THE PROPERTY OF A LADY
Dr F. E. Vester, Dordrecht, 1957;
Thence by descent to the present owner.
Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum, Zee-, rivier- en oevergezichten: Nederlandse schilderijen uit de zeventiende eeuw, 12 July – 14 September 1964, no. 78.
A. Wied, Lucas und Marten van Valckenborch (1535–1597 und 1534–1612), Lingen 1990, p. 137, cat. no. 12, reproduced p. 136.
Valckenborch’s earliest dated works are from 1567. Even if this painting were without a date, the form of the monogram – with the 'L' below the two 'V's – points to a year relatively early in the artist’s career, as after 1570 he signed with the letters inverted.
Valckenborch, along with contemporaries such as Gillis Mostaert and Gillis van Coninxloo, was working in the tradition of the so-called ‘world landscapes’ – the term used to describe the panoramic vistas taken from a bird’s-eye viewpoint, largely painted in Antwerp in the 16th century.1 Chief among the exponents of this art form, reflective of advances in cartography and a period of discovery, were Joachim Patinir, Herri Met de Bles and ultimately Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The present work exemplifies the influence on Valckenborch of the subject matter, strong formal compositions and minute depiction of natural detail found in the work of these artists, as well as the attention paid towards atmospheric conditions and the unification of perspective. Here, one gains a distinct impression of the rather sombre, limpid air which brings certain elements into sharp relief, while the view gently dissolves into transparency.
The great Northern biographer Karel van Mander records the impact on Valckenborch of his journeys in the Meuse area in the years before he returned to Antwerp in about 1574.2 The artist was able to draw directly from nature and build up a repertory of motifs, which he would later employ on multiple occasions. As well as these topoi, Valckenborch painted several views of specific places.3 It has been suggested that the town depicted here is that of Huy, which lies along the river Meuse in the Walloon Region and Province of Liège. This location has been identified from different viewpoints in others of Valckenborch’s paintings, such as that in the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, painted in similar cool grey tones, where Huy is seen from nearby Ahin.4
The predominant subject of the present painting, however, is rather a view of the world and man’s relationship to it – a theme that runs throughout Valckenborch’s work in his mixture of fantasy and accurate topographical details. The relative scales of the monumental cliffs and the lone travellers on the winding path, the distant goatherd and silhouettes of his charges atop the crags, ant-like in relation to the vast distance, and the vertiginous perspective of the scene, all provide not only a dramatic visual experience but a commentary on man’s existence within the universe. The painting was executed when Valckenborch was living in Aachen, having moved there from Liège, to which he had fled from Mechelen in 1566 following the iconoclastic riots which had spread from Antwerp.
1. For a full discussion of this term, see W. S. Gibson, "Mirror of the Earth": The World Landscape in Sixteenth-Century Flemish Painting, Princeton 1989, particularly pp. xx–xxiii.
2. K. van Mander, Het schilder-boeck, Haarlem 1604, fol. 260.
3. For a commentary on Valckenborch's journey and the towns he painted, see K. Van Mander, The lives of the illustrious Netherlandish and German painters, H. Miedema (ed.), Vol. IV: Commentary on lives / fol. 236v37–261v44, Doornspijk 1997, p. 204.
4. See Wied 1990, p. 141, cat. no. 23, reproduced.
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