CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

From Gothic to Mannerism: early Netherlandish drawings from the 15th to the 16th centuries in the Hermitage collection

Exhibition: 18 May - 1 August 2010

From the museum website, 21 July 2010

On 18 May, 2010 the exhibition From Gothic to Mannerism: Dutch drawings of the 15th-16th centuries in the State Hermitage collection was opened in the Twelve-Column Hall.

A rare museum possesses such a large collection of early Dutch drawing to afford to make the whole exhibition. Compared to other kinds of decorative and applied art, there are few drawings of Old Dutch artists left and they are not known so widely. Paper is a brittle material and the attitude to drawings had been less careful than to expensive works of painting, sculpture or decorative art for a long time. Picture by thousands perished in fires, wars, moldered from dampness, dilapidated and tore from negligent storage. The second part of the 16th century in the history of the Netherlands was the epoch of civil war, foreign invasion, public disasters and destruction, it was the period extremely unfavorable for artistic collecting, which turned for us with the loss of many hundreds monuments of graphic art.

Drawings were often made by the painters for themselves in the process of work on stained glass, engravings, altars, espaliers and thus, not all of them are complete works. Besides, many of the drawings of that time remain anonymous and all suppositions concerning names of possible authors are given very carefully. So called “independent” or “autonomous” drawings, graphical sheets which were made by the painter without any practical purpose, as self-valued, finished works of art are also displayed at the exhibition. It is commonly supposed that the first from the Dutch painters who started to make finished graphical compositions was Hieronymus Bosch about1500. Later the examples of autonomous drawings are met in the creative work of the masters worked in the 1520-1530s: Lucas van Leyden, Dirk Vellert, Pieter Coecke van Aelst. A bright example of such category of works is a series of subscribed landscape compositions created in the beginning of the 540s by Cornelius Matsys, two of which were included in the present exhibition.

The exposition in the State Hermitage includes 70 works and covers the period of about 150 years, up to the 80s years of the 16th century when the Netherlands were divided into Holland and Flanders. The earliest sheet is dated 1438 year, and the latest – 1588 year. The scope of the Hermitage collection of Dutch drawings is remarkable by its diversity both chronological and typological. Each decade of development of the graphic art in the Netherlands starting from the 1430s is introduced with representative samples, the collection includes all main types of graphic images, reflects all stylistic trends and all local schools.

Plots of drawings are diverse: with Evangelic and Biblical plots prevailing, however, scenes from antique mythology, landscapes, and portraits are not rare. Among the drawings included into the exposition there are sheets being exhibited many times and discussed in literature. The majority is related to a range of little-known works and forty five drawings have never been published before. The exhibition is very spectacular – next to the anonymous masters there are such bright names as Van der Weyden, Petrus Christus, Pieter Bruegel Senior, Jan Gossaert.

The special attentions deserves the drawing Christmas by Jan Joest van Kalkar (about 1512-1515), exceeding other sheets in size, extremely complicated in technique and having no analogues in Dutch graphics of that time.

The present exhibition also includes several drawings which could be made as self-valued example of graphic art. In combination with carefully completed compositional projects and sheets, intended their exact reproduction in the technique of engraving, these drawings form a long row of compositionally and artistically finished works which are the core of the exhibition. Set in chronological order from Woodcarvers’ Workshop by one of the apprentice of Rogier van der Weyden and up to Phaeton’s Fall by Frederik Sustris they are able to give a bright picture of stylistic evolution made by Dutch arts during one hundred and fifty years.