Seventeenth-Century Flemish

Bernard G. Maillet, Pierre Loze, et al., Intérieurs d'Églises 1580-1720. La Peinture Architecturale dans les Écoles du Nord. Brussels: Pandora 2012. 560 pp, over 2000 b&w and color illus. With CD-ROM. ISBN 978-90-5325-337-3.

After many decades, research into late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Netherlandish architectural painting seems to be gaining in momentum. One reason for the long stagnation may have been Hans Jantzen's book Das niederländische Architekturbild (Leipzig 1910), which for a long time not only was the only survey text in the field but also one of the most boring books in the history of art history. It has taken over a hundred years for a book to come out that appears to have the breadth and content to succeed as a general reference work. It must be admitted that the large-format and weighty tome by Bernard G. Maillet, with the collaboration of Pierre Loze and others comes as a surprise since none of the authors has uttered a word on the subject up to now.

Having collected material on Netherlandish church interiors since the 1970s, Bernard G. Maillet presented his findings to the Association du Patrimoine artistique in Brussels where Dominique Vautier and Françoise Vigot revised the documentation, while Pierre Loze edited and prepared the catalogue raisonné of 2,163 entries for publication. The main part of the catalogue comprises lists of works by approximately 30 architectural specialists (172-514); two shorter sections list approximately 45 occasional painters of church interieurs as well as followers (498-538). The entries record technical information on ground, size, signature, date, and collection, as well as some bibliographic references or sales records. Most catalogue numbers are illustrated. Within an artist's work, paintings are grouped according to compositional aspects, making it somewhat cumbersome to locate the securely dated (signed or documented) works between the undated, less secure attributions or copies. An important addition to the printed volume is the CD-Rom which contains the entire catalogue as pdf, allowing the reader/viewer to use the search function as well as offering better quality illustrations.

Two lengthy introductory texts by Pierre Loze precede the catalogue. One is an introduction to the history of the period, combined with general comments on the development of the pictorial genre in the context of the history of ideas ("Le contexte historique et géopolitique dans le Pays-Bas du Nord et du Sud"). Except for some comments on the influence of Rubens on baroque church interiors in the Southern Netherlands, this part does not go beyond narrative fragments set side by side or ad hoc assumptions (readers of Seymour Slive's and Hans Vlieghe's introductions to their respective volumes in the Pelican History of Art may safely skip this section of the book).

In the second introductory text, Loze presents the artists' biographies in chronological order, divided into the Northern and Southern Netherlands. The reader's   hopes for a sharp division between biographical facts and later hearsay accounts as well as characterizations of an artist's style at hand of securely attributed works will be disappointed. Unfortunately there is no clear list of secure, i.e. authentically dated and signed pictures, on which to build a stylistic analysis in order to achieve a differentiation in attributions. Rather, the ideal of stylistic characterization is the elegant one-sentence synthesis à la Jacques Foucart who is repeatedly and favorably quoted. Moreover, the first parts of the book do not refer to the catalogue numbers so that one has to search individually for the illustrations in the catalogue part. This arrangement does not provide a well-rounded representation of individual manners of painting or technical peculiarities.

When it comes to methodology, there is some uncertainty in regard to dates in church interiors which should not always be understood as the date of the painting. This can be seen in a version of a view of Antwerp cathedral, wrongly attributed to Hendrick van Steenwijck the Elder, which more likely is by Sebastiaen Vrancx (100). A little later (106, 107) it is implied rather anachronistically that Abel Grimmer antedated a picture in order to claim the composition for himself. If a date in a church interior is not directly connected to the signature, it should not be interpreted as the date of the painting. There are paintings which besides containing definitive signatures and dates also display other dates. Thus dates in church interiors should only be read as "terminus post quem" (see T. Fusenig in: Hans Vredeman de Vries und die Folgen, ed. By H. Borggrefe and V. Lüpkes, Marburg 2005, pp. 143-149).

The high standard aimed at in offering a general overview as well as diligence in the particulars is aptly formulated by Pierre Loze: "L'étude approfondie de chacun de ces artistes et la reconstruction du catalogue complet de leur production connue à ce jour ont permit de réenvisager et de redistribuer des oeuvre que les études monographiques avaient mises à leur actif, et qui sont dues à des émules plus tardifs, dont la carriere a été elle aussi très soigneusement étudiée" ["The in-depth investigation of each of these artists and the reconstruction of the complete catalogue of their known works, have made it possible to re-evaluate works attributed to them in monographic treatments, and to distribute them among followers whose careers have also been carefully researched" (10)]. Sadly, these high demands have not been entirely met.

This can be shown in the case of two painters from the Holy Roman Empire: Wolfgang Avemann from Kassel, active in Nuremberg ca. 1610, and Paul Juvenel who also worked in Nuremberg. The articles on Avemann in Oud-Holland (117, 2004) and Dresdener Kunstblätter (4, 2006) are considered only incompletely or not at all. Avemann's oeuvre (M-0055-70) is being obscured by unfounded attributions (M-55: probably Paul Juvenel; M-57: signature on this painting not mentioned; M-59: Paul Vredeman de Vries; M-60: Pieter Neeffs, with signature and high-quality staffage; M-61 and M-62: more likely Pieter Neeffs; M-63: interesting early picture by B. van Bassen of 1615 [cf. M-130 and M-131]; M-64: more likely Hendrick van Steenwijck the Younger with staffage from the circle of Jan Brueghel the Elder; M-65, M-66, M-68, M-69, M-70: copies after a Van Steenwijck composition without any of Avemann's stylistic characteristics; M-67: copy after a repeatedly documented composition by Van Steenwijck with staffage from the circle of Jan Brueghel the Elder; M-71: Hendrick van Steenwijck, with a date after Avemann's death shortly after 1620). On the other hand, well-founded attributions to Avemann are given to other artists (M-1296 and M-1318: as Hendrick van Steenwijck the Younger).

Some of the works by Paul Juvenel who, the son of a Netherlander born in Dunkirk, worked in Nuremberg in the style of Van Steenwijck, are compiled in the section of the catalogue headed "Etrangers" (M-E-2158-2162). Apart from the fact that one of the paintings listed under his name (M-E-2160) could hardly be by him, his works occasionally appear under the names of others (M-109: as Hans J. Baden; M-467: as Nicolas de Gyselaer; M-1006: as dubious Pieter Neeffs; M-O-2016: as "Ecole flamande"; possibly M-O-1970: as Rutger van Langevelt; possibly M-424: as Abel Grimmer).

Despite the large number of artists treated by Maillet, there are lacunae. For example, Sebastian Vrancx presumably plays a more important role in the development of Antwerp architectural painting than presented here. Although Vrancx appears with three works in the category "Occasionnels" (M-O-1996-1997; M-O-1998, hardly by Vrancx), this does not do justice to his special role in connection with the interior views of Antwerp cathedral. His important composition is listed under several artists (M-1193 and M-1194: as Van Steenwijck the Elder; M-655 and M-661: as Pieter Neeffs the Elder). In the Northern Netherlands the role of Pieter van Boeckhorst in Delft remains to be further determined. Furthermore, an important perspective painter from Hamburg with Netherlandish influence is notably not represented. Instead, two of his works are mentioned under different attributions: M-313, as Jansz van Buesem and M-114, as Hans J. Baden (cf. T. Fusenig, in: Hamburg. Eine Metropolenregion zwischen Früher Neuzeit und Aufklärung, ed. by J.A. Steiger and S. Richter, Berlin 2012).

However, the random samples of criticism enumerated here should not outweigh the enormous amount of material that is covered in this volume. There are again and again long stretches without any problems in attribution. The inspection and classification of paintings in museums and other collections as well as on the art market are impressive, offering many valuable discoveries, among them the first serious attempt since Jantzen known to me of a catalogue of the works of Pieter Neeffs, or the extensive documentation of copyists, such as Christian Stöcklin and Johann Morgenstern. This surprising, a little uncoordinated and in some details slightly irritating book ultimately constitutes a welcome expansion to our current knowledge of the field. Jantzen's book has long been out of date in many details as well as general interpretation with its art-geographically hypostasized North-South division. Thanks to the strenuous efforts of Bernard G. Maillet and his team, we now have   a work providing a large amount of material on which to base future research.

Thomas Fusenig

(Translated by Kristin Belkin)


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