For the Italianate painter Jan Asselijn, this most Dutch of subjects is a great rarity. As Ann-Charlotte Steland pointed out, it seems likely that he painted it on commission.1 Asselijn also painted the reconstruction of the Sint Anthonisdijk which took place in the summer of 1652, in a work in Berlin, although the two pictures are of different proportions and were probably not conceived as pendants.2 The Reconstruction is a rather more conventional painting by Asselijn, being bathed in a warm almost Italianate light and peopled by peasants familiar from his Bambocciate, although billowing clouds to the left allude to the disaster of the year before.
Whilst the present work is unpublished, two comparable works are known. In 1926, the Berlin Staatsgemäldesammlungen acquired a picture showing the same view of the breach of the Sint Anthonisdijk but with only two figures standing on the edge of the left bank. Steland-Steif believed it to be a copy after a lost Asselijn, or after an independent work by a mid-seventeenth century artist such as Ludolf Bakhuyzen.3 In addition, there is an engraving of the scene by J. J. Boissieu, dated 1782 and formerly in the Tronchin collection in Switzerland. The engraving was once believed to be after an unpublished painting by Asselijn, also in the Tronchin collection.4 The engraving does not include the boats in the distance. Taking into account that the present picture incorporates elements of both the Berlin work and the Boissieu engraving, which are not identical, it is very possible that this is the hitherto unpublished painting, known to have formerly been in the Tronchin collection, from which both the engraving and the Berlin work are derived.
The catalogue entry refers to two comparable works by Asselijn, but only mentions one of them: the picture in Berlin. The omitted work is in Schwerin, Staatliche Gemäldegalerie (inv. 2697; oil on canvas, 55.5 by 76.5 cm.) see Steland-Stief, op. cit. pp. 82-3, 162, no. 225. The Schwerin picture, which is not signed, depicts the same scene, but at a later stage in the disaster, so that the floodwater flows freely through the breach in the dyke without passing as a waterfall over the remains of the dyke, which by then had been completely washed away. Furthermore, the storm clouds that dominate the right hand part of the present picture have blown away.
Given the stampede of Dutch artists making drawings of the disaster, one might have expected the Amsterdammer Asselijn to have visited the site to make drawings for subsequent use, but if he did, neither they, nor preparatory drawings done in the studio have survived. As Van Goyen’s drawing made in situ shows, Asselijn’s depiction of the breach in the dyke is not far-fetched, although he has exaggerated the height of the embankment somewhat. In particular, he has captured the visceral horror of the event, leaving the viewer in no doubt as to the vast volume of water that has thundered through the breach, hinting at the hazard that this natural outrage has caused.
We are very grateful to Dr. Ann-Charlotte Steland for confirming the attribution to Jan Asselijn on the basis of high quality images.
1. A.C. Steland-Steif, Jan Asselijn, Amsterdam 1971, pp. 81–84.
2. See A. C[hong], in P.C. Sutton, Masters of 17th Century Dutch Landscape Painting, exhibition catalogue, Boston 1987, pp. 252–53, cat. no. 4, reproduced plate 59.
3. Ibid., p. 82, cat. no. 333, reproduced.
4. Ibid., p. 82. cat. no. 227, reproduced.
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