The Pastoral Scenes of Jan Siberechts

The Ford by Jan Sieberechts (1672) Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest
The Ford by Jan Sieberechts (1672)
Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest

My Daily Art Display today features the 17th century Flemish painter, Jan Siberechts.  I will also look at some of Siberechts works and look how his style of painting changed during his lifetime.  In today’s blog I will concentrate on his rural life paintings and in my next blog I will look at how his painting style changed when he went to England. 

Jan Siberechts was born into a family of artists in Antwerp in January 1627, first training with his father, who was a sculptor.  Little is known of his early life and upbringing except to say that in 1648, at the age of twenty-one, he became a master in the Guild of St Luke in Antwerp and four years later, in 1652, he married.   Siberechts’ early works, up until around 1660, were mainly landscapes which were heavily influenced by the Dutch Italianates.  The Dutch Italianates were a group of seventeenth-century Dutch artists who painted landscapes of Italy.  Many of these painters had travelled to and lived in Italy whilst others who had never made the journey to Italy were simply stimulated by the works of those who did.   Many young Dutch painters made the arduous journey, often by foot, over the Alps to Italy, whereas others travelled by sea. The favourite destination for these intrepid travellers was usually Rome, but some journeyed to Venice, and a few to Genoa. 

Many of these artists would make copious sketches during their sojourn in Italy and in the case of those who crossed the Alps on foot, they would pictorially record their arduous journey through the breathtaking mountain passes and then, once they arrived back home to their studios, they would produce this Italianate art.  Such works of art, which were extremely popular with the Dutch and were in great demand in what was then a booming Dutch art market. These Dutch Italianate painters enthused over the golden light of Mediterranean skies which they encountered in Italy.   The countryside around Rome (campagna) was a constant source of inspiration and featured in many of the works of the Dutch Italianates.   Some of the leading Dutch Italianate painters during the lifetime of Siberechts were artists, such as Nicolaes Berchem, Jan Both, Karel du Jardin, and Jan Weenix.  Because Siberechts’ early works reveal the influence of the Dutch Italianates some art historians believe that he may have made the journey to Italy but there is no firm proof of this assertion.   Many believe Siberechts remained in Antwerp until 1672 at which time he accepted an invitation to travel to England and so it could be that he was simply influenced by the finished works of the Dutch Italianate painters which were offered up for sale in Antwerp.  

Shepherdess by Jan Siberechts (1660's) Hermitage, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Shepherdess by Jan Siberechts (1660’s)
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Siberechts style changed around 1661 when he became interested in depicting scenes from the Flemish countryside and the rustic life of the peasants.  His initial landscape work with its occasional small figures changed and, in his work now, the figures in his landscape settings were larger and took on a paramount importance. 

Landscape with a Road, a Cart and Figures by Jan Siberechts Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery)
Landscape with a Road, a Cart and Figures by Jan Siberechts
Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery)

Often the countryside scenes depicted in these paintings incorporated country roads which had been partly flooded forming fords and peasant women going about their daily routine, carrying goods, such as hay or vegetables, to or from market, often by horse and cart.  In other paintings we see the women tending to their livestock along a river bank.  

The Wager by Jan Siberechts (1665) Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp
The Wager by Jan Siberechts (1665)
Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp

In Siberechts’ countryside depictions his female figures were much larger than corresponding figures in most paintings of this genre. The female figures we see in Siberechts’ paintings are not willowy, weak women but strong robust females who were quite able to hold their own against their men-folk when it came to working on the farm.  The presence of water in Siberechts’ scenes gave him the chance to show off his artistic ability of depicting reflections on the water surface and the glittering of the light on moving water.  The inclusion of water into his peasant scenes also gave Siberechts an excuse for showing us a sensual glimpse of bare female thighs as they washed and cooled down their bare legs in the fords or streams.  The colours Siberechts used in these landscape works were often quite similar.  He would utilise whites, reds and yellows for the clothes of the women and these colours would contrast against the various greens he used to depict surrounding plants and vegetation.  Often there would be no background as such to these paintings as the dense foliage in the middle ground obscured our view of any background. 

I like these works.  There is a certain quaintness about them.  As you will see in my next blog the paintings Siberecht did whilst in England couldnt be more different.

Road by the Edge of a Lake by Jan Both

Road by the Edge of a Lake by Jan Both (1637-41)

Today I am looking at a landscape painting by the Dutch painter and etcher Jan Dirksz Both.  The artist was born in Utrecht around 1618, the younger brother of Andries Both, who was one of a group of genre painters who worked in Rome in the 17th century and who brought to the Italians the sixteenth century Netherlandish art which depicted peasant subjects.  They were known as the bamboccianti.  The term came from the nickname Il Bamboccio, which translated means “ugly doll” or “ugly puppet”, and was a nickname given to the Dutch painter and leader of the group, Pieter van Laer, because of his physical deformity, as well as the puppet-like figures in his paintings.

It was whilst the two Both brothers were working in Rome that Jan Both met the French landscape artist Claude Lorrain and a fellow Dutch painter Herman van Swanevelt, and it was with these two painters that he collaborated on a series of landscape works.   It was from Claude that he acquired the skill of rendering effects of golden or silvery light and this technique was hugely influential after he returned to Holland in 1642.  Originally Jan Both produced the popular genre paintings and scenes from the everyday life of the streets of Rome but on his return to Utrecht he concentrated all his artistic efforts on Italianate landscape paintings, which were characterised by the golden glow of sunlight.  His brother Andries, on the other hand, preferred the genre painting in the manner of Pieter van Leer.   Like Jan and Andries Both, throughout the 17th century, a steady stream of Dutch painters made the long and demanding trek to Italy, which was, at that time, acknowledged as the home of art.  Aspiring artists from many European countries would descend on Rome in order to study the great masters of the Renaissance and the contemporary painters of the Baroque.  The Dutch who had come from a colder harsher climate with its gloomy and overcast skies were thrilled by the beauty of a sunny Italy.  They marveled at the light, and the myriad of colours offered by the Italian landscapes.   The Dutch artists depicted these wonderful Roman Campagna landscapes in their paintings along with the ruins of earlier civilizations which were dotted throughout the countryside.  This group of 17th century Netherlandish painters were known as the Dutch Italianates.

Jan returned to Utrecht around 1641.  He became the main pioneer of Italianate landscape painting in 17th-century Holland.   He introduced to Dutch landscape paintings a style based on the work of Claude Lorrain, which he had witnessed in Rome. Later this Italianate landscape style of his was developed by other artists such as Nicolaes Berchem and Aelbert Cuyp.  This Italianate style of landscape painting when transferred to the native Dutch landscapes was very popular and much in demand in Holland.  His landscape paintings became more refined over the years and he would often produce large works of idealised landscapes drenched in the golden light of the Mediterranean.

The painting of Jan Both, which I am featuring today, is entitled Road by the Edge of a Lake which he completed between 1637 and 1641 dating back to his Italian sojourn.  It currently hangs in the Dulwich Gallery, London.  The earth has a subtle red tinge to it which mirrors that found in Italy.  There is a tranquillity about this painting as we see the herdsman slowly weaving their way home towards the golden sunset.  The slanting light from the falling sun produces long shadows even from the smallest of molehills we see on the herdsmen’s trail.  This painting incorporates a typical golden sunset, which Jan Both probably learnt from Claude Lorrain when he was in Italy.  Look at the tones and colours of his sky.  Look how the artist has depicted the background, with its bright yellows and yet it also has a misty quality about it, which is what we would experience if we looked towards the setting sun on a clear day.  Move your eyes to the background on the right and the colour changes to a bluer tone and the mistiness gradually disappears.  The way the artist has depicted the background is a seamless continuity of the bright but misty yellowish haze to the clarity of blue sky.  I also like the way the artist has captured the way the sunlight falls on the leaves of the trees and even the individual blades of grass which borders on to the path to the left of the herdsman.

It is interesting to note that some art historians believe that Jan’s brother Andries may have had a hand in this painting.  They come to this conclusion when they studied the figures of the herdsme.  These reminded them of the figures seen in many of Pieter van Laer’s paintings and as I told you earlier, Andries Both was a dedicated follower on Il Bamboccio.

It is a magical painting and one can almost feel the warmth from the setting sun.  It is no wonder the Dutch liked to hang this type of painting on the walls of their houses as they sat inside by their fires and shivered with the cold of a Dutch winter’s day.