Commentary on Diana y sus Ninfas de caza
This landscape, in which Diana and her nymphs are seen going out to hunt, originally entered the Museum as a work by Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625), nicknamed “Velvet”, an artist who was active in Antwerp and well-known for his still lives and landscapes. In our 1994 catalogue raisonné, however, it was attributed to Jasper Van der Lanen, a painter to whom only four works had been accredited with certainty at the time. Ours is one of the works that has contributed to a more thorough knowledge of the artist’s work and to incrementing the catalog of his works in recent years.
In thematic terms, all of his known works are inscribed exclusively within the landscape genre, with significant influence from Gillis van Coninxloo (1544-1607), although in an environment like Antwerp, the strong presence of Jan and Pieter Beueghel II must be added; both were figures of reference for the principal lines of landscape painting during the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. These artists applied a traditional 16th Century formula that divided the landscape into successive planes, differentiated by the color they received: earth tones and ochres for the first, different tones of green for the middle ground and tones of blue for the last, distant plane or background. They enriched this formula by generating profound visual penetrations going from the foreground to the furthest distance, adding great dynamism to landscape compositions.
In the case of Van der Lanen, his contact with colleague Abraham Govaerts (1589-1626) should also be kept in mind, with whom he also maintained a close friendship. Govaerts utilized the aforementioned compositional formula, often organizing the landscape around one large tree that would therefore become a protagonist, complementing it with details of different plants in the foreground. These plants—bamboo, reeds, creepers and vines of different sorts, along with wild flowers and animals—appear frequently around a dead tree with a broken trunk. All these ingredients can be seen in his Wooded Landscape with River, Hunters and Horsemen
, in a composition that comes close to ours in some ways, although penetrating space is found only on the right side. Our landscape presents profound space on either side of the large trees, preceded by the coast with plants and a fallen tree that advances into the foreground. Along with these elements, on the right there is a road that leads the viewer’s eye to a group of houses in the distance and Diana and her companions as they march with their spears at the ready for the hunt; on the other side the calm waters of a river flow into the distance, and a mass of woods on the far shore is punctuated here and there by houses. These elements allow for recognition of “the clear diagonal perforations and broken tree trunks in the foreground… typical hallmarks of Van Der Lanen”, as Y. Thiéry has pointed out (1).
A piece signed by Jasper van der Lanen and dated 1624 presents a landscape similar to ours. In Landscape with Tobias and the Angel
(2), the painter has used the same elements, although the medallion that makes up the little wood of beech trees has been shifted to the left. As a result, the river and the village on the far shore acquire greater presence and are moved further into the foreground. Along the edge of the other side, a tall tree trunk with plants at its base functions like an important curtain; Tobias and the Angel walk along a road there that reveals a background with several trees, while toward the center, as is the case in our work, the theme of plants and bushes on the shore appears, with their flowers and animals and the broken trunk of a dead tree, part of which falls into the water. Surprisingly, the sky has an identical treatment of clouds over the river.
Another work whose composition and details coincide with ours is Moses Saved from the Waters
, at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg (3). There, on a surface whose proportions are much wider than they are high—much wider than those of Diana—Van der Lanen has produced a great panorama constructed in a similar way, but varying the configuration of several elements. Firstly, the little wood of beech trees in the center is not shown in a fragmentary way, but with trees in their entirety, clearly making up a medallion. The same road to the right is repeated, where the Pharaoh’s daughter and her followers are located, and to the left, the river with a village on the opposite shore. A village also appears there with a peasant house almost identical to the one in our painting, but surrounded by tall trees. Similarly, we find the broken tree trunk in the foreground with a clump of reeds, bamboo and other plants typical of the water’s edge. Jasper van der Lanen evidently used this composition on various occasions, varying the elements according to the needs presented by the dimensions of the painting surface or possibly due to some other special circumstance that we have not yet identified. We can say that this repetition is a demonstration of the success that his paintings must have had.
Regarding the figures that appear in our landscape, we know that they were painted by a different hand. In the case of other works by van der Lanen, it has been said that they were probably painted by Frans Franken II (4), a possibility that we would have entertained for our work as well. However, compared with the work in the Hermitage, we find a great affinity in the anatomical forms and a similar use of color in the clothing, leading us to think of a single author, a possibility that should be explored in greater depth.
by Ángel M. Navarro
1— See Le Siècle de Rubens, exhib. cat. Brussels, 1965, p. 98.
2— Wood panel 78.7 x 106.6 cm, Galería Sanct Lucas, Vienna (in 1988). See: L. Dubiez, “Een ander werk van Jasper van der Lanen”, Oud Holland, Leiden, nº 65, 1950, p. 120 and ss.
3— Canvas 103 x 202 cm, remnants of the signature centered below “(VL)amen”. My thanks to Charles Dumas for this information.
4— For example, in Balaam and the Ass (1624) and Tobias and the Angel. See: Ursula Harting, Frans Franken der Jungere (1581-1642). Freren, Luca, 1989, p. 241; L. Burchard, “Jasper van der Lanen. His only known work?”, The Burlington Magazine, London, vol. 90, nº 545, August, 1948. L. Dubiez, op. cit.
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. 52-55, reprod. color p. 53.
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. 55-57, 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. 55-57, reprod. color.