Abstracts from the Speakers’ Corner held on Tuesday 14 March at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. If you wish to contact one of the speakers, please find their contact information by clicking on their names.
Searching for the Botanist and Art Collector, Agnes Block (1629-1704)
Henrietta Ward, Curator of Northern European Paintings & Drawings, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
The Fitzwilliam Museum has one of the finest collections of flower paintings and botanical art in the world. Nestled within it is a group of around fifteen flower drawings that were commissioned by the notable botanist and art collector, Agnes Block. These include drawings by Maria Sibylla Merian, Alida Withoos and Willem de Heer. Block’s greatest achievement was the realization of her country estate, Vijverhof on the River Vecht near Utrecht where she built a grand manor house surrounded by a remarkable garden that grew plants from all over the world. To record her botanical achievements, Block commissioned many artists to paint the plants in her garden over the course of thirty years, amounting to what must have been hundreds of drawings. These drawings are now dispersed all over the world and can be found in various institutions, but there must be many more drawings out there waiting to be discovered. One way to identify Block’s drawings is to see if there are any inscriptions on the verso: she would often write the name of the plant, the date it bloomed, sometimes the name of the artist and a botanical symbol. The more drawings that can be identified, the more that can be learned about her botanical knowledge, her patronage and the artists she worked with. Ward is interested if any institute has seventeenth-century flower drawings, especially those of Herman Saftleven, with anonymous pen and ink inscriptions on the verso?
Women in Maritime History
Irene Jacobs, Curator, Maritime Museum, Rotterdam
Women are part of history, no one will say otherwise. Nevertheless, historians (and art historians) did not acknowledge this until recently. Therefore, the specific roles women had in historic societies is hard to determine, which is a reason for some to believe that women had no (significant) role at all. This is especially the case for the maritime sector, which is always said to have been the territory of men. The Maritime Museum Rotterdam is preparing an exhibition (scheduled to open in 2025) that will shed new light on the topic. The exhibition will demonstrate that women were also part of maritime history, albeit in different areas or on a different level than expected. In preparation of the exhibition, Jacobs is seeking paintings or other objects that depict women working in a maritime setting or female activities in shipping, and – if known – the stories of the women that are portrayed.
The Hudson Valley School and the Dutch Masters
Lloyd DeWitt, Chief Curator and Irene Leache Curator of European Art, Chrysler Museum of Ar, Norfolk, VA
In the exhibition The Hudson Valley School and the Dutch Masters examples of Dutch landscape paintings will be paired with those of Thomas Cole (1801–1848) and members of the Hudson Valley School. Their superficial resemblance has often been remarked on, but new evidence shows that the working method of Cole and his followers involved careful citation of famous Dutch seventeenth-century prints and paintings that they were known to have seen. DeWitt is looking for other means to explain the resemblance between the Americans works and their putative Dutch models, or other artists that should be added to his exhibition.
The tapestry series of the “Old Passion” from the workshop of Pieter van Edingen van Aalst at the court of the Wettins in Dresden: a targeted purchase or historical coincidence?
Uta Neidhardt, Curator of Dutch and Flemish Paintings, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden
In 1565, the collection of tapestries of the Saxon Electors in Dresden Castle comprised 230 pieces, making it one of the richest in Europe. The inventory first states an “Alte passion inn gold Silber und seyde”, which consisted of ten tapestries; four of which are still preserved in Dresden. The tapestries are of outstanding quality, refined with gold and silver threads, and made in the Brussels workshops of Peter van Edingen van Aalst by Peter de Pannemaker the Elder and others, after designs by Bernard van Orley, from 1524-1528. The reason why the tapestries where acquired (or where they donated?) and how they reached Dresden are both obscure. However, a network of assumptions and indications of a historical and art-historical nature might offer an approach to solving these questions. One of the traces leads to the Malines court of Margaret of Austria: some of the Dresden carpets show remarkable similarities with those of her “Square Passion” that where designed in the same workshops. Perhaps even more important are the close Saxon-Dutch connections that had already existed since the end of the fifteenth century. One of the key figures within this network of (cultural) exchanges was the passionate art collector and Albertine Duke George the Bearded of Saxony. Neidhardt is looking for hypotheses about the commissioner of the Dresden “Old Passion” tapestries, but more importantly why and how the carpets reached the court of the Wettins.
Wybrand de Geest, ‘die nu tot Romen reijst’
Marlies Stoter, Curator, Fries Museum, Leeuwarden
In the autumn of 1611, the painter’s apprentice Wybrand de Geest (ca. 1592-1664) moves from Leeuwarden to Utrecht with his leather album amicorum in his backpack. During his studies in Utrecht and his travels through southern Europe (via Paris to Rome) the album is filled with contributions from colleagues, fellow students and poets. After nine years, De Geest returns to Leeuwarden where he becomes the portraitist of the Frisian Nassaus and the elite. Fortunately, the album has been preserved, but 22 of the drawings – those by Matthijs Harings and Wouter P. Crabeth amongst others – are missing. In 2025 the album will be part of an exhibition about De Geest and his sons at the Fries Museum. In preparation of the exhibition, Stoter is seeking additional (signed) portraits of De Geest, as well as for the needle in the haystack: the album’s lost drawings.
Connecting the museum(collection) with society?
Vera De Boeck, Curator, Museum aan de Stroom, Antwerp
In 1514, the so-called Altarpiece of Averbode was bought by the abbot of Averbode Abbey to be placed upon the Altar of Holy Confessors in the abbey church. Since 1873 the altarpiece has been part of the Antwerp city collection and it is currently on display in the MAS – Museum aan de Stroom. The MAS plans to return the altarpiece to the community it once belonged to by giving it on long-term loan to Averbody Abbey. As of now, multiple partners are examining the possibilities of an in situ display of the altarpiece. De Boeck is looking for museums who have had similar experiences. She also questions whether labeling the altarpiece as a Flemish Masterpiece makes any difference to its presentation, and whether a display case is necessary to exhibit the artwork in its original setting.
At Home in the 17th Century
Femke Diercks, Head of the Decorative Arts Department, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
In 2025, the Rijksmuseum is organizing an exhibition focusing on domestic culture in urban centers during the seventeenth century in the Dutch Republic. The exhibition will have a thematic approach, with a focus on the people in the household and the objects they surrounded themselves with. Moreover, the show wants to challenge some of the stereotypes about the Dutch seventeenth century household, by comparing the ideals propagated by pedagogical writers to the much more complex reality of life in this era. The focus will not solely be on elite culture, but it is intended to address a wider social stratification; including cultural, economic and religious diversity. Seven themes related to the household will be covered in the exhibition, namely ‘Marriage and Household Composition’, ‘Housekeeping’, ‘Work’, Cooking and Eating’, ‘Childrearing’, ‘Entertainment’ and ‘Personal Hygiene’. Overarching themes will be the role of the woman and the importance of faith in the seventeenth-century Dutch household. The exhibition will be focused around case studies (objects that can be linked to specific people) and combine those with anonymous objects that tell more about the particular customs related to the objects. Diercks is looking for seventeenth-century Dutch objects of which the maker, the commission(er), or the original context in which it was used is known, that can serve as case studies within the exhibition.