Flemish painting and De Jonckheere Gallery's old master paintings
Provenance: private collection
The similarities, both typological and stylistical, of the present panel with the four other paintings (in the present custody of the Kunsthistorisches Museum,...read more
Provenance: private collection
The similarities, both typological and stylistical, of the present panel with the four other paintings (in the present custody of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) carried out for the Emperor are most striking. Hans, whose sojourn at the court of Prague took place between 1596 and 1598, presented Rudolf II with architectural designs for the imperial palace (two halls of the latter were decorated by the de Vries, father and son). His design for seven fountains naturally conveys a particular relief to the present painting which, like two other pictures in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, features the fountain motive.
One of the Vienna canvases, Palace Architecture with Banquet Preparations (inv. 2334, signed: "Hans Vredeman VRIES IN.) is very similar in composition to our painting: same portico in the foreground, same tilted colonnade perspective, same column capitals, same fountain in the centre. It is, however, another painting in the Vienna Museum, Palace Courtyard with Bathers (inv. 1899, unsigned) which compares most adequately with the present picture. The whole architecture is arranged according to a similar compositional scheme; we also find here, closing the composition at the right of the background, a square tower adorned with pinnacles and a bulbous bell tower. But it is, above all, the painterly matter — its impastos thicker here than in the other pictures — which seems to discard a predominant intervention by Paul Vredeman de Vries.
Compared with the other Viennese paintings an a number of signed pictures, executed after his father’s death (such as Esther in front of Assuerus, 1612, Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt), Paul’s style appears characterised by an idiosyncratic modelling and a flatter definition of architectural details with, on the whole, a smoother painterly surface.
Besides the rich architectural inventiveness, the genre scenes figures add an extra element of charm to the work. The figures are judiciously distributed among the architectural elements: some are dancing while some others are embracing (kissing each other), playing an instrument of music, attending a splendid banquet. All these scenes describe, each per se, an aspect of the elegant courtly life of the time. The implicit moral message tells about the vanity of short-lived sensual pleasures, which the hourglass brandished by the skeleton above the two lovers in the foreground explicit underlines.
As far as staff age is concerned, the typology of the faces (bearded chin, high brows, heavy eyelids and inclined heads) indicates clearly the collaboration of Dirck de Quade van Ravensteyn, one of the most singular artists of the School of Prague, who manifestly participated in three of the four paintings by Vredeman de Vries in the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
The painterly achievement of this work, the richness, inventiveness and refinement of its architectural structures rank high among the pictorial masterpieces of the genre.
The rarity of Vredeman de Vries‘s paintings is in itself a sufficient reason for us to consider this work as exceptional. But, to boot, we are here probably confronted with a commission by Rudolf II and with one of the rare works showing unambiguous authorship by Hans (although a minor collaboration by Paul may not be excluded), all which makes this painting a genuine “museum” piece.
1527 Leeuwaerden – before 1609 ?
A painter, but also an architect and ornamental designer, Hans Vredeman de Vries received his early training from Reijer Gerritsz, in Leeuwarden. He thereafter...
1527 Leeuwaerden – before 1609 ?
A painter, but also an architect and ornamental designer, Hans Vredeman de Vries received his early training from Reijer Gerritsz, in Leeuwarden. He thereafter settled for two years in Kampen prior to travelling in the southern Netherlands, staying in Mechelen and Antwerp where, in 1569, he assisted Pieter Coecke van Aelst on the decoration of the triumphal arches constructed for the ceremonial entry of Charles V and his son, the future Philip II. He retired to Friesland for two years and there, aged fourty five, made a discovery that was to radically change his approach to art, viz. the treatises of architecture of Sebastiano Serlio and Vitruvius, translated and published by Pieter Coeck van Aelst. These two works were then considered as the bible of Renaissance architecture.
De Vries thereupon returned to Mechelen where he studied the illusionnistic perspective with Claude Dorigny. His paintings based upon architecture and perspective gained him rapid recognition. Gillis Hoogman, the patron of the arts and the painter Willem Key were among his commissioners. He also cooperated with other artists and drew in particular architectures for the printers G. de Joodhe, Ph. Galle, P. Balten and H. Cock. After the sack of Antwerp, in 1586, he sought sanctuary in Germany where he settled first in Frankfort, then in Brunswick. Various commissions and invitations led him successively to Hamburg in 1591, Danzig and Prague at the Court of Rudolf II, later in Leipzig (where he was entrusted with the decoration of the Stock Exchange) in Amsterdam, The Hague and finally in Hamburg again, where he apparently settled for good.
In 1604, he published the two volumes of his collection of architectural models, Dat is de Hoogh-gheroemde const, which had an immediate wide reception and ensured the diffusion of his architectural designs. Nothing is known about the circumstances of his death, the terminus ante quem being generally assumed to be 1609.
Although his interests were not limited to architecture, the corpus of Hans Vredeman de Vries’ painted works consists mainly in compositions resting on imaginary palatial architectures, staffed with elegant companies, and several church interiors as well. His first known painting (signed and dated 1560) is Christ in the House of Martha and Mary. Although father and son, the exact degree of Hans and Paul Vredeman de Vries’ artistic collaboration is still to be established.
It is known that Paul was an excellent painter and that, on several occasions, he executed compositions designed by his father. It has also been suggested that the staff age of some of their architectural paintings had been carried out by Dirck de Quade van Ravensteyn whom they had met at the court of Rudolf II in Prague.
The work of Hans Vredeman de Vries has whatever the forms it may have adopted played a decisive role in the Flemish and Dutch painting genre featuring architecture per se. Its direct offshoots are the works of his son and the creations of his pupils H. van Steenwick the Elder, Hendrick Aerts, B. van Bassen and the Neefs, father and son.