Commentary on Paisaje con las ruinas de la Abadía de Rijnsburg (Landscape with the ruins of the Rijnsburg Abbey)
This landscape, bathed in warm light, is dominated by ruins at the top of a small hill to the right of the composition that stands out against the sky, with clouds that occupy the uppermost two thirds of the painting. The remaining third at the base of the painting is dedicated to the ground level upon which diverse elements are to be found. On one side are the aforementioned ruins and in the foreground before them there is a group of figures where a horseman talks with peasants. Opposite this a bridge stands out on the left side, crossing a stream of water that extends into the distance where other ruins appear, veiled in mist. This manner of distributing sky and ground is characteristic of Dutch landscape from the third decade of the 17th Century, when the genre had already been developed to a significant extent. Artists were interested in the sky in order to emphasize lighting effects typical of their homeland, which become evident primarily in the illumination of changing clouds, but are also present in the other elements that comprise the scene. However, the golden light that bathes this work is quite different from the light found in Holland, and it clearly indicates the influence of Dutch artists’ experience in the South, especially in Italy, where this and other characteristics were transferred over to their paintings in a manner that could be called “Italianized”. Nevertheless, in Aelbert Cuyp’s (1) case, we should point out that in spite of the strong Italianized character of his works, we understand that he never visited Italy, or at least no documentary evidence of such a trip exists. Therefore this influence can only be explained through his contact with works and artists who had been on the peninsula, as was the case of Jan Both (ca. 1615-1652), who returned to his native city of Utrecht in 1641. It is during this decade that our artist gradually moves away from the markedly Dutch nature of his painting, which had been found to have similarities with that of Jan van Goyen (1596-1656), to approach different landscapes where hills, large trees and the typical illumination mentioned all appear. Ruins are an outstanding motif in this landscape, and they act as focal points in the composition. They are those of the Benedictine Abbey of Rijnsburg (2), situated a few kilometers from Leiden in the province of Holland. Petronilla, the Countess of Holland, widow of Count Floris II, founded the Abbey in 1122, donating the land and paying for the construction of the church—dedicated to Saint Lorenzo—and the surrounding buildings. Destined for nuns from noble families, the institution was quite important in the life of the community and various members of the Dutch royal house were buried in its church, including Count Floris V. Its historical importance would be highlighted even further during the fight against Spain during the second half of the 16th Century. The Abbey was abandoned in 1573 when Spanish troops commanded by the Duke of Alba advanced. The dramatic siege that lasted from the month of May until October, 1574 took place there and resulted in the city’s liberation following the destruction of dykes that produced a flood, forcing the retreat of the Spanish army, an action that was key to the struggle for independence. Once abandoned, the Abbey was destroyed and the church was reconstructed in 1578. Its image became a symbol for the fight for freedom and accordingly, it began to appear in prints and paintings, adding to imagery intended to exalt patriotism. In 1616, Jan van de Velde (1593-1641) made a print that he included in a series of landscapes titled Regiunculae Quoddam amenae, followed by another authored by Hercules Seghers (1589/90-1633/38). Diverse artists made drawings of the Abbey, including: Esaias van de Velde (1591-1630), Simon de Vlieger (1600-1653) and Cornelis Saftleven (1607-1681), Willen Schellinck (ca. 1627-1678) and Jan de Bisschop (1628-1671) (3). Around 1643, Aelbert Cuyp made at least one drawing of the Abbey, a piece preserved in the Dordrechts Museum (4). In it, the ruins are seen from a different point of view than in our work, but the building can be clearly recognized. We suppose that he must have made other annotations from our view, which appears in other works by the artist. One of these is a painting pertaining to Mauritshuis in The Hague (5) and there is another in a private collection in Holland (6). A different view appears in the landscape housed in the Detroit Institute of Arts (inv. 33-7). As regards the date of this work, although the artist did sign most of his paintings, he didn’t always date them, which makes it difficult to determine. We do know, however, that he began to change his monochromatic style inspired by Jan van Goyen and Salomon van Ruysdael (1600/1603-1670) around 1645, choosing to adopt the golden atmosphere that some artists from Utrecht were using, such as Cornelis van Poelenburgh (1594/95-1667) and particularly Jan Both, as mentioned earlier. It is from this point on that Cuyp’s works show their characteristic Mediterranean light, the reason why he was called the “Dutch Lorrain”, in allusion to Claude, the French landscape artist who worked in Rome at the time. Aelbert Cuyp belonged to a family of artists from Dordrecht, where he was educated as an artist by his father, Jacob Gerritsz. Cuyp (1594-1651/52), a painter of portraits, still lives and genre scenes. From the outset he collaborated by painting the landscape backgrounds for his father’s portraits, but then became an independent artist. His career unfolded mainly in Dordrecht, where following his father’s death in 1652 he began to paint portraits. In 1642 and 1651 or 1652 he made trips to different parts of his country, which served to gather topographical motifs that he then employed in his works. After his marriage to Cornelia Boschman in 1658, his life changed and he began to hold positions of social responsibility; his pictorial production diminished and it is even thought that he abandoned the exercise altogether; in the 1660’s decade the name of one student is known.
by Ángel M. Navarro
1— Regarding Cuyp see: Aelbert Cuyp en zijn familia, schilders te Dordrecht: Gerrit Gerritsz. Cuyp, ca. 1565-1644, Jacob Gerritsz. Cuyp, 1594-1652, Aelbert Cuyp, 1620-1691. Schilderijen/ tekeningen, exhib. cat. Dordrecht, 1977-78. Also AA.VV., Aelbert Cuyp, exhib. cat. Washington/London/Haarlem, 1989-1990.
2— Regarding the history of the abbey, see: Bernard Vernet, “De abbij van Rijnsburg”, p. 39-62 and also Annemarie Kingmans- Claas, “Een kijk vanuit de kunsthistorie”, p. 94-99, in: De rijke historie van een nieuwe gemeente, exhib. cat. Katwijk, Katwijks Museum, 2006.
3— See the work cited in note 2. The drawings pertain to De Fundatie, Heino/ Wijhe, inv. 2932; two sheets at the Bisschop al Rijksmuseum, Ámsterdam, inv. A-3732 y RP-T.1897-A-3344; by Vlieger, Courtauld Institute, Londres, inv. 3355 and National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, inv. D 1132, and to the Museo Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, the one by Saftleven, inv. CS 19 (KP).
4— 16 x 26 cm, pencil lead and wash, inv. D.M. 978/T720.
5— Panel 49.7 x 74 cm, inv. 822.
6— Panel 40.5 x 53 cm, signed and dated 1645.
1909. HOFSTEDE DE GROOT, Cornelis, Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der Hervorrangendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. Esslingen/ Paris, vol. 2, nº 455, p. 132.
1980. DUPARC, Frederik J., Mauritshuis, Hollandse Schilderkunst. Landschappen 17e eeuw. ‘s-Gravenhage, Staatsuitgeverij, p. 22.
1991. NAVARRO, Ángel M., “Las ruinas de Rijnsburg en el Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes”, Estudios e Investigaciones. Boletín del Instituto de Teoría e Historia del Arte Julio E. Payró, Buenos Aires, nº 4, p. 107-116.
1994. NAVARRO, Ángel M., La pintura holandesa y flamenca (siglos XVI al XVIII) en el Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires, Asociación Amigos del MNBA, p. 104-106, reprod. color.
2001. NAVARRO, Ángel M., Maestros flamencos y holandeses (siglos XVI al XVIII) en el Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires, Asociación Amigos del MNBA, p. 109-111, reprod. color. — NAVARRO, Ángel M., Flemish and Dutch Masters (from the XVIth to the XVIIIth century) at the National Museum of Fine Arts. Buenos Aires, Asociación Amigos del MNBA, p. 109-111, reprod. color.