From the museum website, 28 July 2008
On 5 July, Utrecht Dreams of Rome, a newly appointed semi-permanent presentation of the collection of Old Masters, opened at the Centraal Museum, Utrecht. This new presentation of world-class masterpieces shows how Utrecht’s 16th-century painters were inspired by their Italian counterparts – a process that eventually led to the rise of 17th-century Dutch Masters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer and Frans Hals.
Long before Dutch painting blossomed in towns such as Amsterdam and Haarlem, Utrecht was the supreme centre for painting in the Northern Netherlands. Utrecht Dreams of Rome traces the development of this unique tradition.
The Centraal Museum is home to the world’s completest and most important collection of Utrecht Old Masters. Their unparalleled tradition is revealed in a visit to the eight completely renovated rooms where masterpieces from this collection are shown. The exhibition now includes Paulus Moreelse’s wonderful portraits of Philips Ram and Anna Ram-Strick, which the Dutch government recently repurchased from the Goudstikker family.
Utrecht: the centre of cultural life
For very many years Utrecht was the focus of the religious, economic and cultural life of the northern Netherlands. An overview of the city’s history is provided in a special room, where paintings, drawings, sculptures and a 19th-century model of the Dom all highlight the key position the city occupied in the life of those times.
Utrecht’s painters were first attracted to Italy in the early 16th century. Jan van Scorel, the most celebrated Northern-Netherlandish painter of his day, reached Rome in 1522. As Raphael’s successor as curator of the Vatican art collection, Scorel was deeply influenced by the painting of the Italian Renaissance. After his return to the Netherlands, his innovative style influenced not only many of his contemporaries, but also later generations of painters, from Utrecht and beyond. All Scorel’s masterpieces from the collection of the Centraal Museum have been included in the exhibition.
In the early 17th century, a group of Utrecht painters working in Rome fell under the spell of the ‘Master of light’, Caravaggio. When they returned to Utrecht, these ‘Caravaggists’ introduced a wholy new style of painting, one that stressed the contrasts between light and dark – the very quality for which Rembrandt was later to become so celebrated. The work of the Utrecht Caravaggists – many examples of which can be seen at the Centraal Museum – is another unique aspect of the painting of the Northern Netherlands.
Italian painting was also important to Utrecht painters who never crossed the Alps. One such man was Abraham Bloemaert, ‘the father of the Utrecht School’, in whose huge workshop many painters were trained. But because some of these artists travelled to Italy, returning to pass on their learning to their master, Bloemaert’s varied oeuvre bears visible testimony to a succession of Italian influences. His fame extended so far that even the great Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens visited him in Utrecht.
Bloemaert’s contemporary Joachim Wtewael was the most important exponent of Mannerism in the Netherlands; his pastel-coloured works depicting a multitude of idealised figures in mannered poses were important examples for later generations of painters. A separate room at the Centraal Museum is devoted to Wtewael’s masterpieces, and also contains various items of furniture from his house. Other key works of applied art can be seen throughout the rest of the exhibition.
Centraal Museum themes
Utrecht Dreams of Rome is the first phase of the new Museum and Business Plan, which was approved by the city council in April 2008. The plan comprises a variety of distinct public-oriented themes. This exhibition, with its world-class masterpieces, fits the Centraal Museum Utrecht theme.
The permanent exhibition Utrecht Dreams of Rome is supported by BankGiro Loterij.