(b. ca. 1610, Dieppe, d. 1652, Amsterdam)

The Threatened Swan

c. 1650
Oil on canvas, 144 x 171 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Asselyn's early works, dated 1634 and 1635, are little views of ferocious cavalry skirmishes which suggest he was apprenticed to Jan Marsten the Younger, a Haarlem battle painter who was a pupil and follower of Esaias van de Velde. Soon afterwards he was said to have travelled to Rome and remained there until about 1643-44. No painting can be documented to his Roman sojourn but on the basis of stylistic evidence a sufficient number establish he was there, and had close contact with the Bamboccianti as well as an opportunity to take a hard look at Claude's landscapes. Additionally, he made drawings, often animated with wash, of the grand and modest sights of Rome.

Asselyn returned to the Netherlands via France where he married in Lyon in 1644-45. Then he moved to Paris where he worked with Swanevelt. By 1647 he was in Amsterdam where he spent the remaining five years of his life. During the brief period he specialized in Italian views saturated with silvery and golden atmospheric effect; he was one of the first to bring Claude's pure and light way of painting landscapes to Holland. He also painted winter and night scenes and views of his native land, and pictures of animals and birds as well. His Threatened Swan depicts a life-size swan defending its nest against a dog swimming towards it.

With menacingly outspread wings, the swan is vigorously defending its nest against the dog swimming up from the left. The scattered feathers and the low angle from which the bird is viewed emphasize its fury.

The painting was transformed at a later date into an allegory on the vigilance of the Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt by inscriptions added by an unknown hand: under the swan 'De Raad-Pensionarie' (the Grand Pensionary); on one of the eggs in the nest 'Holland'; and above the dog, 'de viand van de Staat' (the enemy of the State). Thus the swan was meant to represent the Grand Pensionary protecting Holland. The enemy was presumably De Witt's adversary, England.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.