This fantastical, crisply painted, and brightly lit work on copper is an extremely rare example of Frederik van Valckenborch’s mountainous landscapes. The painting is signed in monogram and dated 1612, thus making it a mature period work, and executed when Valckenborch was living in Nuremburg under the employ of the Holy Roman Emperor, Matthias. Valckenborch’s style is characterized by an aggressively exaggerated compositional design which contrasts with Flemish contemporaries such as Jan Brueghel the Elder, whose landscapes were decidedly more languid and peaceful in their design. The sudden shift here from rocky foreground to expansive blue background immediately recalls his Mountainous Landscape
of 1605 in the Rijksmuseum (fig. 1). Both works feature intricately composed, highly detailed, yet otherworldly rock formations that dominate half of the composition, with their compositions essentially bisected into land and sky. The lower foreground is abuzz in activity with miners, builders, and water-mill attendants going about their daily duties. In the middle background rests a tavern, a fitting accompaniment to the laborious stations below, while further up the mountain one can faintly discern a group of travelers hiking towards the castle or hermitage at the peak.
Valckenborch hails from an esteemed and long line of artists. His father Marten van Valckenborch (1535-1612), his brother Gillis van Valckenborch and his uncle Lucas van Valckenborch all achieved commercial success throughout Europe. Frederik received his earliest training in Antwerp from his father Marten, and may have travelled to Italy in the early 1590's, a hypothesis which would make sense given his seemingly fist hand knowledge of southern topographical detail. Aside from his father Marten, Frederick's main artistic influence, was Gillis van Coninxloo (1544 - 1607), whose Mannerist, sweeping landscapes inspired Valckenborch and an entire generation of landscape painters.