Cultural Transmission and Artistic Exchanges in the Low Countries, 1572-1672

Mobility of artists, works of art and artistic knowledge

Mobility of Artistic Knowledge

This project, carried out by Marloes Hemmer, approaches cultural transmission from the perspective of artistic knowledge, and focuses on the artistic dialogue between the Northern and the Southern Netherlands throughout the long seventeenth century. To the present day, the art history of the Northern and Southern Low Countries continues to be a divided field characterized by a separate historiography and methodology. Despite repeated calls for an integrated approach (Blankert 1995; Vlieghe 1998, 2001; De Clippel 2006), a joint art history has remained as good as inexistent. Only in the field of architecture more systematic cross-border research has been realized (De Jonge and Ottenheym 2007). To do justice to historic reality, this sub-project will study process and product innovation in the North and South in a unified way. Only such an approach will enable us to gauge the contribution of artistic exchange to the development of the visual arts in the two regions.

To obtain a more complete picture of cultural transmission, a geographical parameter will be introduced. As such, the scope of this sub-project will be confined to the interaction between Antwerp and Haarlem only. This choice is legitimized by the fact that both cities played essential roles in the artistic developments of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. While Antwerp was the center of innovation par excellence of the ‘Flemish’ Golden Age (Vlieghe 2001), Haarlem has been bestowed with a similar leading role for the seventeenth-century ‘Dutch’ Age of Prosperity (Biesboer 2008). Moreover, from the late sixteenth century onwards, the cities have initiated and maintained an intense relationship as a consequence of the massive migrations in the wake of the Dutch Revolt. Especially in the last quarter of the sixteenth century, huge numbers of skilled craftsmen left Antwerp to settle in Haarlem. As a result, the Dutch city’s art production was jump-started by this influx of Flemish immigrants (Briels 1976, 1985, 1997). Even during times of military conflict, Haarlem and Antwerp engaged in frequent contacts resulting in a kind of openness that allowed for a widespread circulation of people, goods and ideas.

The emphasis of this sub-project will be on painting, but other disciplines will be included as well in order to provide a global picture and to illustrate interdisciplinary crossovers. Of particular significance was the printing industry which thrived in both centers and which – largely due to the affordability of prints and engravings – was a phenomenal disseminator of artistic knowledge. Haarlem certainly had secured a great reputation in this field (Leeflang et al. 2003), to such a degree even that Rubens personally traveled to the city to recruit highly talented engravers to reproduce his paintings (Van Hout 2004).

The analysis of the appropriation versus rejection of ‘foreign’ inventions and traditions will be conducted along the lines of four decisive issues. First, key figures will be identified. Important in this respect are collectors, dealers and painters, but also prolific producers of prints. Particularly relevant are individuals who were active for lengthy periods in both cities, such as the genre painter Adriaen Brouwer (De Clippel 2003). Secondly, individual art works will be analyzed against the backdrop of shared iconographic traditions and conventions. In doing so, we seek to retrace cross-border iconographic and stylistic chains versus ‘local’ innovations and developments (De Clippel 2006). Telling examples of cross-fertilization occurred between the so-called Haarlem classicists and Rubens in the 1610s and, between Haarlem and Antwerp genre painters in the 1620 and 1630s (Blankert 1999). Thirdly, workshop and guild practices in both cities will be scrutinized in search of attitudes towards ‘foreign elements’ – persons as well as objects (Boers-Goossens 2001; Prak 2003; Vermeylen-Van der Stighelen 2006; Balis 2008). As such, an examination of the infiltration of the Haarlem guild by Antwerp members will provide answers to questions related to the assimilation of foreign styles and pictorial elements. Fourthly and finally, written sources will be screened in order to find contemporary testimonies about cultural transmission and its reception. Poetry, art theoretical writings and correspondence among artists, patrons and dealers should help to fine-tune the findings generated by the study of the objects. For instance, Constantijn Huygens’s letters and his diary are particularly informative Dutch sources about the Greater Netherlandish culture. They seem to suggest that Flemish and Dutch artists were judged according to similar criteria (Vlieghe 1987). A confrontation with other written sources will verify whether Huygens’s ideas were representative.

The results of this sub-project will allow us to understand the input of works of arts and individuals in the process of cultural transmission in the Low Countries, as well as their sustained and lasting impact on the ‘Netherlandish’ artistic heritage.