Tour # 7: Painting in the Low Countries

Painting in the 17th century


The outstanding personality of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) dominated the century. With him Antwerp became what Venice had been in the previous century. He worked with the landscape painter Tobias Verhaecht, with van Noort and Otto van Veen. In 1600 he left for Italy where he stayed for eight years. On his return to Antwerp he established a vast workshop; collaborators and assistants included van Dyck, Frans Snyders, Jan Bruegel, Paul de Vos, Lucas van Uden.

The continuators and pupils of Rubens were Caspar de Crayer (1584-1669), Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678), Pieter van Mo, Justus van Egmont, Theodor van Thulden. Among the animal painters: Frans Snyders (1579-1657), Paul de Vos (1590-1678), Jan Fyt (1611-1661). Among the landscape painters: Jan Wildens (1586-1653), Lucas van Uden ((1595-1672), Jacques d'Arthois (1613-1686) who had as followers Ignatius van der Stock and Luc Achtschellinck. The Huysmans adopted the classical formuls: Cornelis (known as "Huysmans of Mechelen", 1648-1727) was a pupil of Arthois; Jan Baptist (1654-1716) imitated his brother. Mention may also be made of the Peeters, of whom Bonaventura (1614-1652) specialised in seascapes and Gillis (1612-1653) painted rocky sites and delicately lit dunes.

Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) broke away from Rubens with a romantic charm which, in England, was to stimulate a whole generation of 18th century painters. Pupil of Hendrick van Balen, influenced by Caravaggio, he became, from 1617 to 1621, Rubens' right-hand man; he travelled to Genoa, Venice, Rome, Palermo 1621-1627; at Genoa a magnificent series of portraits. At Antwerp from 1627 to 1632 he painted church pictures. 1632 England as court painter to Charles I.

Cornelis de Vos (c. 1585-1651) owes very little to Rubens but belongs to the tradition of the Flemish primitives. The Bosch and Bruegel tradition was handed down to Adriaen Brouwer (1606-1638), who was followed by Josse van Craesbeeck; and to David Teniers (1610-1690) who married the daughter of "Velvet" Bruegel, Bruegel the Elder's son. Teniers was imitated by David Ryckaert, Willem van Herp and Mattheus von Helmont. Other painters: Gonzales Coques and Adam Frans van der Meulen (1632-1690) who immortalised Louis XIV's campaigns and was to be imitated by others. Denis van Alsloot and Anthonis Sallaert specialised in pageants and processions. The van Heil painted snow scenes and fires. Jan Siberechts (1627-1703) painted rustic landscapes.

The end of the century saw the decline of this brilliant school of painting.


The middle class, with its practical turn of mind, encouraged painters to observe and reflect its activities. Portraits, landscapes, still-lifes, scenes of biblical or everyday life were the favourite subjects, while the tradition of individual portraits continued, e.g. Jan Cornelisz. Verspronck (1597-1662). Michiel Jansz. van Miereveld and Ravesteyn started the fashion of group portraits (stemming from the 16th-century company pieces) which was developed by Frans Hals (1580/85-1666), pupil of Karel van Mander. His masterpieces are in Haarlem. Frans Hals' pupils, such as Hendrick Gerritsz Pot (1585-1657), Judith Leyster (1609-1660) and her husband Jan Miense Molenaer (1610-1668), Dirk Hals, brother of Frans (1591-1656), Pieter Codde (c. 1599-1618), made Haarlem one of the great centres of Dutch painting. The portraitist Jan de Bray (c. 1627-1697) was also from Haarlem.

Amsterdam, stronghold of the middle class spirit, remained faithful to the tradition of objective portraits with Thomas de Keyser (1597-1667), Dirck Dircksz. van Santvoort (1610-1680), Bartholomeus van der Helst (1613-1671), while Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634) painted landscapes with small figures. Rembrandt was too tremendous a personality to be anything but isolated; but his influence was considerable.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) was incomparably the greatest Dutch artist; his extant output includes over 650 paintings, 300 etchings and 1500 drawings; pupils in his large teaching studio included Gerrit Dou, Ferdinand Bol, Govert Flinck, Salomon Koninck, Carel Fabritius and Nicolaes Maes.

A strong Romanist trend remained, however, thanks to which Holland remained open to European art with Pieter Lastman (1583-1633), Rembrandt's teacher who knew Elsheimer in Rome; the Utrecht school: Abraham Bloemaert (1564-1651), Hendrick Terbrugghen (1588-1629), Dirk Baburen (c. 1590-c. 1624), Gerrit van Honthorst (1590-1656), who was influenced by Caravaggio, and who, returning from Rome before 1625, made successful use of the famous tenebrism. The Italian countryside inspired Claes Berchem (1620-1683), Jan Asselyn (1616-1652) and Jan Weenix (c. 1650-1719).

In Amsterdam itself Rembrandt had followers in Govert Flinck (1615-1660), Ferdinand Bol (1616-1680), Nicolas Maes (1634-1693), and at Dordrecht, Aert de Gelder (1645-1727).

In Haarlem Rembrandt influenced masters like Adriaen van Ostade (1610-1685) and Gerard ter Borch (1617-1681) who visited England, Italy and Spain, and influenced the worldly Caspar Netscher (1639-1684).

At Leyden, Rembrandt influenced Jan Lievens and Gerrit Dou (1613-1675). Dou in his turn influenced Gabriel Metsu (1629-1667), Isaac Koedijck (1616-before 1668), the subtle Frans van Mieris (1635-1681) and Jan Steen (1626-1679) with his lively truculence.

At Delft interest in plein-air lighting and optics appears in the work of Carel Fabritius (1622-1654), the finest of Rembrandt's pupils and the probable master of Vermeer. Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684) did his finest work at Delft (1658-1667). Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) reconciled the Dutch objective tradition and the poetic quality brought from Italy by the Romanists. Jacobus Vrel, more naive, painted street scenes, and Gerard Houckgeest (c. 1600-1661), Hendrick Cornelisz. van van Vliet (c. 1611-1675), and Emanuel de Witte (c. 1617-1692) painted church interiors.

Minor masters at Leyden: Jacob Ochtervelt (1632-c.1700) influenced by Gabriel Metsu, and Quiringh van Brekelenkam (1620-1661), more simple, like Esaias Boursse (c. 1631-1672) in Amsterdam.

Landscapes, important at the beginning of the l7th century with Esaias van de Velde (c. 1590-1630), Pieter de Molyn and the visionary Hercules Seghers (c. 1590-before 1656), flourished with Jan van Goyen (1596-1656), Allaert van Everdingen, Roelandt Roghman (1627-1692), Aert van der Neer (1603-1677), specialist in night pieces, Philips de Koninck (1619-1688) with his vast horizons, and above all Meyndert Hobbema (1638-1709) and the nephew of Salomon van Ruisdael (c. 1600-1670), Jacob Isaackszon van Ruisdael (c. 1628-1682), for whom nature evoked a religious feeling.

Among the painters of architectural pieces: the subtle Pieter Saenredam (1597-1665), Dirk van Delen (1605-1671), and the "townscapists" Jan van der Heyden (1637-1712), the Berckheyde brothers, Job (1630-1693) and Gerrit (1638-1698). Among the masters of landscapes with figures: Philips Wouverman (1619-1668), painter of famous cavalry pieces; Isaack van Ostade, Adriaen's brother (1621-1649); Paulus Potter (1625-1654), the most famous animal painter of the time, and Adriaen van de Velde (1636-1672). Aelbert Cuyp (1620-1691) of Dordrecht painted landscapes, animals, seascapes, portraits with a versatility rare in Dutch art. His poetic rendering of golden light effects strongly influenced later English landscape painting.

The chief marine painters, after the already outdated Hendrick Vroom (1566-1640), are Jan Porcellis, teacher of Simon de Vlieger (1601-1653), his disciple Jan van de Cappelle (1626-1679), more serene than Ludolf Backhuysen (1631-1708), finally Willem van de Velde (1611-1693) and his son William van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707) who settled in London in 1672.

The best still-life painters: Pieter Claesz. and Willem Claesz. Heda, Jan Davidsz de Heem, Abraham van Beyeren, Willem Kalf, and Jacob Gillig (c.1636-1701).

At the end of the l7th century, French and English influences killed this pictorial vitality.

View some characteristic images from the first half and the second half of the 17th century.