‘Plaisante Plaetsen’ – this is the title of a popular and influential series of 12 landscape etchings by Dutch artist Claes Jansz. Visscher from the early 17th century. ‘Plaisante Plaets’ is the Dutch rendering of a term that has its roots in antiquity: ‘locus amoenus’ (meaning ‘pleasant place’). The antithesis of the pleasant place is the terrible one (locus ‘terribilis’ or ‘horribilis’). The ‘locus amoenus’ denotes a fanciful landscape that exists in the imagination, a kind of earthly paradise, which, in the words of the influential art historian Erwin Panofsky, is a realm of ‘perfect bliss and beauty’ that nourishes the minds and bodies of its inhabitants through peace, restfulness, and plenty. The region of Greece known as Arcadia was commonly equated with the ‘locus amoenus’. Arcadia was envisioned as the beautiful counterpoint to the real world, populated by shepherds and their herds, symbols of the simple, but joyous life spent in harmony with nature.
Most striking about the scenes in Visscher’s series ‘Plaisante Plaetsen’ is the fact that they make no attempt to depict conventional idealized Arcadian landscapes. Here we see not Mediterranean climes populated by shepherds and their herds, but real views of locales just outside the Dutch city of Haarlem, full of detailed specificity. In this series Arcadia has been transported to Holland.
In Jan van de Velde’s series ‘Amenissimae aliquot regiunculae et antiquorum monumentorum ruinae’ (‘Some Pleasing Landscapes and Ruins of Ancient Monuments’), fantastical ruins (notably antique) are subtly combined with imaginary landscapes reminiscent of the local area. A stroll through the surrounding countryside takes the place of reverie of a distant land.
Claes Jansz. Visscher’s and Jan van de Velde’s early 17th century landscapes, as inspired by the real rural environs of Haarlem, went on to provide the template for scores of landscape paintings and prints in the following decades. That said however, traditional Arcadian landscapes continued to be produced during the Dutch Golden Age: landscapes and pastoral scenes distinctly southern in character, such as the depiction of a shepherd and his wife by Moyses van Uytenbroeck and Adriaen van de Velde’s Italian landscape. Today’s display thus presents a brief overview of the variety of ways the Dutch envisioned Arcadia.