Landschap en wereldbeeld
Van Van Eyck tot Rembrandt
From Van Eyck to Rembrandt
Art critics like to emphasise the modern and realist character of the famous Dutch landscape paintings of the seventeenth century. Art historian Boudewijn Bakker explicitly distances himself from this interpretation, drawing attention to the long history and tradition of landscape as a subject in Dutch painting, a history stretching back to Jan van Eyck’s generation of the early fifteenth century. His broad, audacious approach, together with a lucid style and seemingly casual erudition, make this a remarkable and challenging study.
Where did the centuries-old fascination for landscape originate? What was the contemporary significance and purpose of Dutch landscape painting? In Bakker’s view, early Dutch painting can only be understood in the context of the intellectual climate of the day. Rather than seeking answers in the insights offered by humanist art theory, he attempts to chart the traditional Christian view of the world commonly held at the time, which can assist our interpretation of the richly varied landscapes painted by the great masters.
Bakker introduces a diverse collection of thinkers and writers, figures we might not expect to find in a study of art history, such as fifteenth-century monastic scholar Dionysius the Carthusian, sixteenth-century religious reformer John Calvin, geographer Abraham Ortelius and seventeenth-century poet Constantijn Huygens. In their conception of landscape he identifies a world view that goes back to late-Medieval perceptions of God and creation.
It was a manner of thinking in which for instance the colour white, a lamb, the virtue of innocence and the person of Jesus were directly or indirectly connected on a plane higher than that of sensory perception, through mutual allusions that required no further explanation. Similarly, more general concepts such as macrocosm and microcosm, the Bible and nature, word and image, art and model were instinctively seen as interlinked, analogous phenomena.
For late-Medieval contemporaries, the painted landscape - just like the real one - functioned as a store-room of spiritual and moral messages, and according to Bakker this attitude was not confined to the Middle Ages. In fact, painters like Pieter Breugel, Rembrandt van Rijn and Jacob van Ruisdael probably thought far more traditionally than we tend to assume. This has important consequences for the interpretation of their art, which Bakker illustrates in his highly acclaimed final chapter on Rembrandt as a landscape painter.