CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Roman Grigoryev

The Hermitage collection of prints by Romein de Hooghe, Adriaen Schoonebeck and Pieter Picaert

This paper is devoted to the history of a print and drawings collection compiled about 200 years ago at the corner of the Kalverstraat and the Gaperssteeg in Amsterdam, in the house of an artist named Adriaan Schoonebeck. It was then moved to Russia. Via the northern harbour of Archangelsk it reached Moscow in 1698 before being transported to the newly established Russian capital of St. Petersburg in 1714. Having survived these risky moves, it then outlived the great fire of December 1747, which destroyed the largest part of the collection of Peter I, the Communist sales of the 1930s and finally the Nazi siege of Leningrad in 1941-44.

The collection is closely related to the names of three Dutch etchers, Romeyn de Hooghe, Adriaan Schoonebeck and Pieter Picaert. The first name, de Hooghe, needs no introduction to this audience, so I will go straight on to the second man: Schoonebeck, the real collector of this unique set of Dutch graphic art of the late 17th century. Our knowledge of Schoonebeck’s life and work is split down the middle. There is too little about his Russian period in the Western literature, while Russian historians of art are not aware of his Dutch activity at all. He is even known by different names in both parts of the world: Schoonebeek in the Netherlands and Schoonebeck (as I shall call him) in Russia.

Adriaan Schoonebeck was born in Rotterdam on March 28, 1661 and was baptised as a Roman Catholic. Entering the studio of Romeyn de Hooghe at the age of 16, he stayed with him for 12 years, from 1667 to 1679. As an artist, he was prolific and enterprising rather than talented. He did have more education than most of his colleagues. In a written petition to Peter I he claims to have taken courses in philosophy at Leiden University. Like most graphic artists of the time he combined printmaking (etching and mezzotint) with publishing and trade. To this we should add that he was the author as well as the publisher and illustrator of at least two books, a history of the religious orders (Dutch edition 1691, French 1695) and one of the orders of chivalry (Dutch edition 1697, French 1699 and Russian 1710).

In 1697 Schoonebeck made the acquaintance of Peter I in Amsterdam when he demonstrated the technique of etching to the tsar. Etching was still rather uncommon in Russia, and Peter seems to have been interested in it for the possibilities it offered for spreading political propaganda in Europe. On January 1, 1698 Schoonebeck presented to the tsar an illustrated manuscript of a treatise on the art of etching. The manuscript is at present stored in the Rare Book Division of Library of the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. According to a well-known but perhaps apocryphal story, in 1698 Peter himself, with Schoonebeck’s assistance, made an etching of the Allegory of the Victory of Christianity over Islam. Two copies of this print are known, one in the Rijksmuseum and one in the St. Petersburg Public Library.

A very precious source for our understanding of Schoonebeck’s activity in Amsterdam is the catalogue of the sale of his collection of books, prints, drawings and maps. The auction took place in his print shop «in de Kalverstraat, over de Gapersteeg» on Friday, April 18, 1698. I am very grateful to Jan van der Waals for drawing my attention to this edition.

The sale catalogue lists 411 book titles; about 100 lots of maps, landscapes and prints series; separate prints and drawings by van Ostade, Wouwerman, Roghman, Ruysdael, Goltzius, Lepotre, Romeyn de Hooghe, Waterloo, van der Meulen, Stefano de la Bella, Berchem, Swaneveld, Paulus Potter, Jan van Goyen, Zeeman , Callot, A. Bloemaert and «Rembrant van Rhyn» (p.13). No copper plates owned by Schoonebeck are mentioned in the catalogue. These probably came into the possession of Pieter Picaert. This can be surmised from the fact that in 1699, when Scho0nebeck was already in Moscow, Picaert edited the French edition of Schoonebeck’s illustrated history of knights’ orders. Worthy of special notice in the catalogue is the entry of «swarte konst Printen» by Bloteling and others. This is interesting because Schoonebeck himself worked in mezzotint both in Amsterdam and Moscow, where he was the first to introduce this technique.

Schonebeck’s move to Russia turned him into the key figure in artistic relations between Russia and the United Provinces at the turn of the 18th century. From a run-of-the-mill print publisher in the Kalverstraat, where he was one of many, he became head of the state print school in Russia. This typically commercial artist was transformed into an imperial courtier: His Majesty’s artist and His Majesty’s Librarian, a double title he had sought in his petition to Peter of 1698.

The importance of Schoonebeck’s work for Russian art of the 18th century was many-sided.

  • First of all, he transferred know-how on the art of etching from Holland to Russia. This included not only knowledge of the technique but also all of the necessary materials and tools.
  • Secondly, on this basis he trained the first generation of Russian etchers. The most eminent of these were the brothers Ivan and Alexej Zubov. They were icon painters with close ties to the Moscow Court art center in the Armoury Chamber.
  • Thirdly, in his Moscow workshop he created the iconographic patterns and allegorical vocabulary for imperial art in the time of Peter the Great. He created models for the future development of Russian graphic art in the genres that were of particular importance for the tsar: official portraits, battle and siege scenes, fireworks and ships.
  • Finally he played an important role in introducing the Western print tradition in Russia. For instance, he seems to have brought into Russia the first complete set of DĂŒrer’s «Great Passions». At least, his set is the first recorded one. It was stored in the library of the Aleksander Nevsky monastery at St. Petersburg until the Bolsheviks destroyed it in 1918. Schoonebeck’s interest in DĂŒrer is attested by the presence in his collection of a seriously damaged print by the German master, the only print in the collection in such poor condition.

The third person who is of importance in this context was Schoonbeck’s stepson and pupil Pieter Picaert (Amsterdam 1668-St. Petersburg 1737). He was the son of an Amsterdam musician who died in 1684. Before his departure for Russia he etched a few book illustrations in collaboration with Schoonebeck, mainly on current historical and military subjects. This stood him in good stead when in 1703 Picaert was sent to the war theatre, travelling with the Russian with the army print workshop. He returned to Moscow half a year later with sketches of Swedish war ships that had been captured by the Russians. In Moscow he transferred these drawings to the etching plate. The drawings themselves are preserved in the Hermitage in the single surviving album of drawings in the Schonbeck-Picaert collection.

After his step-father’s death in 1705, Picaert «inherited» his position as head of the state print-shop. In August 1714 he moved with the rest of the court to the new capital in St. Petersburg. The total weight of his belongings, including «various tools and various German and other books», was recorded as 1370 kilos.

Picaert was much less independent than Schonebeck in his compositional choices. He often turned to prints from his collection as a source of inspiration rather than to his own powers of invention. His most usual source was Romeyn de Hooghe’s etchings, in which he would changed the allegorical and heraldic details to meet the demands of the commission. This can be demonstrated in a large number of examples, especially portraits, battle scenes and architectural prints.

The collection was of considerable importance for the artistic life of Moscow and St. Petersburg down the death of Pieter Picaert in 1737. At that point it changed status. Instead of a living source for a working studio it became an object for the archive and the museum. By order of Empress Elizabeth, it was bought by the Academy of Sciences Library. At that point the collection was inventoried. It included 10 albums of prints; 2 albums of drawings; 25 in quarto sheets depicting Russian regions and town coats of arms; and 20 large, framed engravings of unspecified subject and master. Picaert’s heirs were given 350 rubles all in all, an amount roughly equal to the annual salary of a foreign artist invited to Russia from Europe.

The most interesting feature of the inventory is the list of albums with prints, which reflects the common practice among collectors in the late 17th century.

1. Portraits
2. «Histories»
3. Landscapes
4. Battles
5. Cityscapes
6. Buildings (architecture)
7. Flowers
8. Animals
9. Maps

This specification of the structure of the collection is especially precious because it allowed us to identify the Schoonbeck-Picaert albums among the other holdings of the Academy of Sciences. They were kept in the library of the Academy until 1941, when they were transferred to the printroom of the Hermitage together with about 50,000 western European prints, among them part of Peter the Great’s collection of Dutch prints. They were transferred in July 1941, only one month before the beginning of the siege of Leningrad.

The State Hermitage Museum presently holds about 2500 prints and 127 drawings that are presumed to belong to the collection discussed. The drawings are all in one album – one of the two that was on the old list; the other one was lost between the Academy of Sciences and the Hermitage in 1941. At least, we have not been able to identify it. For some reason, in the early 1950s the prints were removed from their albums. They are now mounted on separate sheets of modern cardboard. Five empty albums of the original ten have survived. Luckily, at the time of the transfer of the collection to the Hermitage inscriptions were sometimes made on the margins of the albums. Thanks to these hints we have been able to restore the original order in which the prints were attached in these albums.

Page last updated on 3 June 2002