtenances. These works still grace the palace of Marly and the stairwell to the castle in Versailles. He also had the honour of having King Louis XIV stand as godfather for one of his daughters.

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In the meantime his first housewife came to die. At once a niece of Charles le Brun aimed to fill that place. And she was able to work on him so finely and shrewdly by propositions to Le Brun and others that Van der Meulen could not think of any subterfuge to escape her intention without incurring the hatred of Le Brun (which he feared). Thus he agreed (out of necessity) to a second marriage to ingratiate himself more closely with Le Brun, who had the ear of the King. But this new wife (as often happens) knew with time to make use of her happy fate and to enrich herself while he was still alive, because the precious things she dreamt of by night, she had to own by day.

He died in Gobelins in the year 1690 at the age of 65 years and was buried in the church of St. Hippolytus.

He had a brother named Pieter van der Meulen II, who was a commendable sculptor. In the year 1670 he went with his wife to live in England, where Pieter van Bloemen and Nicolas de Largillière followed him shortly.

His portrait is based on a lithograph, painted by Largillière and scraped by Isaak Beckett [1].

In the Cabinet des singularitez d’Architecture, Peinture, Sulpture & Graveure etc. par Florent le Comte Etc., in Part I, page 63 is a catalogue or list of the Conquêtes or conquests of the King of France and other artworks that he made in his service and which have been engraved by Jan van Huchtenburg , Romeyn de Hooghe, Nicolas Bonnart I, Nicolas Cochin, Charles Louis Simonneau, Franz Ertinger Etc.

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1
Isaak Beckett after Nicolas de Largillière published by John Smith
Portrait of Pieter van der Meulen II (1638-after 1670), 1686
paper, mezzotint 300 x 228 mm
lower center : Petrus Vander Meulen Pictor
London (England), National Portrait Gallery, inv./cat.nr. NPG D11500


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In that same year there lived in Rome at the court of the Duke of Bracciano [= Paolo Giordano II Orsini], JOHANN WILHELM BAUR of Strasbourg, a matchlessly artful painter of buildings, landscapes and small figures in watercolours on parchment. This Bracciano was at that time one of the great maecenasses or supporters of the free arts, with whom Baur practiced his art for several years, painting for him in his palace perspectives in various ways and also galleries, pleasure bowers, fountains and marble statues as well as the bustle of carriages, horses and guards. He had learned art in Strasbourg with Friedrich Brentel, who was a good miniature painter, by whose diligence much work has survived and about whom it was witnessed that he had painted on a piece of parchment of small dimensions the army of King David and the place where Absolom, hanging in a tree, is pierced with a spear by Joab.

From Rome he left for Naples, where he made lots of money and he would have remained longer but for a certain reason (they say the love of his mistress) found himself necessitated to return to Rome in the year 1634.

By him have come out in print the histories of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Il Pastor Fido or married shepherd, as well as the Passion or suffering of Christ in 24 quarter plates artfully etched by Melchior Küsel I of Augsburg, and also various prospects of Roman buildings, palaces, pleasure courts and wells decorated by a multitude of figures which, though small, could all be recognized by sex or own costumes or dress.

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Yes, one could even tell by their way of standing and moving which was a Turk, Persian, Spaniard, Frenchman, Muscovite or German. With such close observation he treated his artwork. It is also told that though being alone by himself, he would talk to himself as he worked as if he was discussing with his subjects. Everyone gets used to something of the kind to which one pays no attention in one’s diligence and is unaware. Just as Bamboccio steadily twisted his moustache while painting. Finally he went to Vienna in Austria, where he made various works of art for Ferdinand III and overtaken by an unexpected illness, died in the year 1640. Roger de Piles writes that he died in Vienne [= Vienna], a city on the Danube.

CORNELIS KICK, born in Amsterdam in the year 1635, practiced with his father [= Simon Kick], who was a handsome figure painter from his youth on. He himself also painted figures and portraits, amongst which may be found some that are executed in such a way that the texture of the skin is observed after life. But when the preference of art lovers for still life and flower pieces increased and especially Jan Davidsz. de Heem was making hay with them, he let himself be advised to take up flower and fruit painting, at which he would have succeeded if he had not been so slow. He answered his friends, who urged him on to greater diligence, that he would apply himself more if he were married. His eye fell on Cornelia Spaeroogh, the daughter of Harmen Claesz Spaeroogh in the

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pawnshop and got her as his wife with the help of his friends. At once it re-entered his head that it would be better and more convenient for him to have a flower court near or next to his dwelling to paint them with greater ease after life. He therefore helped himself to his father-in-law’s garden, which was outside the St. Antonis gate and included a suitable house. But he had to vacate it when the new dispensation was created, and he then relocated to the Diemer Meer. Jacob van Walscapelle, his pupil, who was not much for change, left him when he got it into his head to go live in Loenen. That was in the year 1667. He continued to practice his art for some time, until he got another profession, which he still practices today.

Worn out, Kick later again came to live in Amsterdam, where he also died in the year 1675.

At the end for our last digression, with the conclusion of our first volume, we promised the reader that we would put to the test what instruction can achieve for those who possess a low spirit and whether, spurred on by distinguished examples, they may be made competent for great undertakings in art. That will now be the target at which we will take aim.

It is essential and also customary that youths may be led by the bridle of upbringing to such an end as parents or guardians judge may deem be best and most useful.

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But here caution must keep measure so that the youth does not run wild by too loose a rein or become more recalcitrant and explode by too tight a bridle. In this respect I can say about the first part of our proposition that caution has much to say for it. This is what Lycurgus, legislator of Lacedemon, wished to indicate to his people by a lively example. He took (says Plutarch in his book about Education) two young dogs from one nest and raised one of them for the hunt and the other for the kitchen. He then addressed the Lacedemonians thus: oh Lacedemonians! It is moral lessons and upbringing that make for virtue, and I will demonstrate this. Hereupon he had a ring erected in the market and in its centre placed a pot with porridge and a living hare and ordered to have both dogs brought to the enclosure. Everyone looked on with amazement at what would come of this. When the dogs entered the enclosure, one at once ran to the hare and the other to the porridge pot, thereby indicating their duty to them with a living example.

Certainly such examples are correct mirrors that are useful. However, they are not generally as certain in their result, but examples grounded in the saying: Nature comes before learning, are more certain, But not to side against this too hard from the beginning I want to give the reader another example to show that upbringing can achieve much.

Living in Dordrecht I knew a young Miss whose father was a great lover of the art of painting, and for this reason felt himself inclined to have his daughter instructed in that practice, which she (reluctantly) did to please her father.

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She came so far in art that we find reason to bring her on stage in her turn next to other women artists. But it is like a water supply branched from a well through pipes. The moment (by lack of attention or otherwise) something breaks down, the flow is at once arrested and stops. That is how it went with this miss. As soon as her father, who had always urged her on, came to die, she stopped practicing her art.

A lover of food enjoys eating well more than having eaten well. In the same way an upright painter finds more enjoyment in painting than in having painted. They are the ones who are competent to pursue great achievements.

Seneca indicates an upstanding painter for us in roughly the same colours. It is more pleasant for the artist, says he, to paint than to have painted. The serious concerns that occupy him with respect to the entire production of his work find a curious enjoyment in the activity itself. The joy, on the contrary, that his work gives him after its completion, is nowhere near as great. He now enjoys only the fruit of his art whereas before he enjoyed that art itself, namely for as long as he still painted.

We have already met many in our biographies who exchanged the brush for other practices which seemed to promise more certain advantages. There are also others who practiced art out of necessity until they had a fortunate inheritance fall into their lap and at once sang farewell to art. But I must add at once that I have found that

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these were for the most part students of the lowest school and would not have become high flyers, seeing that they did not practice purely out of affection and love of art but out of love of themselves and of the advantage that it brings. Yes, I feel quite certain that few examples of great men in art could be pointed out who, though they had money enough in the world to always be able to live off it, have stopped painting before the end of their lives.

Michelangelo had such passion for art that when he could no longer see to work nor view the beautiful objects of Rome, he often had himself led there to be able to satisfy his love of art by feeling and touching of it.

Lucas van Leyden was not able to exempt himself from the practice of art until the end of his life. They found a half cut plate with him on his deathbed.

Peter Paul Rubens, after he had a kind of stroke in his arm some years before his death so that it was not feasible for him to paint large works, did not therefore cease practicing but after that time painted landscapes and other small works for the easel, so that up close, his hand still on the maulstick , he could hardly yield the brush. We could also summarize a multitude of our best Dutch painters who did not cease to practice art until the end of their lives, even though it is manifestly clear from their estate

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that they did not do this out of necessity but purely out of love of art.

Thus we have seen what upbringing and direction can achieve and with examples, also of those who were driven on by natural passion, argued that the latter is an infirm foundation on which to build. Now it remains to consider the second part of the presentation to see if those who possess a low spirit can be made competent to great undertakings in art through distinguished examples. This will give us less trouble than the preceding consideration, seeing that various intellects have blunted their pens over such material.

Sayings and acts of others in a fertile mind (says Baltasar Gracián) are seeds of perspicacity which later give a bountiful harvest of fine arguments. And in another place: When reason follows nature and preferences join inclination, it achieves miracles in whatever may be. But to turn to some matters with a contrary urge is to want to work with little progress.

Both these sayings presuppose a suitable subject, meaning one who possesses a fertile spirit and reason and says that in such a one the examples and acts of others are seeds of acuity that promise a bounteous harvest and which combined with nature, passion and inclination can achieve wonders. By which expression the second member of our proposition is powerfully answered, with rejection of those who possess a low spirit, as incapable of great undertakings in art.

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We have observed that a great many of the artists whose life and art works we have described visited Italy, markedly improved their art, and once returned to the fatherland gave proof of their improvement to everyone.

It is a great help for those who wish to practice art to have beautiful models, with which Rome is filed, as a guide. But experience has also had us see that many returned from there no wiser than they went there and that all those aids to becoming wise and obtaining good judgement, namely to have examples of commendable men before the eyes and to have access to the advanced school of arts and sciences, was not able to effect any change or improvement.

The whetting stone can sharpen the knife but not give it an edge when there is no steel in it. Even if the reader is no Oedipus, he can easily guess what I wish to convey by this.

Slow intellects (says Cicero) take satisfaction with leaking water rivulets without looking for the true sources which produce everything.

A low spirit is satisfied with treating the least of art and feels no stimulation from the fame for which distinguished men have exhausted their powers to excel over others. He never rises above this depth and does not regret than others know more than he. That is why such a donkey’s nature cannot be made competent for great acts. One may test this

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