Houbraken Translated

RKD STUDIES

Volume 3, page 270-279


Page 270

was very similar to that of Paris, about which we will say a little more later.

In the year 1690 the Elector of Brandenburg (later King of Prussia) appointed him court painter in Berlin. The first important work that he did there was at Oranienburg in the famous porcelain room [1], just as he later displayed his excellent way with the brush both inside and outside Berlin, showed his outstanding art of the brush in galleries, orangeries and on panelled ceilings of spacious room of most of the royal houses, to great satisfaction of the ruler and the great art lover Mister Eberhard von Danckelman, president of the Princely Council.

When he saw that his praiseworthy art stimulated the ruler's love of art, he seized the opportunity (as they say) and proposed to the ruler the founding of an academy like the one they have in France in such a tasteful way that permission was at once granted. In addition, the building and management were assigned to Terwesten, who made it his first priority and looked after everything that was required. Here he made good use of his brother Ezaias, known as the Bird of Paradise, who was two years younger and an excellent flower, fruit, and animal painter who lived in Rome. The latter delivered choice casts of the best antiques, as well as the whole famous sculpture cabinet of Giovanni Pietro Bellori, all of which arrived in chests without discernible damage.

In the meantime 6 rooms were provided for the academy and prepared for their various use, and a supervisor or teacher was appointed for each room.

#


1
Augustinus Terwesten (I)
Allegory on the Triumph of Porcelain in Europe, dated 1697
Oranienburg, Schlossmuseum Oranienburg


Page 271

The first room served to instruct youths in the elements of drawing.
The second to draw after casts.
The third as meeting place for the regents
The fourth to instruct youths in perspective, geometry, architecture, and the art of fortifications
The fifth to be instructed in human anatomy as well as in the disposition of drapery.
The sixth or highest school was a great oval room, surrounded by the mentioned sculptures, which where thus mounted so that each could be turned on its base or moved without great difficulty. With all this arranged in established order and completed in 1697, our Partridge Bird (as he had been baptized by the bent) requested the ruler and the princely family to come and inspect the work, who took great satisfaction in it, and the Prime Minister Mister Everard von Danckelman appointed him as the first Director of the Academy.

He had been the first Professor of this academy three times when he came to die in the year 1711, on the 21st of January, to the great loss of the up-and-coming artistic stars of that principality. His portrait may be seen in Plate L. 26.

With this we close the stage curtain, intending to show the reader with a modest argument the usefulness of the art of painting as in a mirror.

The maker of the universe equipped nature with an ability to produce manifold creatures varying infinitely in form and colour, and to have each of them appear in their time before

#


Page 272

the eyes of men, so that they would be gladdened by all kinds of pleasant phenomena and investigate the origins of things from what has been wrought and to glorify the wisdom of the Creator in the creatures.

And so that the surprise would not end as soon as one understands things, not because they are then of any lesser value but because curiosity, which steadily looks for changes, would not cease, nature has arranged the propagation of the things at diverse times so that the wonder always lasts, seeing she does not have all these beautiful displays appear all the time, but in sequence, one after another.

When I now identify painting as imitator of nature, this observation at once leads me on the way to investigating the various inclinations of art practitioners concerning the changing choice and preferences of their subjects, to which they are surely guided by a hidden action (of which the nature is known to us).

This concept will seem less strange when one sees from clear indications that the world’s Architect (so that the decorations of His holy tabernacle might be artfully embroidered with ornamental foliage, as also the robe of the high priest, the jugs, further all the equipment of religion, might be artfully wrought) steeped Bezaleel and Ahaliab in the spirit of art in the normal way and made them competent to all sort of art works, as Moses has noted this in

#


Page 273

the XXX chapter of his Book of Exodus. In the same way we also believe that the prophet Ezekiel learned the art of drawing so that he sketched on a paving stone a ground plan of the city of Jerusalem and the fortifications of the enemies, with their storm implements. See Chapter 4.

And just as nature tends to the perfection that constitutes beauty, so a host of art practitioners have attempted, as of old, to follow nature in all her guises with the brush as was possible, by which it provides all the more wonder to the spectator. Yes, one might be permitted to think that the desire to depict differing objects, including those that are of short duration, is also guided by a hidden principle, so that when nature holds back, the art of things could be seen and, through such contemplation, as in a mirror, the observant would therefore never lack objects to contemplate the Creator in the wonderful changes of the creatures, as if in a mirror.

Among all the creatures of the world the human figure excels, especially that of woman, in whose proportioned contours of limbs a perfect beauty lies enclosed. This perfection, distributed amongst many objects, and combined into one object through the steady efforts of intellects, amazes us, and also has us decide that the first created female figure, when it came fresh from the hand of the Creator, must have been perfectly beautiful,

#


Page 274

to which considerations the great Joost van den Vondel was also no stranger, as (in his Play about Lucifer) he has Apollion describe the beautiful stature of Eve so adorably that the very firmament, ravished by that beautiful picture, begrudges Adam this happiness. How the poet came by the idea that he assigns to angels, entirely spiritual beings, human inclinations, passions, and physical qualities and functions, about which the Scripture is silent, I will let pass. And even though there is a misconception in this matter, the flourish of the poet knows through embellishments to show what is central, namely Eve, more powerfully and in greater glory. At least it is so integral to the story that a Templar said before his entire audience: And Adam awakening from his sleep, seeing Eve, thought to himself, now that's truly my kind of game.

The lesser creatures, which appear in innumerable numbers on the globe, in the air and in the waters, also have their greater or lesser beauty in posture and colour. And the artists who have known how to depict them most naturally and most individually have earned the greatest fame, such as Roelant Savery and Johann Heinrich Roos in the depiction of wild animals.

In game, Frans Snijders and Abraham Hondius,
In the depiction of farm animals Nicolaes Berchem, Paulus Potter, Adriaen van den Velde, Jacob and Simon van der Does,
In horses Philips Wouwerman, Hendrick Verschuring,
In birds Melchior d’Hondecoeter and Adriaen van Eemont [= Adriaen van Utrecht?],
In fish Isaac van Duynen.

#


Page 275

All of which, and each in particular, when naturally and artfully depicted, do not just delight the eye of the spectator but have also amazed it at the manifold changes of the creatures and the marvellously diverse constitution of their limbs. Even this earth differs in shape and form in different places.

There she shows an extended plain, which the farmer ploughs up with the coulter in the hope of a rich grain harvest: yonder with deep valleys, where the echo repeats the sound with double tones. Elsewhere one sees steep mountains which seem to reach to the stars with their summits, planted with trees of all sizes and kinds of foliage. There are oaks, which endure centuries, linden trees which, with their thickly tressed crowns, serve as shelter for the herdsman and his bleating cattle from the scorching fire of the sun, and proud cedars that graced olden Lebanon. Cypresses and the like have from time to time found their numerous imitators amongst the practitioners of art, both here and elsewhere. And no wonder. Israel's harp player, seeing the providence of the Almighty reflected in all this, thought it worthy of commemoration in his 104th Psalm, thus followed by Heyman Dullaert.

I look upon the lofty mountains,
Thou drenchest their shady crowns,
Round which the
clouds drift by,
With fresh drops of dew or rain.
In the mornings when the pride of the stars,
Comes strutting from the East so beautifully,

#


Page 276

Then thou droppeth liquid diamonds
In each and every flower.

Thus it is also with the still waters and the angry sea, even where in her greatest rage and highest swells she rams the cliffs and sand dunes with blow upon blow and makes the farmer fear for an enormous flood. Truly, he who in all such images extends his observations somewhat beyond the bare art of the painted scene and in reflection sets himself down on a rock beside the exacting critic of Baltasar Gracián, Spanish Jesuit, from where he views the prison that encloses the sea, and how this terrible monster is so comfortably encircled by such fragile boundaries and restrained by such soft reins as the sand, and that the earth has no other walls than the beaches against that active enemy, he sees divine providence shine forth, and concludes: If this result or this caused effect is so wonderful, how marvellous must the cause of the same be in itself?

Especially when one regards this thus with our top poet in the same hymn, with reference to its basic principle:

The waters like a lush carpet,
Which spread around rustle steadily,
With loose waves wide and far
Foamed around the high mountains.
You
only spoke but a single word,
The sea receded to her beaches,
As soon as your voice was heard.

#


Page 277

Ordinary people (says Antonio de Guevara) see things only to please their eyes, but the wise look through them to understand the hidden aspect.

If one turns the eye from the damp sea beach to the grassy meadows, green game parks, and pleasure gardens, which ground is covered as if with a flower carpet that displays a harvest of fragrant flowers on all sides, all distinctly and artfully painted in all sorts of colours by nature, every object is a marvellous business. I was almost lost (says Andrenius in the Oordeelder of Gracián) in this pleasant maze of marvels. On all sides I picked flowers, attracted by their pleasant odour and glow. I picked one after another and made a precise dissection of their construction.

Certainly those who consider such field and garden ornaments too slight to be depicted by the brush would turn against the understanding of King David, who on his silver harp strings attributes their care to God.

You lead the wells along a path,
Flow most secretly through the mountains
To sprinkle the flower-laden fields
With this
beautiful but fleet treasure.

The goddess of art has always enticed her pupils to the depiction of these pleasant objects, so that an attentive observer might not only learn the art of imitating these beauties but also astonish himself at the incomprehensible genius of their maker.

#


Page 278

The most important imitators of these graceful manifestations, who, when the pleasure gardens are covered with ice and snow, recreate them with the brush in the same splendour and beauty, to be seen in the art cabinets, have been of old Jan Brueghel I, Daniel Seghers, later Evert van Aelst, Simon Verelst, Jan Davidsz. and Cornelis de Heem, and other of their contemporaries. Today besides Miss Ruysch, otherwise known as Pool (of whom we have spoken earlier), the painter Jan van Huijsum excels.

I have not been appointed as assay master, but still take the liberty to say that the last two so much surpassed the first mentioned in art as daylight does moonlight in clarity. I must not go any further, nor am I permitted to do so, on account of the tight limits that I proposed for myself with respect to still living artists and women artists, to wit, only to present their outstanding art to the world without judging it or making any comparison of one art with another. Had I undertaken this, I would certainly not have escaped hate and controversy, whereas, on the contrary, I do not disturb those people who take satisfaction in their own work, but praise everyone in his diligence and according to the power of his brush. That is why I have booked everyone I came across without differentiation according to their time and not begrudged them a place in my theatre of painters and paintresses, counter to the concept of the Thebans. For within Thebes the painters were so

#


Page 279

closely inspected that no one was allowed to practice within the walls other than those who had outstanding minds and a famous name. Yes, those who made some obtuse or unintelligent scenes were give a heavy fine or had to clear the city, for the authorities did not want to accept that an ass would daub before others and send noble art to the ground with dirt-smeared canvasses.

This is certainly too severe a law, and one which does not find support in a land in which everyone is free. Free in the sense that everyone may do what he will with what is his as long as it does not lead to the detriment of others. This is also the case with those who take to the brush out of love of art, even if they always, like dirt and descend to the lowest level because they lack good guidance to lift them up or get entangled in the confused web of their imagination. If we decry such efforts as fruitless, who can prevent them, or what right does one have to do so, seeing they are their own canvases that they besmirch? In addition it can happen that the least accomplished in art finds the same satisfaction in his activities as the most accomplished, and measures his own contribution with the yardstick of his love of self. Now it can easily be appreciated how solidly he would stand who would undertake as inspector to judge who is superior in art and place the crown of honour on his head. I, certainly, will keep my hands to myself and let Flora and the nymphs of the fields feud over the floral wreath. Follow this rhyme, reader, and you will deem my decision to be right at the end.

#


Cookies disclaimer

While surfing the internet, your preferences are remembered by cookies. Cookies are small text files placed on a pc, tablet or cell phone each time you open a webpage. Cookies are used to improve your user experience by anonymously monitoring web visits. By browsing this website, you agree to the placement of cookies.
I agree