The National Library of Latvia presents a selection of Dutch prints from the collection of the Munich collector Peter Böttger that was gifted to the library. Böttger and his wife collected many seventeenth-century prints from Germany and the Netherlands, as well as work by Italian, French and British artists created in the fifteenth to twentieth century.
Information from the curator, 16 August 2016
Prints from the Netherlands are a passion of Peter Böttger whose collection comprises many famous surnames and excellent works of art from prints in the Netherlands Mannerism style to graphic art from the 17th century Golden Age in Flanders and Holland. 86 works have been selected for the exhibition to give an impression of the collection and introduce the viewer to the unique features of Dutch and Flemish schools of thought.
Two well-known Lucas van Leyden miniatures are the oldest works in the Netherlands collection. Soldiers giving drink to Christ portrays Christ’s suffering and dates back to around 1512. Saint Philip is the tenth in the series of 14 engravings called Christ, Paul and the 12 apostles dated around 1510. Both engravings demonstrate the young Lucas van Leyden’s signature features that influenced all 16th century engravers from the Netherlands – the light, nuanced hatching style that creates the engraving’s vibrant, silvery grey colour. He was only 16 at the time of creating Saint Philip! The copies in Peter Böttger’s collection are of a particularly high quality in terms of both print quality and preservation.
Graphic art of the Netherlands Mannerism era is well represented at the exhibition. One of the masterpieces of the exhibition and a highlight of the whole collection is Vulcanus, the 1592 copperplate by Hendrik Goltzius, the Dutch Mannerism style painter and draftsman extraordinaire. Vulcanus is the fourth sheet in a Roman god series based on a Polidoro da Caravaggio original and a detail from a mural on a castle facade in Rome. This tiny design sees a mythological Roman hero, the god of fire and volcanoes, guardian of craftsmen and blacksmiths in a Renaissance-era architectural setting just like the original. As if forgetting the principles of Mannerism, unrest and artificiality, Goltzius creates a monumental and almost harmonious character of an antique god which stands out from many of his more pompous characters. Still the two winged Victoria figures with the triumphal wreath in the corners of the arch and Vulcanus’s own heroic outburst show hidden but effusive emotion.
A distinct example of Netherlands Mannerism is a piece by Aegidius Sadeler, the best known representative of the famous Sadeler dynasty and court engraver to Rudolf II. His Heracles and Omphale copperplate is based on an original by Bartholomäus Spranger in which a passion for the grotesque and hyperbole create a sense of frightening yet appealing erotic phantasmagoria where the oddity of the ancient gods’ postures and gestures mingles with the suppleness and elegance so characteristic of Mannerism. While serving as a spinner to Omphale, the Queen of Lydia, lunar deity and warrior, Heracles put his male pride and heroics aside. In the engraving, Omphale appears as a malicious trickster rather than the guardian of sensual pleasures. A sense of restlessness and the artificiality of the poses and gestures characterise the engraving.
Johann Sadeler I etching The Killing of Saint Ursula was created between 1588 and 1590 after an altarpiece by Peter Candid. The 1587/1588 original, which can be found at Munich’s St Michael Jesuit Church, stands out with its grand decorum and a mystical sense of wonder that is characteristic of Mannerism. It is also remarkable due to the ecstatic gestures of the stretched figures, the expressiveness of movement and theatricality of emotion. Both Sadeler’s technique is dazzling. It often boasts features one might associate with painting. The silvery grey tone is finely nuanced and vibrant which makes the engravings more expressive and lessens the contrast between black and white.
In the 17th century, Peter Paul Rubens’s workshop and school of engraving played a major part in the rise of Flemish engraving. The best-known Dutch engravers of the time took turns working there. Their best works reached the standards of their patron’s work, reflecting perfectly Rubens’s elegant style, artistic energy and expressiveness of line, as well as his talent in illustrating fabric and other materials, the body, common face types and even intensity of colour. The engravers based their works on Rubens’s grisailles with their perfectly mastered hue relationships, and the artist himself kept a close eye on the engraving process. Often, he would personally retouch or use a brush to adjust the proof sheets of the emerging printing plates.
Two Schelte Adamsz Bolswert’s pieces are on show at the exhibition, both based on altarpieces by Rubens. The Crucifixion (Christ Inbetween Two Criminals) is dated between 1640 and 1659 while The Ascencion of the Virgin Mary (Immaculate Conception) is dated between 1630 and 1690. The former stands out with its overall sentiment of tragic sacrifice and the experience of death which the engraver achieves through fine, deep hatching, lighting and shadowing as well as the juxtaposition of the velvety black and nuanced undertint. The latter is characterised by solemnity and a religious pomposity, by the use of a typically baroque upwards swoop, a mystical flight full of light and air, which the engraver achieves by creating the shape through wavy lines of a different depth, size and heaviness.
Visitors can appreciate Pieter de Jode Senior’s mastery, bravery, persistence and virtuosity in the Last Judgment created in 1615 as a huge copperplate spanning 145 x 123 cm! It consists of nine individual sheets to reproduce and honour the original by French painter Jean Cousin I.
One of the highlights of the exhibition and pride of the collection is Vanitas. The Old Woman with a Candle and the Boy, an original Rubens etching which is an interesting reflection on the Vanitas theme in a Flemish baroque graphic style. But some uncertainty surrounds the authorship of the piece. Some specialists believe the author might be Paulus Pontius. Obviously, Pontius completed the engraving (other versions are Shelte Bolswert or Lucas Vorsterman) but his role in achieving the finished product is unknown. In any case, this sheet stands out with its artistic quality.
The portrait genre is represented by one of the most famous print projects of the 17th century – the Iconography by Anthony van Dyck. It is a collection of portraits of famous people of the time which characterises the unique stylistic and technical properties of the engraved portrait of the 17th century. Rather than royals and aristocrats, it is van Dyck’s contemporaries – artists – that most stand out in the collection. Nine portraits were chosen for the exhibition, comprising van Dyck’s title page portrait. Special attention must be given to two portrait sketches engraved by van Dyck himself. Both engravings stand out with their contemporary, almost impressionist feel and lightness of the line, with the detailed heads (faces), unfinished bodies, arms and background that had to be completed by another engraver. Engravers at Rubens’s workshop worked on the Iconography. The series was republished and additions were made to it even after van Dyck’s death, up until the 18th century.
Adriaen van Ostade deserves first mention among the Dutch genre masters and is represented in the exhibition by The Painter, a well-known etching (1667?). Rembrandt’s student Jan Gillisz van Vliet is represented by The Sitting Beggar, a 1632 miniature from the 11-piece Beggars collection of etchings. Jan van Somer’s mezzotint is an interesting piece from around 1645-1700 and is based on an original by Gerard Pietersz van Zijl named Young Lovers With a Dog and dated 1655-1700.
The first proof in the mezzotint technique appeared in 1642, so any mezzotints from the middle of or late 17th century attract attention not only because they’re rare but also because they are the first experiments of their kind. Young Lovers with a Dog is an everyday life scene characteristic of 17th century Dutch art. Making use of the new techniques, the artist attempted to portray faces and body shapes, as well as fabric textures, the dog’s movements, twilight and poor lighting, and the depth of the interior with a simple still life.
The animal theme was widespread in the 17th century Dutch graphic print scene; artists were interested in realist animal sketches, capturing and researching their movements and habits. The exhibition features the works of Nicolaes Pieterszoon Berchem, Karel Dujardin, and Jacob de Jonckheer, and provides insight into the origins of the animal theme. Some real masterpieces have been selected for the exhibition. Nicolaes Berchem’s Standing Sleeping Cow is dated between 1635 and 1683 and his Three Goats is dated between 1648 and 1652. Karel Dujardin created his Sleeping Hunting Dogs etching in 1652 and Two Sheep and Resting Sheep in 1655. Jacob de Jonckheer produced Three Dogs around 1654. Animals or birds were often included in scenes of farm life or within landscapes. Interesting examples of the synthesis of genres are Nicolaes Berchem’s wonderful Pasture Scene With the Pissing Cow dated after 1650.
The landscape genre is well represented in the collection. One mustn’t forget that 17th century artists had yet to leave the confines of their studios to paint landscapes.
Nevertheless, in 1604 Karel van Mander in his book Schilder-boeck recommended young artists roam the countryside to enlighten the soul and learn to appreciate the beauty of nature. Artists followed his recommendation with sketchbooks in tow. Later, the drawings and sketches from these books were transformed into engravings and oil paintings.
Anthonie Waterloo deserves to be mentioned among the realistic landscape engravers from the Netherlands whose work featured scenes of local nature. He has gone down in graphic art history for his scenes of forest glades, riverbanks, country roads, large trees and other natural wonders. The collection comprises 15 etchings by Waterloo, of which the exhibition features three – Two Farmers and a Dog at the Stream, Landscape with a Bridge and A Small Village – created around 1650. A Small Village is a masterpiece that surprises with its lyrical, subtle interpretation of nature.
The collection also includes a piece by Allart van Everdingen. His melancholic Norwegian landscape featuring a watermill may have been created during the artist’s holiday in Norway and Sweden in 1644 or later, inspired by memories and drawings. Everdingen’s works are interesting in that he was the first European artist whose works reflected Scandinavian nature.
A new theme appeared in 18th century European and Dutch graphic art – representations of theatre life, actors’ day-to-day goings-on, as well as of actual theatrical performances. Four prints perfectly reflecting that gallant century’s fascination with the theatre have been selected for the exhibition. Engraver, draftsman and stage designer Simon Fokke, who himself started out as an actor and later worked as a theatre artist, as well as illustrating the History of Amsterdam Theatre (1772), is represented by two engravings of a performance of Antonio Caldara’s opera Demofonte. The engravings are priceless in that they document both real passages from the 1 June 1768 Amsterdam theatre production (Act 3, scene 4) as viewed from the audience, and the theatre auditorium itself, overflowing with elegant rococo theatregoers, including the Royal Box with the last Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic William V and Wilhelmina of Prussia.