POELENBURGH, Cornelis van
(b. ca. 1594, Utrecht, d. 1667, Utrecht)

Rest on the Flight into Egypt

c. 1640
Oil on copper, 34 x 44 cm
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge

Poelenburgh's native town was Utrecht, and, like so many Italianate Dutch painters, he studied there with Bloemaert. During his life he achieved great fame, and he attracted a large number of followers who used his polished style for arcadian landscapes populated with the same satyrs and nude nymphs he favoured, although in their works the nymphs are usually more hefty. In Italy he enjoyed the patronage of leading Roman families and the Medici court in Florence. He settled in Utrecht after his return from the south and became a leading artist of the city. When Rubens, who owned several of his paintings, travelled to Utrecht in 1627 he visited his studio. In the same year, when the Province of Utrecht made an official wedding gift of four paintings to Amalia van Solms, bride of Stadholder Frederik Hendrik, it included one of his, a Banquet of the Gods (the other paintings were an animal and bird picture by Roelandt Savery and pendants by Paulus Moreelse of a Shepherd and Shepherdess). Poelenburgh became a favourite of the court at The Hague and in 1637 he made the first of several trips to London where he worked for Charles I. His most adoring patron in Holland was Willem Vincent Baron van Wyttenhorst whose collection included fifty-five of his paintings.

Poelenburgh's reputation as a leading representative of the first generation of Italianate artists rests securely on his meticulously finished paintings, usually in cool colour harmonies, of biblical, mythological, historical, and pastoral subjects set in tranquil airy landscapes which make frequent use of classical ruins that help evoke a heroic past. In his Rest on the Flight into Egypt the conspicuous foreground fragments of ancient sculpture and architectural remains probably allude to the impending demise of the pagan world and the imminent coming of the New Dispensation.

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