Friday, December 26, 2014

Various sorts of landscapes with fine histories composed therein

Joannes and Lucas van Doetecum after Pieter Bruegel the Elder,
Magdalena Poenitens (Penitent Magdalene), ca. 1555–56
Engraving in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

In sixteenth century Antwerp there was a shop selling prints with the lovely name, Aux Quatre Vents. It was set up by by Hieronymus Cock in 1548 and run with his wife, Volcxken Dierix, who continued the business for thirty years after Cock's death in 1570.  They were highly successful, as might be inferred from their motto, 'let the cock cook what the people (volcx) want'. The great Pieter Bruegel came to work for Cock at the start of his career, in the mid 1550s, and designed a series of twelve Large Landscapes based in part on what he had observed during his recent travels over the Alps and in Italy.  As the Met site notes, these engravings (actually executed by the brothers Joannes and Lucas van Doetecum), 'among the most widely circulated and celebrated of Bruegel's images, allowed a large audience to become acquainted with his strikingly naturalistic and broad-eyed conception of landscape.'  The British Museum has the only surviving drawing for these etchings (below) - its odd title may be a mistake in Latin for the more appealing sounding Solitudo Rustica ('Rustic Solitude').

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Solicitudo Rustica (Country Concerns), ca. 1555
Drawing in The British Museum - Wikimedia Commons
Hieronymus Cock, View of the Colosseum, 1551 
Engraving in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam - Wikimedia Commons

What could a customer of Aux Quatre Vents have purchased?  Cock himself designed a series of topographical engravings of Roman sites based on his own time there (1546-8) and they may have influenced Bruegel in paintings like The Tower of Babel (the walls of which are reminiscent of the Colosseum). Last year's exhibition on Hieronymus Cock in Leuven included (according to Jamie Edwards of the University of Birmingham) a monumental monograph on the Baths of Diocletian, 'the very first published architectural monograph of its kind, which is staggering for both its physical size and its visual richness.'  Cock also printed a series based on drawings by his older brother Matthys, Various sorts of landscapes with fine histories composed therein, from the Old and New Testaments, and several merry Poems, very convenient for painters and other connoisseurs of the arts (1558). Matthys was later included (with his brother) in the canon-forming collection of twenty-three portraits of 'celebrated painters of Lower Germany' by Dominicus Lampsonius, published by Volcxken Dierix in 1572.   The Latin poem underneath includes a pun on the word 'Cock': 'Tu quoque, Matthia, sic pingere rura sciebas, / Ut tibi vix dederint tempora nostra parem.' ('You too, Matthias, knew how to paint fields in such a way, that our age has scarcely produced your equal.')

Matthys Cock
This engraving is from the 1612 expanded version (69 portraits) by Hendrik Hondius I

Matthys Cock, Landscape with Castle above a Harbour, 1550
Drawing in the National Gallery of Art, Washington - Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the most intriguing Aux Quatre Vents productions on a landscape theme appeared in 1559 and 1561.  Their artist is unknown and has come to be known as the Master of the Small Landscapes.  He is credited with turning painters away from the panoramic 'world landscapes' of Joachim Patinir (c. 1460-1524) to the kind of modest scenes familiar to us from seventeenth century Dutch art.  This influence spread through a 1612 set of engravings produced in Amsterdam by Claes Jansz. Visscher (it has been argued that they would have provided buyers with a nostalgic view of the Brabant countryside prior to the revolt of the Seventeen Provinces, territory that had recently been ceded to the Spanish).  But who was the original Master?  The Visscher prints were credited to Bruegel but various other contenders have been proposed.  Was it the relatively obscure Joos van Liere?  Or Cornelis Cort, who worked for Cock and was named as the prints' author in a 1601 re-issue?  Or Hieronymus Cock himself?  It is not impossible that one day scholarly detective work will reveal a hitherto unknown independent landscape artist...

The Master of the Small Landscapes, Landscape with farms and a herdsman, 1559-61
Engraving in the Rijksmuseum - Wikimedia Commons

The Master of the Small Landscapes, Village view, late 1550s
Drawing in the Stichting Museum Boymans - Wikimedia Commons

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