Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
December 20, 2004
Joeaneath Spicer Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the National Gallery of Canada Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 2003. 187 pp.; 80 color ills.; 96 b/w ills. Cloth $39.95 (088884784X)
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, May 23–September 1, 2003; Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Mass., July 24 –October 17, 2004; Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, New Brunswick, November 21, 2004–February 20, 2005
Image: Gerard David. Four Heads (after details from the Ghent Altarpiece), after 1483. Metalpoint on prepared cream laid paper. 7.2 x 6.3 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the National Gallery of Canada was produced to celebrate the recent promised gift to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa of a group of Dutch and Flemish drawings assembled by collectors residing in Toronto.1 In the exhibition, works from this generous gift have been supplemented with sheets from the National Gallery’s own collection. Ottawa already owns several outstanding drawings from this region, including Gerard David’s small metalpoint copies of heads from the Ghent Altarpiece (cat. no. 1). The private-collection pieces will add substantially to the existing holdings of eighty Dutch and Flemish drawings.

The catalogue of the same name begins with an introduction by Joaneath Spicer, who in the past has advised the collectors on purchases. Catalogue entries by Spicer, Odilia Bonebakker, and David Franklin follow the introduction and are divided by century; the seventeenth-century drawings are separated into Dutch and Flemish works. The exhibition in the Arthur M. Sackler Museum was attractively displayed, more or less in the same order as the catalogue. Only the wall of seventeenth-century Flemish drawings seemed out of place, in particular the sheets by Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck (cat. nos. 65 and 66): their brief, black-chalk figure studies presented a striking contrast to the highly finished drawings that composed the vast majority of the exhibition.

Dutch and Flemish Drawings is strongest in works from the sixteenth century. There are some spectacular sheets here, such as the Master of the Egmont Album’s The Arrest of Christ on blue paper (cat. no. 14); Jan Swart van Groningen’s design for stained glass, “Mercy and Truth Preserve the King” (King Solomon’s Proverbs) (cat. no. 5); Paulus van Vianen’s Adam and Eve after the Fall (cat. no. 35), which may have been intended as a design for a large relief or, more likely, as a finished drawing; and the rare, small, black-chalk sheet by Claes Cornelisz Moeyaert, The Annunciation to the Shepherds (cat. no. 40).

In several instances, the promised drawings complement the gallery’s current holdings. Most notably, Rembrandt’s Baptism of the Ethiopian Chamberlain is juxtaposed with a drawing of the same subject in the Toronto collection by his pupil Samuel van Hoogstraten (cat. nos. 44 and 45). These were displayed on the same wall at the Sackler Museum, although it is a pity that viewers could not compare them side by side, as the works were separated by Willem de Poorter’s ungainly Circumcision of the Christ Child (cat. no. 41). Rembrandt, drawing in the early 1650s, created a simple composition that eschews much anecdotal detail in favor of a focus on the act of the baptism itself. Van Hoogstraten, working possibly ten years later, looked instead to Rembrandt’s earlier treatments of the theme from the 1640s, which include numerous additional figures, among them an indignant horseman. Bonebakker, the author of the entry, suggests that van Hoogstraten’s placement of the baptism in the water, as opposed to Rembrandt’s placement of the act on the shore, may relate to the artist’s experience of his own Mennonite baptism by immersion. Another fascinating pairing is the two sheets by Lambert Doomer depicting The Bank of the Loire by the Old Hermitage at Nantes (cat. nos. 50 [Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada] and 51 [Toronto, private collection]), which show how the artist used the same setting for drawings dating some twenty-five years apart. The rocks and trees are placed in the same positions, and even the small figures of an artist sketching and another man beside him appear in both drawings in the same spot. The earlier sheet in Ottawa’s collection, the more pleasing of the two, is more freely drawn and darker and moodier in its gray coloring. This finished sheet was most likely not executed on the spot but was clearly created around the time of Doomer’s trip to Nantes in 1645. The larger replica of ca. 1670, from the private collection, apparently drawn on ledger paper, is lighter in coloring and the figures are more doll-like. Apparently, a number of the private-collection drawings were acquired to produce just such juxtapositions with works in Ottawa. Other similar comparisons are the two sheets by Pseudo-Ortkens (cat. nos. 3 and 4) and a pair by Maarten van Heemskerck (cat. nos. 7 and 8).

Crispijn de Passe the Elder’s drawing (cat. no. 36) presents an interesting puzzle. The sheet bearing de Passe’s monogram on the right is an unusually large and loosely drawn work that depicts a bearded man over whose shoulder appears the face of a young boy. The man’s bust takes up most of the sheet, and the boy’s face seems like an afterthought, as does the man’s arm, awkwardly placed to suggest that he is leaning his chin on his hand. Several curved lines sketched just above the boy’s hair suggest a hat. In the exhibition, the sheet was entitled Head of a Bearded Man with a Young Person Behind. Some underdrawing in black chalk is visible, and in the catalogue Spicer posits that the underlying sketch may have been made from life. An anonymous engraving in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, published by Phillips Galle, depicts Saint Matthew in an oval with scenes from the life of the saint in roundels at each corner of the print and may offer some explanation of this unusual pair of heads.2 Although their heads are tilted in opposite directions, the saint in the engraving and the man in the drawing share many characteristics, among them the small tuft of hair on the forehead, the long flowing beard and mustache, and the prominent nose. It may be that the drawing was copied after or at least inspired by the engraving, or that the anonymous engraving was inspired by the drawing.3 Beyond the similarities in these heads, there is an angel looking over Matthew’s shoulder whose vacant expression, communicated by a partially open mouth and eyes that look upward, resembles that of the face of the boy in the drawing. The relation to the print may explain the technique of de Passe’s drawing in that its cross-hatching relates to the hatching found in engravings. The engraving supports the assertion made by Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann that the drawing should be retitled Saint Matthew.4 The apparent hat atop the angel’s head must have been meant to suggest his wings.

Two of the attributions in the exhibition can be questioned. David with the Head of Goliath (cat. no. 18), a single figure in red chalk, was first published as a work by Hendrick Goltzius by Spicer.5 E. K. J. Reznicek, the great authority on Goltzius’s drawings, included the sheet in his supplement to his catalogue raisonné of Goltzius’s drawings but admitted that he had not seen the original and relied on Spicer’s judgment for the attribution.6 This sheet is not by Goltzius: the figure looks flaccid despite the torsion of his pose, and the description of his musculature lacks the suggestion of power that one expects from Goltzius. The white highlights, which were peculiarly scratched into the paper, do not enhance the three-dimensionality of the figure, and their placement does not make sense, something particularly evident in the muddled articulation of David’s chest. Also strange is the fact that the white seems to cover up or scratch out the artist’s monogram in the lower left. The drawing has several other curious characteristics: the composition faces the same direction as the print for which it was intended, and Goltzius rarely if ever used red chalk for print designs prior to his trip to Italy in 1590, instead preferring pen and ink with wash. Spicer accounts for these facts with comparisons to works by the artist from later dates or works of a very different nature, but these explanations do not justify an attribution to the artist.

On the other hand, one sheet in the exhibition, assigned in the catalogue to the Circle of Hendrick Goltzius, may in fact be by Goltzius himself. The Holy Family in an Interior (cat. no. 19) was created in a combination of black and red chalk, with touches of white chalk. Goltzius used this combination of chalks in the drawings after 1600 that he created as designs for paintings. The uncertainty in this sheet suggested by the repeated retracing and adjustment of motifs in black chalk may seem reason for doubting an attribution to the master, but in fact such uncertainty resembles quite closely the character of his known designs for paintings such as the Christ on the Cross with Mary, Saint John, and the Magdalene in the Teylers Museum, Haarlem, that was created as a model for the artist’s painting of the same subject in the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe.7 Goltzius’s earlier drawings for prints show confidence and an almost complete lack of pentimenti, but his few known drawings for paintings are quite the opposite and suggest that, at least in the earliest stages of his painting career, he was trying to find his way with the new medium. It may be that The Holy Family was created by Goltzius as a design for a painting.

Most of the drawings in the exhibition have attributions that cannot be questioned. The collectors have clearly pursued beautiful and interesting pieces by lesser-known artists, among these many designs for works in such other media as prints and stained glass. This exhibition and its catalogue make a fine tribute to the collecting skills of both the Toronto collectors and the National Gallery of Canada.

Nadine M. Orenstein
Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints, Metropolitan Museum of Art

1 According to the catalogue, these donors have requested that their names be kept private (7), but one can rather easily discover their identities by looking up a few of the references to exhibitions in which the works were previously lent and published under their names.

2 Inscribed in a cartouche at the top: S. MATTHAEUS; in cartouche at bottom: Ubi est qui natus est Rex Iudeorum. Matthaei.2; two lines of inscription in the lower margin: Diuo Hominis…esse docet. C. Kil Duffl.; accession number 60.611.104.

3 The engraving is not dated but was likely made several decades earlier than the date of 1612 suggested for the drawing.

4 This remark was made during the discussion at a scholar’s study day, held on October 16, 2004.

5 Joaneath Spicer, “A Drawing of ‘David with the Head of Goliath’ by Hendrick Goltzius,” Burlington Magazine 131 (1989): 407–10.

6 E. K. J. Reznicek, “Drawings by Hendrick Goltzius, Thirty Years Later. Supplement to the 1961 catalogue raisonné,” Master Drawings 31 (1993): 215–78, no. K 17a.

7 See Huigen Leeflang, Ger Luijten, Lawrence W. Nichols, Nadine M. Orenstein, Michiel C. Plomp, and Marijn Schapelhouman, Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617): Drawings, Prints, and Paintings. (Zwolle, Netherlands: Waanders, 2003), cat. no. 101.1, where the drawing is illustrated in color.