Cornelis van POELENBURCH
?Utrecht, between 21 January 1594 and 21 January 1595–Utrecht, 12 August 1667
Dutch painter, printmaker and draughtsman
Cornelis van Poelenburch  was the most important artist in the first generation of Dutch Italianates. He studied with Abraham Bloemaert (1566–1651), the Mannerist Utrecht painter. In 1617 Poelenburch was in Rome and in 1623 is recorded as a member of the Schildersbent, the association of Dutch and Flemish artists based there.1 In Rome he saw the landscapes with Classical ruins of Paul Bril (1553/4–1626), which were a significant source of inspiration. He worked at the Medici court in Florence in 1625–6, and there, according to his 18th-century biographer, Joachim von Sandrart, he became friends with the French engraver Jacques Callot (1592–1635). Clearly there he also met Filippo Napoletano (c. 1589–1629), another landscape artist working for the Medici. Poelenburch influenced Bartholomeus Breenbergh (1598–1657), who had been in Rome since 1619, so much so that it is often difficult to tell their work apart: both produced small delicate Italian scenes, and many Poelenburch paintings are still mistakenly assigned to Breenbergh.2
By 1626, after some years in Florence, Poelenburch had returned to the Netherlands and was back in Utrecht in 1627.3 In 1629 he became a member of the Guild of St Luke in Utrecht, and later served several times as ‘overman’ and dean of the guild. He remained chiefly in Utrecht for the rest of his life, except for the four years he spent in England as court painter to Charles I of England (1600–1649) in 1637–41. His small landscapes always contain Biblical, mythological or genre figures and are mostly painted on panel or copper. In his earlier work he preferred subjects from the Old Testament, and many different types of genre figures. Later, his subjects are more often from the New Testament, and the figures in the mythological scenes are nearly always bathing nymphs. Throughout his career he painted mythological subjects, suitable for princely patrons including Cosimo II de’ Medici (1590–1621) and Prince Frederik Hendrik of Orange (1584–1647). The Dutch nobleman Willem Vincent, Baron of Wyttenhorst (1613–74), had 57 pictures by Poelenburch.4 The landscapes in all Poelenburch pictures feature gently sloping hills, rock formations and Classical ruins, often with plants depicted in detail in the foreground. He frequently collaborated with other artists; Jan Both (1615/22–52), for instance, often painted the figures in his paintings.
Poelenburch’s highly polished style was famous across Europe in his day, and continued to be so, except for a period from the mid-1850s when his works began to be dismissed as ‘un-Dutch’ by Théophile Thoré-Bürger (1807–69), a view taken up in the 20th century by Dutch art historians: a Dutch landscape artist was supposed to paint Dutch landscapes and not Italian ones. Poelenburch was mentioned as ‘pseudo-Italian’, with other Dutch Italianate landscape painters such as Breenbergh, Both, Adam Pijnacker (1620/21–73) and Jan Wijnants (1632–84).5 From the mid-20th century, however, his work has once again been appreciated.
Sluijter-Seijffert 1984; Chong 1987e; Sluijter-Seijffert 1996; Bok 1997c; Kollmann 2000, pp. 252–3; Schatborn 2001, pp. 57–65, 204–5; Harwood 2002, p. 75; Sluijter-Seijffert 2012; Sluijter-Seijffert 2016; Saur, xcvi, 2017, pp. 192–3 (U. Härting); Ecartico, no. 6069: http://www.vondel.humanities.uva.nl/ecartico/persons/6069 (Sept. 24, 2017); RKDartists&, no. 63962: https://rkd.nl/en/explore/artists/63962 (Sept. 24, 2017).
Cornelis van Poelenburch
Self portrait of Cornelis van Poelenburch (1594/95-1667), c. 1640
copper, oil paint 17,5 x 13 cm
lower right : C.P.
Alkmaar, art dealer Bijl-Van Urk Masterpaintings
DPG338 – Valley with Ruins and Figures
c. 1627; poplar panel, 34.5 x 44.5 cm (oval)
On the back a seal, and Bartholome… Duke; Duc de Valentinois / 1725
?Jacques François Léonor de Goyon, Duc de Valentinois, Comte de Matignon et de Thorigny, Duc d’Estouteville, Monaco, 1725 (inscription on the back);6 ?probably not mentioned in inventory 1751 of the possessions of the Duc de Valentinois;7 Bourgeois Bequest, 1811; Britton 1813, p. 17, no. 166 (‘Upper Room - East side of passage - cont.d / no. 29, Landscape with figures (in oval) P[anel] Breenberg’; 2'2" x 2'5").
Cat. 1817, p. 5, no. 60 (‘FIRST ROOM – North Side; A Landscape and Figures; Breenberg’); Haydon 1817, p. 375, no. 60 (Bartolomeo Breenberg);8 Cat. 1820, p. 5, no. 60 (Breenberg); Cat. 1830, no. 110; Jameson 1842, ii, p. 459, no. 110; Denning 1858 and 1859, no. 110; Sparkes 1876, p. 22, no. 110; Richter & Sparkes 1880, p. 23, no. 110;9 Richter & Sparkes 1892 and 1905, p. 94, no. 338; Cook 1914, p. 205; Cook 1926, p. 191; Cat. 1953, p. 13; Roethlisberger 1968b, pp. 391–2; Chiarini 1972, p. 30, fig. 41a (first attribution to Poelenburch); Murray 1980a, p. 32 (Breenbergh); Murray 1980b, p. 8; Roethlisberger 1981, p. 39, no. 58 (Poelenburch); Sluijter-Seijffert 1984, pp. 116, 193 (note 89); Beresford 1998, pp. 178–9 (Poelenburch); Shawe-Taylor 2000, p. 58; Sluijter-Seijffert 2016, pp. 100, 362, no. 215 (Italian period; possibly Breenbergh painted the three figures at the left); Jonker & Bergvelt 2016, pp. 154–6; RKD, no. 52790: https://rkd.nl/en/explore/images/52790 (Sept. 24, 2017).
Houston/Louisville, 1999–2000, pp. 170–71, no. 56 (D. Shawe-Taylor); London 2002, pp. 80–81, no. 6 (L. B. Harwood); Williamsburg/Fresno/Pittsburgh/Oklahoma City 2008–10, pp. 78–9, no. 25 (I. A. C. Dejardin).
Two-member panel. There is an inscription – Duc de Valentinois / 1725 – on the reverse. The panel is stable. There are two flush butterfly wedges let into the back. The central join is slightly open and there is a crack over the wood knot on the left side of the horizon. The restoration along the central join has discoloured. There are some old retouched losses in the sky. The landscape in the left distance is slightly abraded. There is an old discoloured retouching to the left of the head of the man in the foreground. Previous recorded treatment: 1935, wormholes in verso treated with paraffin wax on the advice of Mr Kaye, National Gallery; 1952–3, semi-cleaned and restored, Dr Hell.
1a) Cornelis van Poelenburch, Landscape with Ruins and Travellers, copper, 30.8 x 43 cm. Palazzo Pitti, Florence, 1176.10
1b) Cornelis van Poelenburch, Landscape with a Lake, Ruins and Shepherds, copper, 30.6 x 43 cm. Palazzo Pitti, Florence, 1195.11
2a) Cornelis van Poelenburch, Mercury stealing the Flocks of Apollo, with Battus in Attendance, copper, 35.9 x 48.6 cm (oval). Present whereabouts unknown (Sotheby’s, 28 Oct. 1999, lot 2) .12
2b) Cornelis van Poelenburch, Mercury stealing the Flocks of Apollo, with Battus in Attendance, copper, 36 x 48.5 cm (oval). Uffizi, Florence, 1231.13
3a) Cornelis van Poelenburch, Athena helps Ulysses hide the Treasures of the Phaeacians, monogrammed and dated C.P.F. 1624, panel, 30 x 41 cm. Present whereabouts unknown (J. Beldon collection, Washington, D.C., 1956; Duc de Choiseul collection (label on the back).14
3b) Replica of 3a: Cornelis van Poelenburch, Athena helps Ulysses hide the Treasures of the Phaeacians, dated 1624, panel, 30 x 41.8 cm. Private collection, Switzerland.15
Nicolette Sluijter-Seijffert considers that the composition resembles a painting in Florence by Poelenburch in the style of landscape artist Filippo Napoletano, who also worked at the Medici court;16 indeed, the Medici collection includes several paintings by Poelenburch influenced by Napoletano (Related works, nos 1a and 1b). The influence was according to Chiarini also exercised in reverse when Poelenburch worked at the Medici court in 1625–6.17
Since the support is poplar, it seems likely that the picture was painted by Poelenburch in Italy shortly before his return to Utrecht in 1627, since in the North mostly oak was used. It was formerly catalogued as by Breenbergh, but in 1972 Chiarini assigned it to Poelenburch, an attribution that has largely been accepted. It contains his leitmotivs of a gently sloping Italianate landscape and an antique ruin. Sluijter-Seijffert suggested that Breenbergh might have painted the figures,18 but in 2002 Laurie Harwood noted that Poelenburch occasionally painted elaborately dressed figures, as in his two versions of Athena helps Ulysses hide the Treasures of the Phaeacians (Related works, nos 3a, 3b); moreover she proposed that these figures might reflect the influence of Abraham Bloemaert, whose acquaintance Poelenburch must have renewed on his return to Utrecht in 1627.19 This contradicts the suggestion that the picture was painted while Poelenburch was still in Italy. It is also possible that Poelenburch remembered Bloemaert’s example when he worked in Italy.
While it has generally been assumed that the picture is a simple Arcadian landscape, it may well be a pair to Mercury stealing the Flocks of Apollo by Poelenburch, which illustrates events from Book Two of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Related works, nos 2a, 2b) : they are similar in size, shape, and composition.20 Whether or not the pictures are a pair, the elaborately dressed figures in DPG338 would suggest that some narrative was intended. Ian Dejardin suggested that the subject could in that case be Jacob stealing the Flocks of Laban. The costumes would be appropriate for one of the patriarchs, and the prominent heavily loaded mule could be Rachel’s, on which she had hidden Laban’s family idols. The male figure could be either Jacob or conceivably Laban himself. It is not uncommon that a mythological scene is paired with a Biblical one.
Cornelis van Poelenburch
Valley with Ruins and Figures, c. 1627
panel (poplar), oil paint 34,5 x 44,5 cm
Dulwich (London), Dulwich Picture Gallery, inv./cat.nr. DPG338
Cornelis van Poelenburch
Landscape with Mercury and Battus
copper, oil paint 35,9 x 48,6 cm
Sotheby's (London (England)) 1999-10-28, nr. 2
DPG25 – Nymphs and Satyr
c. 1627–67; oak panel, 38.4 x 51.2 cm (oval)
Signed, lower right: C.P.
?Desenfans, sale, ?Christie’s, 12 May 1785 (Lugt 3882), lot 29 (‘Poelenboerg – Satyrs in a landscape’); ?Desenfans private sale, 8 April ff. 1786 (Lugt 4022), lot 61 (‘Polenboerg – Venus and Satyrs’); ?Christie’s, 14 July 1786 (Lugt 4071), lot 13 (‘Polenboerg – Venus and Satyrs’); bt in or sold to Thomas Moore Slade, £5 10s.; Skinner and Dyke, London, 28 February 1795 (Lugt 5281), lot 27 (‘Polenborgh – Nymphs and Satyrs’); Bourgeois Bequest, 1811; Britton 1813, p. 32, no. 340 (‘Unhung / no. 71, Nymph & Pan playg on Tamborin - P[anel] Poelembergh’; 2'5", oval).
Cat. 1817, p. 5, no. 59 (‘FIRST ROOM – North Side; Nymph and Satyr; Poelemberg’); Haydon 1817, pp. 374–5, no. 59;21 Cat. 1820, p. 5, no. 59; Hazlitt 1824, pp. 31-2, no. 59;22 Cat. 1830, p. 4, no. 14; Jameson 1842, ii, p. 445, no. 14; Hazlitt 1843, p. 25, no. 14;23 Denning 1858 and 1859, no. 14;24 Sparkes 1876, p. 118, no. 14; Richter & Sparkes 1880, p. 116, no. 14;25 Richter & Sparkes 1892 and 1905, pp. 6–7, no. 25; Cook 1914, pp. 16–17, no. 25; Cook 1926, pp. 16–17; Cat. 1953, p. 31; Murray 1980a, p. 92; Murray 1980b, p. 21; Trnek 1986, p. 158, under no. 56 (note 4; landscape by another hand, Alexander Keirincx?); Beresford 1998, pp. 178–9; Sluijter-Seijffert 2016 p. 101, 349, no. 175 (Italian period); Jonker & Bergvelt 2016, p. 156 (1660s); RKD, no. 286254: https://rkd.nl/en/explore/images/286254 (Sept. 25, 2017).
Bath 1999, n.p., no. 6 (A. Sumner).
Two-member panel. There are old wormholes in the lower panel. The back edges are bevelled except at the bottom. There is some browning in the trees, indicating the use of a copper green pigment that has discoloured. The flesh tints appear to have faded, probably due to the discolouration of a fugitive pigment. There is some minor abrasion. There are pentimenti under the figures. There is minimal retouching, most of which is in the sky area. Previous recorded treatment: 1867, ‘revived’, varnished, frame regilded; 1949–53, Dr Hell; 1980, paint consolidated, surface cleaned, National Maritime Museum, C. Hampton.
1a) Cornelis van Poelenburch, Arcadian Landscape with Dancing Shepherds, monogrammed C P, panel, 36.2 x 47.3 cm. Present wherebouts unknown (Christie’s, New York, 26 Jan. 2005, lot 251) .26
1b) Cornelis van Poelenburch, A Nymph surprised by a Satyr in an Arcadian Landscape, monogrammed C.P., panel, 50 x 74.8 cm. Present whereabouts unknown (Trafalgar Galleries, London, 2002).27
2a) Abraham van Cuylenborch, Grotto with Diana and her Nymphs, signed AVCuylenborch f., panel, 32 x 40 cm. MH, The Hague, 24 .28
2b) Abraham van Cuylenborch, Perseus and Andromeda, signed and dated ACuylenborch f / 1652, panel, 30 x 38.5 cm. Present whereabouts unknown .29
2c) Abraham van Cuylenborch, Bacchus and Nymphs in a Landscape, probably 1640s, monogrammed AvC· f, panel, 58.1 x 72.1 cm. MMA, New York, 25.110.37 .30
A naked nymph and a satyr, both beating tambour-like drums, dance with abandon round a semi-draped female figure seated on the ground with a putto peeping out from behind her back. The seated figure gestures emphatically with both hands towards the right; although whether she is – as Richter and Sparkes suggest – ‘inciting’ the dancers or, startled, urging them to move on and leave her alone, is unclear. On another picture by Poelenburch a very similar scene is being enacted at the right side of the picture, with dancing figures and a naked nymph seen from the back, and a slightly more advanced version of the scenario is playing out in the foreground (Related works, no. 1b).
Sluijter-Seijffert was initially doubtful about the attribution; while finding the landscape consistent with his work, she thought that the figures – particularly the dancing nymph with cymbals seen from behind – were untypical of his style.31 Indeed there are some similarities to the work of Abraham van Cuylenborch (c. 1620–58), another Utrecht painter (Related works, nos 2a–2c) [4-6], especially in the way they paint figures.
After inspection of the picture in 2006 Sluijter-Seijffert commented that the style of the figures and their facial features were consistent with those in a signed painting in a private collection (Related works, no. 1a) , and now DPG25 is included in her catalogue raisonné of Poelenburch. If the painting is by Poelenburch (and not by someone like Van Cuylenborch), it is probably not from his Italian period, as Sluijter-Seiffert says, but a later work. As it is painted on oak panel, an origin in the North is more plausible.
Cornelis van Poelenburch
Landscape with nymphs and a satyr, 1627-1667
panel (oak), oil paint 38,4 x 51,2 cm
Dulwich (London), Dulwich Picture Gallery, inv./cat.nr. DPG25
Cornelis van Poelenburch
Arcadian landscape with dancing shepherds
panel, oil paint 36,2 x 47,3 cm
lower center : C P
Christie's (New York City) 2005-01-26, nr. 251
Abraham van Cuylenborch (I)
Grotto with Diana with her nymphs
panel, oil paint 32 x 40 cm
bottom left of the middle : AVCuylenborch f
The Hague, Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen Mauritshuis, inv./cat.nr. 24
Abraham van Cuylenborch (I)
Perseus kills the sea monster to release Andromeda, 1652 (dated)
panel, oil paint 30 x 38,5 cm
lower right : ACuylenborch f / 1652
Sotheby's (London (England)) 2002-04-18, nr. 73
Abraham van Cuylenborch (I)
Bacchus and Nymphs in a Landscape, 1640-1649
panel, oil paint 58,1 x 72,1 cm
New York City, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, inv./cat.nr. 25.110.37
1 He was not a founder of this association, as is often incorrectly said: see email from Nicolette Sluijter-Seijffert to Michiel Jonker, 7 April 2009 (DPG338 file), with many thanks. We do not know who was present at the foundation: oral communication from Nicolette Sluijter-Seiffert, 9 Nov. 2017.
2 Email from Nicolette Sluijter-Seijffert: see the preceding note.
3 Bok 1997c, p. 387.
4 De Jonge 1932; Sluijter-Seijffert 2012, p. 161.
5 Bergvelt 2004b, pp. 43–4.
6 He became sovereign prince of Monaco in 1731 and abdicated in 1733. The picture may have remained in Monaco until Jan. 1793, when the Grimaldi dynasty was deposed, their collection dispersed, and Monaco annexed by France.
7 Letter from Olivia Noat to Paul Matthews, 5 Dec. 2005 (DPG25 file), with photocopies from an inventory made in 1751 after the death of the Duc de Valentinois. According to Noat, paintings by Poelenburch are mentioned twice there: on fols 186v–187r, and 380v; but since in the first the paintings are said to be round, and in the second two bathers feature, while DPG338 is oval and has no bathers, these references do not seem to be relevant.
8 ‘Landscape and Figures. A herd-boy is driving sheep, goats and cattle; he is pointing the way to an armed warrior, who is accompanying a lady. The centre is a plain, and hills and rocks fill up the sides and distance.’
9 ‘Carefully executed in cool harmony.’
10 No. 1176 under http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/inv1890 (May 6, 2013); Chiarini & Padovani 2003, pp. 291, no. 470a.
11 No. 1195 under http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/inv1890 (May 6, 2013); Chiarini & Padovani 2003, pp. 291, no. 470b.
14 The scene is taken from Homer’s Odyssey; Sluijter-Seijffert 2016, p. 81, 97, 152, 189 (note 29), 326, no. 103.
15 Harwood 2002, pp. 80–81, no. 6; Sluijter-Seijffert 2016, p. 81, 97, 152, 189 (note 29), 327, no. 104.
16 Email from Nicolette Sluijter-Seijffert to Michiel Jonker, 7 April 2009 (file DPG338); as she did for DPG25, she generously shared her information on this painting in emails to Michiel Jonker, 28 April 2013 (DPG338 file).
17 See also Chiarini 2007, p. 335, no. 115, where a painting by Filippo Napoletano is discussed that demonstrates contact with Poelenburch.
18 Letter from Nicolette Sluijter-Seijffert to Richard Beresford, 11 Aug. 1997 (DPG338 file).
19 She refers, not very convincingly, to the picture Theagenes receiving the Palm of Honour from Chariclea by Abraham Bloemaert (dated 1626; now in the Mauritshuis, see RKD, no. 6757: https://rkd.nl/en/explore/images/6757 (Nov. 17, 2017). This is large (157.5 x 159.5 cm), and its large-scale figures do not resemble the figures in DPG338.
20 However RKD no. 61515 (Related works, no. 2a) seems to have been painted on copper. That makes it unlikely that these two paintings form a pair.
21 ‘Cornelius Poelemberg. Nymph dancing, with cymbals, while a satyr accompanies her on a tambourine; and another nymph, who is seated with a child, adds her voice and accompanying action. The figures are brilliantly painted, and the accessorial landscape appropriately introduced.’
22 See the following note.
23 Hazlitt grouped this, ‘14, Nymph and Satyr, by Poelemberg’, with no. 105, Sleeping Nymph and Cupid (Verwilt, DPG485), and commented that they ‘are not pictures to our taste. Why should any one make it a rule never to paint any thing but this one subject? Was it to please himself or others? The one shows bad taste, the other wrong judgement. The grossness of the selection is hardly more offensive than the finicalness of the execution.’
24 1858 ‘A genuine and excellent picture’; 1859: ‘His works betray elegance – elaborate handling – seductive ornament – skilful colouring & a poetical imagination; but they want force – they want the simplicity of nature. They want greater knowledge of the theory of correct drawing. They have grace, but they have not greatness. No wonder they have always been so popular with the Engravers. […] This is a genuine and exquisite specimen of the master.’
25 ‘Very carefully painted; the figures of an enamel-like effect.’
27 Harwood 2002, pp. 78–9, no. 5.
30 RKD, no. 297678: https://rkd.nl/en/explore/images/297678 (July 9, 2020); see also https://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search?ft=Cuylenborch (July 9, 2020); Liedtke 2007a, i, pp. 134–5, no. 30.
31 Letter from Nicolette Sluijter-Seijffert to Richard Beresford, 11 Aug. 1997 (DPG25 file). She very kindly sent us her thoughts on this painting: emails to Michiel Jonker, 28 April 2013 (DPG25 file).