BERCHEM, Nicolaes
(b. 1620, Haarlem, d. 1683, Amsterdam)

Italianate Landscape with a Distant View of the Tomb of the Plautii

Oil on canvas, 101 x 195 cm
Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden

Along with Jan Both, Adam Pynacker, Jan Asselyn and Karel Dujardin, Nicolaes Berchem introduced landscapes that instead of depicting the Dutch countryside, featured mountainous landscapes of Italian inspiration, with a staffage of rustic farmers and shepherds, and classical ruins from the Italian Campagna. The subdued palette that was favoured by the older Dutch landscape painters such as Jan van Goyen and Salomon van Ruysdael now gave way to strong colour contrasts and bright warm lighting. The landscapes of Berchem and other painters of the Italianate landscape are marked by a new monumentality and a sense of pastoral poetry that was to inspire generations of painters well into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The present landscape was painted a few years after Berchem returned from a trip to Italy. In the foreground a group of Savoyards on their mules are represented between slender birch trees. In the background hills one can see the ruins of a cylindrical structure from Roman times, known as the Tomb of the Plautii. In reality this tomb is situated not in the hills, but along the banks of the river Anio, near Tivoli. It was in this mausoleum that Aulus Plautius, the commander of the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43 was entombed. The tomb lies next to the equally well-known Roman bridge, the Ponte Lucano, of which here only the square entrance gate can be discerned, just behind the trees. Berchem may have visited Tivoli with its famous tomb when travelling through the Roman Campagna, and indeed he may have sketched it in order to reproduce it in one of his landscapes when back in Holland.

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