Museum press release, 25 June 2001
The Golden Age of Dutch art is generally associated with painters like Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer and Frans Hals who are typically identified with just one of the Republic’s provinces: Holland. Less well known is Utrecht’s Golden Age. Seventeenth-century Utrecht was the cradle of Dutch art, the centre in which various styles and themes where developed. The Centraal Museum in Utrecht therefore invited Dr Albert Blankert to mark his coming retirement from Utrecht University by organising a major exhibition on the subject for this summer. Blankert, who began his career as a curator at the Centraal Museum in 1962 and subsequently achieved renown as one of the world’s leading Rembrandt and Vermeer specialists, chose a selection of key works from Dutch museum and private collections.
It was the Caravaggists who gave painting in Utrecht in this period its own unique character. This new, international style owed its inspiration to the work of Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) and exercised a major influence on the development of seventeenth-century painting. Rembrandt’s dramatic naturalism, for example, had its roots in Caravaggism. In fact Caravaggio’s influence was even more widespread: in addition to artists from Utrecht, Rome also attracted painters from the rest of Italy, Spain and France. In Utrecht a local variation of the style developed, with Dirck van Baburen, Paulus Bor, Hendrick ter Brugghen and Gerard van Honthorst among its leading proponents. Because of the virtuosity of his chiaroscuro (light-dark), Honthorst was known among contemporaries as ‘Gherardo delle Notti’.
In addition to the Caravaggists, the Italianists also travelled to Italy and drew their inspiration from the south of Europe. These landscapists lived and worked in the early half of the seventeenth century, around the same time as Van Goyen and Ruisdael, and exercised as great an influence on Dutch landscape art as their – now more famous – fellow artists. Many of them spent several years in Italy, cultivating their fascination with the Italian light and the Mediterranean atmosphere. Rather than the Dutch countryside, their works feature the towns, mountains and woods of Italy. Leading Utrecht Italianists included Cornelis van Poelenburch, Jan Both and Jan Baptist Weenix.
Two previous exhibitions contributed to the appreciation and knowledge of the Utrecht Caravaggists and the Italianists. In both of these a key role was played by connoisseur and art historian Albert Blankert. In 1965 he compiled Nederlandse 17e eeuwse Italianiserende landschapschilders (Dutch 17th-Century Italianist Landscape Painters) and wrote the accompanying catalogue, while in 1986/1987 he and Leonard J. Slatkes compiled and wrote Nieuw licht op de Gouden Eeuw. Hendrick ter Brugghen en tijdgenoten (New Light on the Golden Age: Hendrick ter Brugghen and His Contemporaries). The first major international exhibition on this period Masters of Light: Dutch Painters in Utrecht during the Golden Age appeared between September 1997 to August 1998 in San Francisco, Baltimore and the National Gallery in London. Albert Blankert has assembled the very best work produced in Utrecht’s Golden Age: in all around fifty of the finest paintings are featured. At least half are from Dutch museum and private collections, the rest are from the Centraal Museum itself – home of the world’s largest collection of Utrecht’s Golden Age paintings.
The exhibition is accompanied by a booklet containing Albert Blankert’s descriptions of the various exhibits as well as an introduction explaining his choice. A ‘Dutch Kijkwijzer guide’ is available for children aged 10 to 12.
Caravaggisten en Italianisanten uit Nederlands bezit
Museum book accompanying an exhibition held in 2001 in Utrecht (Centraal Museum)
Utrecht (Centraal Museum) 2001