Friday, April 5, 2013

Bosch Bruegel Rubens Rembrandt Masterpieces of the Albertina

Bosch Bruegel Rubens Rembrandt Masterpieces of the Albertina 14 March to 30 June 2013

The graphics collection of the Albertina possesses a world class stock of Dutch drawings, the scope and quality of which make it possible to present the Dutch art of drawing in all its thematic, technical and stylistic diversity. A top-class selection of 150 works, including larger groups of works by Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Maarten van Heemskerck, Hendrick Goltzius, Rembrandt, Anton van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens were presented in a comprehensive exhibit in the spring of 2013.

Bosch, Bruegel, Rubens and Rembrandt are the names of four artistic personalities who impressively demonstrate what a wealth of exceptional talent the Netherlands was able to produce over centuries. This phenomenon is inseparably linked with the rise of a strip of land that was already characterised by an unrivalled golden age of economy, science and culture in the late Middle Ages as part of the Duchy of Burgundy. When, following the death of Charles the Bold in 1477, the Burgundian heartland fell to France and the "low countries" became a Hapsburg satellite state, this in fact brought about a stabilisation of the entirely favourable economic situation for this northern region. Even the declared disengagement of the by now Protestant north from the south, which remained true to the old faith, in 1580 was unable to slow down this rise in fortunes in either of the two territories. Although under the rule of governors of the Spanish Hapsburgs, the southern provinces, with the financial centre of Antwerp, were able to assert their status as a commercial centre of European calibre; the bourgeois-governed "Republic of the Seven United Netherlands", with its capital of Amsterdam, was a global trading nation for nearly a century, until the increasing rivalry between the Netherlands and England was decided in favour of the First British Empire.

This development was of the utmost importance for the fine arts. The Early Netherlandish painting of northern Burgundy, represented by Jan van Eyck or Rogier van der Weyden, had already stimulated generations of artists throughout Europe. While their era was still characterised by a strong sense of uniformity, Dutch art in the 16th century offers an entirely diverse appearance. The dialogue with antiquity and the Italian High Renaissance had been providing artistic impulses since the decades immediately following 1500. Thus, a series of local schools was established, each with their own stylistic tendencies and specialisation in particular themes and tasks, for example, the "Antwerp Mannerists", who concentrated on high quality ecclesiastical export items, making them competitive through the use of Italian elements. In addition to religious art, which, especially in the northern provinces, due to the Reformation and the Iconoclasm, was increasingly being placed in question, secular pictorial themes also developed. Landscape and genre art found their beginnings in the puzzling allegories of Hieronymus Bosch, reached a first pinnacle with Pieter Bruegel the Elder and ultimately dominated the rest of the century.

The development in the individual provinces progressed more or less uniformly until the end of the 16th century. However, with division into the Calvinist north and the Catholic south, the differences in Dutch and Flemish art became increasingly apparent. In the aristocratically governed south, a new field of activity opened up with the pictorial culture of the Counterreformation, especially in the area of large format altarpieces.

Flemish art of the Baroque period was soon dominated by Peter Paul Rubens, who would ultimately become the artistic authority in all of Europe. There, the demand for history painting, with its biblical, mythological and allegorical subjects, which were traditionally assigned the highest rank in the scale of themes, was highest. In contrast, secular art reached its zenith in the Protestant, bourgeois north. The pictorial world that developed there was completely unspectacular and most of its themes had previously been considered "unworthy of being painted". When one reads inventories from the time of Rembrandt, one encounters subjects like "een boerekermis" (country fair), "een blompotje" (small flower vase) or "een kind in de kackstoel" (a child on the "crap" chair). It appears as if the wealthy merchants, citizens and patricians of the rich north wished to see their way of life and their very own themes and problems, in short, themselves, immortalised. Genre paintings, sea pieces, landscapes, still life, interiors and portraits thus provide insight into the daily life of the bourgeoisie.

The broad diversification of the painting genres and themes also extended to technical practice. Besides painting, drawing also played an increasingly autonomous role. The uncomplicated use of paper and quill or pencil made it possible for the artist to capture quickly passing moments of inspiration, to process details until a perfect result was achieved or to draft minutely elaborate patterns. Due to the large number of techniques, functions and application areas, the works put to paper convey a much more differentiated image than painting. A large number of artists succeeded in both areas, and often in printed graphics as well. Rembrandt is the most prominent example of this. In contrast, some famous artists, Frans Hals or Jan Vermeer, for example, produced no or hardly any works on paper of note; on the other hand, a prominent list of exceptional talents can be compiled, including Roelant Roghman, Jan de Bisschop or Anthonie Waterloo, who were exclusively or primarily active as draughtsmen.

The Albertina possesses one of the world's most important collections of Netherlandish freehand drawings of the period extending from 1450 to 1650. The era of the "Flemish Primitives" is represented by individual, exceptional works from the circle around Jan van Eyck, Petrus Christus or Dirk Bouts, until the works of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder mark an initial high point of the select collection. The rest of the 16th century is represented with master drawings from Gossaert, Heemskerck or Goltzius. However, the focus of the collection is on Holland's "Golden" 17th century, with important works from Rembrandt and his school. The southern Netherlands, dominated by the house of Hapsburg, are represented by the most famous Flemish masters of their time: Peter Paul Rubens, Anton van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens.

The exhibit and

the catalogue

showed the extent to which the broad thematic spectrum of Dutch art of the 17th century, including landscapes, sea pieces, topographical views, portraits, rural genre scenes, still life, is still firmly rooted in the achievements of previous centuries. For more than two centuries, looking back at this important artistic tradition provided the inspiration for new artistic pinnacles.

Hieronymus Bosch
Tree man, around 1505
Pen with brown ink Albertina, Vienna

Peter Paul Rubens
Nicolas Rubens with coral necklace, around 1619
Black chalk, red chalk, accented with white chalk Albertina, Vienna

Pieter Bruegel the Elder
The Painter and the Patron, around 1565
Feder in Braun Albertina, Vienna

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
A young woman having her hair braided, mid-1630s
Pen with brown ink, pen with brown and grey ink (grey ink added later)Albertina, Vienna

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
Cottages under a stormy sky, around 1635
Pen with brown ink, brown and grey wash, white coating paint on brownish paper Albertina, Vienna

Anton van Dyck
The crucifixion of Peter, around 1620
Black chalk, brush with brown ink Albertina, Vienna

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
An Elephant, 1637
Black chalk Albertina, Vienna

Peter Paul Rubens
Rubens' son Nicolas with a red, felt cap, 1625-1627
Black and red chalk, wiped, accented with white chalk Albertina, Vienna

Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Big fish eat little fish, 1556
Pen and brush in grey and black, transfer lines Albertina, Vienna

Jacob de Gheyn II
Wooded landscape with man carrying lance and a barking dog, around 1603
Pen with brown ink over grey pencil Albertina, Vienna

Jan Gossaert
The Fall of Man, around 1520-1525
Pen with dark brown ink over tracing with black pencil (charcoal or chalk) Albertina, Vienna

Lucas van Valckenborch the Elder
Guard with a long beard, 1578/79
Water colour and coating paints Albertina, Vienna

Joachim Antonisz. Wtewael
The courting of Belgica (from the Belgica series), 1612
Pen with grey, grey-brown and black ink, washed, white coating paint
Albertina, Vienna