Bentheim Castle by Jacob van Ruisdael

Bentheim Castle by Jacob Van Ruisdael (1653)

Today I am moving away from the horrors depicted in the Max Beckmann’s painting which I featured yesterday and move to a beautiful work by Jacob van Ruisdael, one of the greatest pure landscape painters in the Netherlands in the 17th century.  I have featured his works before in My Daily Art Display.  On January 9th 2011 I looked at his painting Dam Square and on February 18th I featured his hauntingly exquisite work entitled The Jewish Cemetery.  Both are worth looking at if you haven’t seen them before.     I never tire of his amazing paintings.  My Daily Art Display today features another of his works entitled Bentheim Castle which  van Ruisdael completed around 1653.

Jacob van Ruisdael was born in Haarlem in 1628 and was brought up in an artistic household.  His father, Isaak van Ruysdael and his uncle, Salomon van Ruysdael were both landscape painters.  Little is known about Jacob’s early artistic training but it is thought that his father probably taught him with guidance from his uncle.  At the age of twenty he was admitted as a member of the Guild of St Luke in Haarlem.  The Guild of Saint Luke was the most common name for a city guild for painters and other artists especially in the Low Countries.   They were named in honour of the Evangelist Luke, who was the patron saint of artists.

Unfortunately during his lifetime Jacob van Ruisdael’s artistic talent was not appreciated and by all accounts he led a poverty-stricken existence.  At the age of fifty three the Haarlem council was petitioned for his admission into the town’s almshouse.  He died in Amsterdam a year later in 1682 and his body was brought back to be buried in Haarlem

Jacob van Ruisdael travelled considerably during his lifetime but seldom went outside his own country.  However it is known that Ruisdael visited the small town of Bentheim, in Westphalia close to the Dutch-German border in the early 1650’s when he travelled to the region with his friend and fellow artist Nicolaes Berchem,  who, like Ruisdael, came from Haarlem.  Bentheim Castle received a first mention in historical records back in 1020 AD when the owner of the fortress who was named as Count Otto of Northeim, and who would later become the Duke of Bavaria, married.  He had, at this time, just married Richenza, the daughter of the Count of Werl, whose family was one of the most influential and wealth dynasties in Westphalia.  The castle changed hands during many battles over the centuries.  Nowadays the fate of Castle Bentheim is in the hands of the Hereditary Prince Carl Ferdinand of Bentheim and Steinfurt, who was born in 1977. Since 2007 he has been married to Hereditary Princess Elna-Margret of Bentheim and Steinfurt.

Jacob van Ruisdael’s favourite subjects were simple woodland scenes.  He was influenced by two great Netherlandish landscape painters of the time, Allaert van Everdingen and Meindert Hobbema.   Ruisdael forte was the depiction of trees in his works.  His rendering of the foliage was second to none. At the time of this painting which was completed in the 1650’s, Ruisdael portrayal of landscape scenes was bettered by nobody.  He stood out from his contemporaries when it came to the painting of woodlands, rivers, waterfalls, mountains, and even seascapes.

His landscape works became larger which allowed him more space for his portrayal of his giant oak and beech trees as well as the plethora of shrubs.  Look at today’s featured work simply entitled Bentheim Castle for an example of this.  No matter how the castle dominates the landscape, Ruisdael must have spent an enormous amount of time painting the surrounding trees and vegetation which can be seen like a skirt around the castle fortress.  Just take time and carefully study the detail of the vegetation in the foreground. Some of it has been brightened by a sudden shaft of sunlight whilst most of it in the middle ground remains in shade.  The colours the artist used in his paintings around this period became more vivid and space increases in both height and depth.  In this work by Ruisdael, look at the great variety of colours the artist has used to paint the flora.

What we see before us is the castle as seen from the south-west above which Ruisdael has given us a wonderful rendering of cloud formation.  It is an idealized landscape and not topographically accurate as the actual castle is situated on an unimpressive and somewhat low hill. However, Ruisdael, in order to add grandeur to his landscape work, has made the castle almost look like it is perched atop a small mountain.  Why would he do that?  Probably because placing the castle so high and so distant gave it a more commanding appearance but I believe his main reason was it offered him the opportunity to flood the middle and foreground with a small forest with all the colours that brings to the work.  In amongst the wooded slopes we see the red roof tops of the white houses and cottages.  This colour red manages to set off the verdant colour of the flora that surrounds them and which runs down to the foreground of the painting.  One can see that for Ruisdael the painting of trees and flora was his main joy.  Jacob van Ruisdael loved the view of this ancient fortress and over the years painted more than fifteen landscapes featuring Bentheim Castle, viewed from different viewpoints and seen in various surroundings.

I marvel at the detail in this painting and just wonder how long it took the twenty-five year old artist to complete it.  The painting is housed in Dublin at the National Gallery of Ireland.