Prints and Drawings
Since the sixteenth century, a study trip to Italy was common practice for Northern European painters. Most often their destination was Rome, but many also spent some time in Venice, Genoa, Florence and Naples. In the sixteenth century, they went primarily to study antiquities and the famous works of the Italian masters. By the seventeenth century, many a Northern artist wanted to see the Italian landscapes, as well. A certain group of visiting Netherlandish landscapists whose oeuvre was deeply imbued with their impressions of Italian landscapes became known as the Dutch Italianates.
Jan Both belonged to the second generation of this group. He arrived to Italy in 1637, and evidence shows that he was still in Rome in 1642. It was at this time that such great masters of landscape painting as Claude Lorrain, Nicolas Poussin, Herman van Swanevelt and Jan Asselijn were at work in the city. In spite of the fact that Both was competing with such famous masters, he soon made a name for himself and received important commissions. His most important patron was Spain’s King Philip IV, who ordered landscapes for his Buen Retiro residence near Madrid from Both and the painters mentioned above, as well as from Gaspar Dughet.
Both returned to Utrecht to great acclaim, which probably explains why there are many copies and forgeries of his drawings and paintings. The secret of his success was the extraordinary way in which he fused the great tradition of Netherlandish landscape painting with the lessons he learned from contemporary Italian art, creating a mode of painting that unified realism and classical idealism. Rome made a great impact on him through his exposure to the Italians’ grandiose compositions, architectural order and the golden light of the southern atmosphere, elements that he used to create works that were balanced, harmonic and animated. The Budapest drawing, the first dated work he completed after returning home, shows a landscape around Utrecht. The composition and thoughtful execution suggest that this is not a direct representation from life. Nevertheless, the drawing renders the spontaneity and freshness of nature apparent. The robust trees with their colossal foliage arranged along a diagonal axis are the embodiments of vegetative life force. The trees are depicted slightly from below, which intensifies their monumentality, as does the small size of the figures. The brushstrokes are light, with differentiated tonal values; they not only render the atmosphere tangible, but are also definitive in the creation of a serene mood. The outstretched limbs of the trees seem almost to embrace in an arabesque. Trees always play a significant role in Jan Both’s work, but never to the degree that they dominate here. The richness of the details and the delicate tonal transitions seem almost to prefigure the picturesque light of the Rococo.
Text: © TERÉZ GERSZI
This record is subject to revision due to ongoing research.