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

Mobility of artists, works of art and artistic knowledge

Mobility of Artists

This project, carried out by Ineke Steevens MA (until 2011) and dr. David van der Linden (from 2012), deals with the mobility of artistic producers. Jan Briels (1976, 1987) was the first to point out that a very considerable number of artists migrated from the Southern Netherlands to the Northern Provinces starting in the late sixteenth century, but the topic has scarcely received any attention since then. Research in this sub-project will be undertaken to plot the movements of the hundreds of artists and art dealers in this period. Thanks to exciting new databases which have only very recently become available (see below), prosopographical data can be retrieved and processed in a highly systematic manner. This plethora of new information will provide the building blocks to answer a host of challenging and pertinent questions relative to the impact of migration on artistic production and the emergence of art markets.

We first identify the push and pull factors that made artists pack up their belongings and move to a different town. In the context of the Iconoclasm of 1566 and the erupting Dutch Revolt, it is assumed that religious motivations lay at heart of many decisions to move from Antwerp and other towns in the Southern Netherlands to the Protestant North. However, “the dramatic story of the religious refugee has such an appeal that one is often inclined to forget that not all migrations of skilled workers and innovations in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries can be ascribed to religious fanaticism” (Cipolla 1972, p. 49). Therefore, we need to seriously examine the motivations for artists’ movements by taking into account economic, social, religious and artistic factors.

Secondly, we ask the question why certain destinations were clearly more popular than others. For instance, during the years surrounding the siege of Antwerp (1584-1585), many artists fled to Middelburg, while in subsequent years the bulk of the immigrants settled in Haarlem and Amsterdam. Were these crucial decisions determined by the vicinity or accessibility of certain towns (as can be argued for Middelburg), or the presence of a critical mass of other artists and a budding art market? During the Twelve-Year Truce (1609-1621), this was the case for Amsterdam, but perhaps surprisingly also for Antwerp which was experiencing the beginning of its artistic Indian summer, not in the least due to the return of Rubens (Vermeylen, 2004).

We further look at the ways the new arrivals integrated in their adopted home towns by becoming part of the urban fabric. For instance, did they rush to become members of the local guilds in order to quickly resume their professional activities? Evidence that they started to instruct (local) pupils is particularly meaningful as it denotes a deliberate and sustained transfer of knowledge. Ultimately, we want to measure the impact of immigrant artists on local art markets. To what extent did the arrival of Flemish immigrants result in a supply shock which jump-started the market for arts in the Dutch Republic?

Besides the immigrants who settled more or less permanently, there is ample evidence that many artists moved more or less freely between North and South, and as such facilitated the assimilation of new iconographies, as well as new strategies and techniques of representation. Certainly by the beginning of the seventeenth century, travel had become a recognized mode of valorizing know-how. The obligatory Italian journey played an important role in this process, and must have encouraged similar trans-national interactions within the Low Countries. Moreover, theoretical considerations promoting cross-border borrowing as an integral part of the learning process contributed to mobility as a professional habitus (Sluijter 2005). This climate stimulated interaction with ‘foreign’ colleagues, working procedures and art works, which resulted in a greater mobility of artists and styles and thus facilitated cultural transmission. Many renowned artists such as the painters Jacob Jordaens and Adriaen Brouwer, the sculptor Artus Quellinus, and the engraver Lucas Vorsterman traveled seemingly effortlessly across enemy lines to render their services to foreign patrons. Again, we focus on the movements, motivations and impact of these artists in order to gauge their role in the transfer of artistic know-how between North and South.

In terms of sources, biographical information can be obtained form the Groenendijk Database (2008), the Kunst en Kunstenaars files of the Antwerp City Archives (available electronically since 2008), and additional sources at the RKD. Furthermore, the appendices of Briels’ original dissertation (1976) have not been exploited for this type of inquiry. Passport applications and various commercial documents will be consulted in archives in Belgium and the Netherlands.