LAWRENCE STEIGRAD FINE ARTS

Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits

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CORNELIS VAN POELENBURCH (Utrecht (?) 1594/1595 – Utrecht 1667)

 Diana and her Nymphs with the Discovery of Callisto

signed with monogram in the lower left C.P.

oil on panel

17 ¾ x 21 ½ inches          (45.1 x 54.6 cm.)


 PROVENANCE

Hugo Charles Meynell Ingram, Esq. (1783 – 1869), Temple Newsam, by 1868

Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, Viscount Halifax (1881 – 1959), London, 1938

Private Collection, New York, until the present time

 

EXHIBITED

Leeds, National Exhibition of Works of Art, 1868, no. 817 (lent by H.C. Meynell Ingram, Esq.)

London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of 17th Century European Art, January 3 – March 12, 1938 (lent by Viscount Halifax)

 

LITERATURE

G. F. Waagen, “Temple Newsam” in Treasures of Art in Great Britian, volume III, John Murray, London, 1854, p. 332 (probably one of “several” pictures mentioned by Poelenburg)

National Exhibition of Works of Art at Leeds, 1868 – Official Catalogue, Executive Committee, Leeds, 1868, unpaginated, no. 817

Algernon Graves, A Century of Loan Exhibitions 1813 – 1912, volume II, Algernon Graves, London, 1913, p. 941, no. 817

Catalogue of the Exhibition of 17th Century Art in Europe, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1938, p. 113, no. 278

 

Cornelis van Poelenburch was one of the most famous and influential Utrecht painters of the period. Around 1611 he was apprenticed to Abraham Bloemaert. By 1617 he was in Rome and in 1623 was a founding member of the Roman Schildersbent. A Society of Dutch and Flemish artists, its members were called the Bentvueghels (birds of a feather), in which Poelenburch received the nickname “Satyr”. In Italy the artist became quite famous for his landscapes and was employed by Grand Duke Cosimo II de’ Medici of Florence. Paul Brill was influential on his work during this period as well as Bartholomeus Breenbergh and Filippo Napoletano.[1]

In April 1627 Poelenburch returned to Utrecht and immediately became one of the city’s most important painters. According to Joachim van Sandrart, Rubens visited his studio a few months after his return and ordered several paintings. He was one of the most popular artists at The Hague court, where he received important commissions such as painting the children of the Winter King, Frederick V of Bohemia who was in residence. In 1629 he married Jacomina van Steenre the daughter of a notary. From 1637 – 1641 he worked for Charles I in London. By 1642 he had returned to Utrecht. In 1656 he was an officer (overman) in their painter’s guild, and dean from 1657 – 1658 as well as 1664.  The most important collector in Utrecht Willem Vincent, Baron van Wyttenhorst owned at least fifty-five paintings by the artist. Poelenburch’s repertoire, which could command very high prices, included historical, mythological and religious scenes, pastoral landscapes as well as portraits. He also painted staffage for the works of Jan Both, Alexander Kierincx, Bartholomeus van Bassen, Dirck van Delen and Nicolaes de Gijselaer. His pupils and followers included Abraham van Cuylenborch, Jan van Haensbergen, Gerard Hoet, Carel de Hooch, Reinier van der Laeck, Dirck van der Lisse, Daniel Vertangen and François Verwilt among others. Examples of Poelenburch’s work can be found in more than fifty museums across Europe and the United States.[2]

The theme of Diana and her Nymphs was often depicted by Poelenburch. In our work the discovery of Callisto has been included. Stemming from Ovid’s Metamorphoses Diana, identifiable by the crescent moon worn across her brow, is seated on a rock with three of her nymphs drying themselves after their bath. A huntress, Diana’s attributes of a bow and arrow are cast aside in the mid-ground. She was also the personification of Chastity and the nymphs were expected to follow her example. Callisto, one of Diana’s nymphs, was seduced by Jupiter and became pregnant. Depicted alongside the pool in the center is the discovery of her condition by another nymph. Afterwards as punishment Diana changed Callisto into a bear, and set her dogs upon her. At the last moment Jupiter rescued her, sending her into the heavens and transformed her into a star.[3] Poeleburch’s emphasis in these works was not on the moral but the sensual.[4] Placed in a sun-filled Arcadian landscape dominated by gently rolling hills the viewer’s eye is intended to linger on the voluptuousness of its inhabitants. The panel presents a sweep of flesh from the emerging bathing nymphs in the far left, to the mid-ground scene that culminates with Diana and her acolytes on a hill in the right foreground. Blonds, redheads, brunettes and raven-haired beauties are all represented. Supple skin is nicely contrasted against silky wraps that provide scant covering. Befitting her stature as a goddess, Diana is made the most alluring with alabaster skin that shines forth like a beacon of light. These types of scenes were especially popular; eventually morphing into generalized themes of nymphs or shepherdesses bathing, and became the mainstay of Poelenburch’s production. The tranquility of his settings, accentuated by vibrant color, combined with invisible brush-work that was finished in a high-gloss veneer proved irresistible,[5] earning him the title of the “leading light of the first generation of Dutch Italianate painters”.[6]

When Dr. Waagen visited Temple Newsam he declared “The most important pictures are united in one of the largest and grandest drawing-rooms that I have yet seen in England.” [7] Just outside of Leeds, Temple Newsam is a Tudor country house that has been described as “the Hampton Court of the North” in possession of the Ingram family since 1622. Although we do not know when Poelenburch’s Diana and her Nymphs with the Discovery of Callisto entered the collection, it was certainly there by 1868 as documented by the Leeds’ National Exhibition of Works of Art. Its next recorded owner was Viscount Halifax, who during the Royal Academy exhibition of 1938 to which he had lent the Poelenburch, was appointed the Foreign Secretary following the resignation of Anthony Eden in February. He held the post until 1941, after which time he was sent to Washington D.C. as Ambassador.

 

 

[1] Biographical information taken from Peter C. Sutton, “Cornelis van Poelenburch” in Masters of 17th-Century Dutch Landscape Painting, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1987, p. 402; Marten Jan Bok, “Cornelis van Poelenburch” in Masters of Light, Dutch Painters in Utrecht During the Golden Age, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1997, p. 387; and Nicolette C. Sluijter-Seijffert, “Cornelis van Poelenburch” in From Rembrandt to Vermeer, Grove Art, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2000, p. 247.

[2] Biographical information taken from Ulrich Thieme & Felix Becker, “Cornelis van Poelenburg” in Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, Veb E.A. Seemann Verlag, Leipzig, volume XXVII, 1909, p. 178; Nicolette C. Sluijter-Seijffert, Cornelis van Poelenburch (ca. 1593 – 1667), Sneldruk, Enschede, 1984, p. 284; Peter C. Sutton, op. cit., pp. 402 – 403; and Marten Jan Bok, op. cit., p. 387.

[3] James Hall, “Diana” in Dictionary of Subjects & Symbols in Art, Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, 1974, pp. 101-102.

[4] Nicolette Sluijter-Seijffert, op. cit., 1984, pp. 136 – 137.

[5] Nicolette Sluijter-Seijffert, op. cit., 1984, p. 283.

[6] Nicolette Sluijter-Seijffert, op. cit., 2000, p. 250.

[7] G. F. Waagen, op. cit., p. 332.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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