GALATEA AND THE SEA MONSTER. A DUTCH SILVER SALT, ADAM VAN VIANEN, UTRECHT, 1624
Sir Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1840-1915)
Lionel Walter Rothschild (1868-1937)
Sold Sotheby’s & Co. The Celebrated collection of German, Dutch and other Continental silver and silver-gilt… Removed from 148 Piccadilly W.I, April 26, 1937, lot 257
Dr. F.H. Fentener van Vlissingen
Dutch private collection
Central Museum Utrecht, Catalogus van de tentoonstelling Utrecht's kunst, opkomst en bloei, 650-1650 , Utrecht, 1948, no. 185
Central Museum Utrecht, Utrechts zilver, 10 October-23 November 1952, no. 145
A.L. den Blaauwen, Adam, Paulus en Christaen van Vianen: leven en work, doctoral thesis, Leiden, 1957
Antje Von Graevenitz, Das Niederlandische Ohrmuschel-ornament; Phanomen und entwicklung dargestellt an den werken und entwurfen der goldschmiedefamilien van Vianen und Lutma, diss. Munich, 1973, pp. 159-160
J R ter Molen, Van Vianen, een Utrechtse familie van zilversmeden met een internationale faam, Doctoral thesis, Leiden 1984, vol. II no. 437
An unpublished drawing of the salt also exists and provides exciting material for further research into the salt’s location in the early 18th century. This drawing was recently sold at auction4, part of an album of watercolours dated 1726 and attributed to Johannes Claudius de Cock, (1667-1736). In addition to the salt, the album included a number of other items by Adam van Vianen, his son Christiaen (1598-1671) and a follower from Utrecht, Michiel de Bruyn van Berendrecht (1608-1660), which have appeared at auction or are now in public collections. This album which includes the salt was recently purchased by the Rijksmuseum and will be featured in the catalogue of the exhibition 'Kwab, Dutch design in the age of Rembrandt', to be held there from 30 June until 16 September. It will also be the subject of a lecture at the symposium for the exhibition, on 14 September, also at the Rijksmuseum, and will subsequently be published in Tijdschrift voor Interieurgeschiedenis en design.
The subject of Galatea, the most beautiful of the sea nymphs, is most appropriate for a salt. Her story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, of love for Acis son of a river god who was murdered by his rival, Cyclops Polyphemus was a popular theme in the 16th and 17th century, particularly in the Netherlands, where the sea was so important. In pictures and prints, Galatea is often shown in the presence of wild and exotic sea creatures which accompany her and do her bidding. An example by the Haarlem-born engraver and influential publisher Philips Galle of 1587, shows her reclining uncomfortably on such a creature. She holds a trident as prefigurement of Polythemus Cyclops, Neptune's son (Fig.1.). Adrian Collaert (1560-1618), Galle’s son-in-law produced prints of Galatea (also Acis) and designs for Galatea riding in a shell with sea monster, for use on the bowls of silver tazzas. Galle’s pupil Hendrick Goltzius, another Haarlem artist copied Raphael’s Fresco of the Triumph of Galatea in Rome and turned it into prints which were published in 1592. He also produced a wood cut of the nymph (1588) crowned with shells and surrounded by fleshy shapes in an early but developed example of lobate forms.5
Adam van Vianen has chosen to portray Galatea at the beginning of the story, before the events with Acis and Cyclops have taken place, yet the sculpture alludes successfully to the coming drama of love, death and transformation. The monster’s adoring backward look gives a sense of movement and progression in time. 'Her eyes are a marvel, for they have a kind of distant look that travels as far as the seas extend’.6 Galatea’s love for Acis, about to be revealed, is evoked by the billing doves, but the monster’s tail which she innocently holds for balance, acts as a warning of Cyclop’s physical strength and passion. This tail also prefigures the tall green reed that grew from a crack in Cyclops boulder after he had crushed Acis. It divides the liquid ornament, that flows from the monsters rock-like body, in the way that Acis was transformed into a river.
The Genius of the Van Vianen
The emergence of Mannerism in the last years of the Italian High Renaissance around 1520 gave artists a new freedom to experiment and conceive. Less than a century later, aspects of the style had been appropriated by inventive minds and skilful hands to create what became known as auricular ornament. The goldsmiths obsessed with this style determined to astonish and confuse, increasingly imparting a deceptive, dreamy malleability to inflexible metal objects.
Early examples of the auricular may be found in Italian craftsmanship dating from before 1550. But fifty years later a group of artists associated with the court of Emperor Rudolph II in Prague and by others in the Netherlands, gave a power to the style which allowed the viewer to roam free with his imagination. It was the genius of the van Vianens (Adam, his brother Paulus, and Adam’s son Christiaen) which proved crucial in the development and consolidation of this style. Four hundred years later, artists, craftsmen and connoisseurs continue to be fascinated by the astonishing achievements of these remarkable goldsmiths: because of them auricular silver with its specific Dutch characteristics, as surely as the work of Rembrandt, has become permanently linked with the Golden Age of Netherlandish prosperity and artistic achievement.7 This is the van Vianens’ fundamental importance in the history of Dutch art.
The Earliest Auricular silver
Although the earliest piece of auricular silver to have survived dates from 1607 (a tazza by Paulus van Vianen), the evidence of an engraving by Hendrik Goltzius dated 1595 seems to indicate that the style was by then, if not already fashionable, at least igniting artists’ imaginations. The main subject of this engraving is a youthful Bacchus holding aloft a cup or two-handled bowl. This curiously formed vessel appears to be decorated with two nose-to-nose monsters with tails, but at second glance their heads merge to form a single weird aquatic face, similar to the cartilage of a human ear. This was the essence of the auricular.
Goltzius’s engraving of Bacchus (Fig.2) raises the question as to how many items of goldsmiths’ work in the auricular style were made. Although the answer will never be known, it is probably safe to say that what still exists represents just a fraction of the original whole. Even J.W. Frederiks acknowledged that, ‘Many of Adam’s works are lost [and] we only know them from descriptions in old catalogues.8 Fluctuating prices and popularity over the years must account for some lost masterpieces.9
The first surviving hint of the auricular in Adam van Vianen’s work are details from a tazza bowl of 1610, the centre of which is decorated with a scene of Ulysses and his companions feasting with Circe (Rijksmuseum). These include two monsters/masks which are reminiscent of that on Bacchus’s bowl in Hendrik Goltzius’s 1595 engraving. Like that of Paulus van Vianen, Goltzius’s work was much admired by Emperor Rudolf II Habsburg (1552-1612), who was described by a contemporary as ‘the greatest art patron in the world,’ and at whose court both men were employed. Another feature, of more significance, is the rendering of the vessel which cools the hero’s wine on the tazza. This item shows that Adam had already conceived a piece of silver where the auricular would determine not only the decoration but the entire form.
Adam van Vianen and His Circle
While Paulus van Vianen went on his travels and latterly lived in Prague as goldsmith to the emperor Rudolf II, Adam stayed in Utrecht, living for many years in a house on the eastern side of the Oude Gracht, which his father had acquired in 1595. He had a wide circle of friends including prominent artists and intellectuals in Utrecht and Haarlem as well as Amsterdam. In artistic terms, his home town of Utrecht was very successful and international in outlook ‘most of the leading artists had worked in Rome or in other countries’…and even with a population of 30,000 compared with Amsterdam’s 120,000, ‘it was still the most important centre for painting in the republic…in Utrecht as in Antwerp and Rome, Catholics and the Aristocracy played formative roles, whereas the reigning ethos in the Dutch Republic as a whole was essentially protestant and middle class’.10
Bizarre Folds and Undulations
Following Adam’s tentative experiment with the auricular style on the tazza of 1610, he quickly utilized his skill as a silversmith and chaser to create pieces whose entire form was lost to the ornament. By the time he made the ewer and basin of 1614, (Rijksmuseum) with its scenes from the Eighty Years’ War, the design was enclosed by the bizarre folds and undulations of cartouche-like auricular panels. These are inhabited by distinctly up-to-date masks, most probably reflecting the taste of the commissioning client: the City of Amsterdam for presentation to Prince Maurice who in 1610 had a grotto designed by Jacques de Gheyn for the Ninnenhof in the Hague, which shows many elements of the auricular. The overall shapes of the ewer and basin, however, do not deviate from traditional forms. To that extent they are compromise objects, an observation which cannot be levelled against Adam van Vianen’s silver-gilt ewer, also dated 1614, which he made for the Amsterdam Guild of Silversmiths. This piece, made in homage to his brother, Paulus, who had died in 1613, found Adam exploring to the full his genius as a goldsmith. The body of this wonderful object, entirely auricular, has been described as ‘fluid earlobe-like forms flowing into one another’ like some ‘stirred syrupy substance’ from which emerge ‘all manner of terrifying part-human and part-animal creatures’.11 Within the protectionist world of the guilds, it was an extraordinary accolade to both Paulus, who had largely lived abroad and to Adam who was a goldsmith from Utrecht, that a guild from Amsterdam should commission a work, created by one, in honour of the other.
This reference to ‘part-human and part-animal’ elements in their work reminds us that both Paulus and Adam van Vianen were inspired, not only by the Mannerist masters of the Renaissance but also by Nature at its most exposed and visceral. As a seafaring people whose country was almost as much water as it was land, the Dutch were open more than most to the vagaries of the sea. With a coast battered by the swell and tempest of North Sea storms, among the most alarming appearances from the deep were a number of beached whales: at least 40 between 1521 and 1699. Two in particular were noteworthy: a large specimen washed ashore on 3 February 1598 by the small town of Katwijk, near Leiden, and another on 19 December 1601 at Beverwyck, near Haarlem (Fig.5).12
The eventual dismemberment of these marine colossi revealed many intriguing details, among which were the bones of the whales’ ears (Fig.6). Similarly, there was a fascination for the internal workings of the human body. This was especially so after Petrus Pauw, Professor of Anatony at the University Leiden, established in 1594 the first permanent anatomical theatre where public demonstrations took place every winter. The theatre’s steeply tiered seating ensured that all the observers had a good view of the rotating dissection table where the corpse was laid out. We are told that many artists attended these and similar dissections, in Leiden, Amsterdam and elsewhere, among whom were Aert, Pietersz (1550?-1612), Pieter van Miereveld (1596-1623) and Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669).
Given the circles in which Adam van Vianen moved, both artistic and intellectual, it is inconceivable that he was unaware of the lively attention paid by his contemporaries to such events. The beached whales were a matter of widespread gossip and wonderment and the cadavers on surgeons’ slabs, their exposed viscera in cartouche-like folds of skin, were the subject of much earnest study and discussion. While it has already been shown that the auricular motifs which Adam and his brother Paulus developed from ornament originating in Italy via Prague, sights like these gave the style in Adam’s hands its Dutch genius.
From 1614 Adam van Vianen’s pieces were less recognisably utilitarian than unashamedly works of art: single sheets of high quality silver tortured by his guiding hand and hammer into basins, ewers, and salts, almost defy description. The artist himself was clearly aware of the exalted status of his work. With the exception of a ciborium, hallmarked Utrecht, 1615,13 all of Adam van Vianen’s surviving pieces from 1614 onwards are signed.
1 Rothschild archive. 000/848/Box 48; 000/176/11 Book no. 3. ‘List of property formerly in the possession of Baron Lionel de Rothschild of 148 Piccadilly and now divided by consent of Baroness Lionel de Rothschild between her three sons….’ 000/848/48/1. ‘List of No. I lot belonging to Sir N.M. Rothschild Bart M.P arising out of the Division of the property in 148 into three different lots between Sir N.M Rothschild Esqre and Alfred de Rothschild Esqre and Leopold Rothschild Esqr…’
2 Some idea of the value of £500 at the time is given by the sale of Paul van Vianen’s ewer and basin of 1613. This work which is undoubtedly a treasure of the Rijksmuseum and arguable the second most important surviving piece by Adam’s brother, sold for £2100, to S.J. Philips. (Christie, Manson & Woods, Ltd, Old English and Foreign silver….May 7, 1947, lot 144)
3 Titled in Italian Dutch Constighe Modellen Van verscheyden silvere Vasen…. it was published simultaneously in Italian and French, with engravings by Theodor van Kessel (1620–1660), the print of the salt was no 29 in the series.
4 Christies Interiors, London, South Kensington, 8 December, lot 391
5 F.W Hollstein, Dutch and Flemish Etchings Engravings and Woodcuts, c. 1450-1700, vol. VIII, 368, p. 20. (As Galatea); The Illustrated Bartsch, Walter L. Strauss ed. Netherlandish Artists, New York, no. .235, p. 261 (considers the ascription to Galatea but calls it Venus Marina)
6 Translation of the Greek, Philostratus’s account of a painting of the Triumph of Galatea which he saw in Naples in the 3rd century AD and from which account , the Renaissance depictions of Galatea have been influenced. Philostratus is describing Galatea seen by Cyclops. See: Vasiliki Kostopoulou, Philostratus’ Imagines 2.18:, Greek Roman and Byzantine studies, 49 (2009) p. 93
7 'The hugely significant aspect of the works of Adam, and then Christian, van Vianen is that they developed a striking new aesthetic and a new way in which silver could be appreciated. Their fluid, sculptural approach to silver design had its visual origins in late sixteenth-century Northern European engravings, which in turn were inspired by reworkings of a form of Ancient Roman ornament dubbed ‘grotesque’ by Renaissance artists. The flowing, organic forms of the works produced by Adam and Christian had an intellectual justification, Platonic in origin, that all metals were liquids that had congealed beneath the earth. Moreover, as moisture sustained the vital heat of all living creatures, the aqueous character of metals meant they could on some level be considered living organisms. This is certainly reflected in the sinuous, plastic vessels they created.’ (Arts Council, England, Case hearings 2012/13, Case 1 – A Dutch silver ewer and basin by Christian van Vianen, extract of the Expert Adviser’s Statement)
8 Dutch Silver, The Hague, 1952, vol. I, p. 72
9 ‘Around the middle of the 17th century the prices paid for [the van Vianens’ silver] were exceptionally high, but they declined thereafter until its value reached the same level as ordinary silver around 1730. The decades after that saw the prices rise again, possibly owing to the interest of a growing number of collectors, but around 1800 they reached a new low as a result of the collapse of the economy and changes in taste. . . . Up to 1775 virtually all the Van Vianens’ silver was in Dutch hands, but after then English collectors in particular succeeded in obtaining nearly all the important pieces that came up for sale in Holland. They were prepared to pay high prices and after the expulsion of the French [in 1813] prices more than doubled in a short time. Thus around 1825 very many silver objects passed into the hands of English collectors, whose taste had for some time been strongly concentrated on the Italian Renaissance, the Van Vianens evidently [having] been regarded as important Italian masters.’ (Johannes Rein ter Molen, Van Vianen, Rotterdam, 1984, vol. I, p. 119).
10 Exhibition catalogue. Masters of Light, Dutch painting in Utrecht during the golden age, Jan-November 1998, Walter’s Art Gallery, Baltimore, p. 13
11 Rijksmuseum web-site. https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/search/objects?q=Monkeys&p=18&ps=12&ii=7#/BK-1976-75,
12 Hendrick Goltzius was on hand to make a drawing of the former, which image became very popular in the Netherlands, partly through an engraving of 1602 issued by the artist’s stepson and pupil, Jacob Matham. The whale at Beverwyck became the subject of the most elaborate of Dutch prints of these beached creatures, executed by Jan Saenredam in 1618. A translation of the Latin text accompanying the latter reads:
‘A large whale, thrown up out of the blue sea (gods, let it not be a bad omen!), washed up on the beach near Beverwyck. What a terror of the deep Ocean is a whale, when it is driven by the wind and its own power on to the shore of the land and lies captive on the dry sand. We commit this creature to paper and we make it famous, so that it may be spoken of by the people.’
What these images do not record is the reek and inconvenience of so large a body of deteriorating flesh. In Saenredam’s print the artist only hints at this by depicting in the foreground the figure of Ernst Casimir, Count of Nassau, hero of the Spanish War, holding to his nose a handkerchief. Typically, however, as the internal organs of marooned whale carcasses begin to rot, a build-up of gas causes them to explode. The sight of spilled entrails and folds of skin in such raw abundance must have made an indelible impression, especially on the artistic mind. While visitors to these arresting sights were happy to poke, probe and measure the bodies and their parts, these beachings were not merely zoological exercises; they were viewed as significant historical events in which many found a deeper meaning, even portents of impending disaster.
13 Parochie St. Johannes Nepomuc, Woudrichem