Veranstaltungsbericht | Symposium “Collecting Dutch and Flemish Art in Germany 1600–1900”

Symposium “Collecting Dutch and Flemish Art in Germany 1600–1900” 18th and 19th October 2018, RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History, The Hague (NL)[1]

Lilian Ruhe (Arnhem)

The symposium ‘Collecting Dutch and Flemish Art in Germany 1600–1900’ on the 18th and 19th October 2018, co-organized by the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History, The Hague, the Netherlands, and the ANKK (German organisation for the Study of Netherlandish Art and Culture/ Arbeitskreis Niederländische Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte e.V.) proved to be an excellent opportunity to join together the common denominators of the agendas of both organisers: the reception and study of Netherlandish art in the German speaking countries. This conference not only marked the 10th anniversary of the ANKK, but was also dedicated to the release of ‘Germany part II’, the fourth publication of the ongoing RKD project ‘Gerson Digital’. The aim of the project is to compile a country by country digital adaptation, text-critical edition, annotation and update of Horst Gerson’s (1907–1978) still impressive, renowned and influential pioneering research of the dispersal and consequent impact of Dutch and Flemish art in European countries.[2]

Germany has always been an important market for Dutch and Flemish paintings, drawings and prints since the 17th century, popularly referred to as the Golden Age. Although the trade in Dutch art is still quite buoyant today, it was at its peak in the 18th century. Dutch art was eagerly collected at the numerous courts and also by private collectors. Consequently, outside the Netherlands, more Flemish and Dutch works of art can be found in Germany than anywhere else in the world. It is not surprising that during the 18th and 19th centuries, Dutch art also exerted a lasting and significant influence on German artists. Alongside the increase in Dutch art in German collections, the knowledge of art grew steadily, and consequently an academic discourse developed, thus making Germany the birthplace of the History of Art – in particular the history of Dutch and Flemish art.

The history of collecting and cultural exchange is a frequently recurring topic in both art historical publications and seminars,[3] especially those concerned with the relationship between the Netherlands and Germany.[4] Although the title of the present conference seems to suggest nothing but a recapitulation of material concerning the many collectors of Dutch and Flemish works of art in the German speaking countries that have been identified so far, nothing could be further from the truth. Under this generalized title, this well-attended conference offered an absorbing and rather diverse program content of no less than fifteen compact case studies, in which lesser known key figures in the collecting history of Germany, Austria and Bohemia were presented, after having been preceded by two extensive introductions that prepared the audience for the subsequent perusals. Attention was paid to the networks and negotiations of collectors, art dealers and agents, as well as to painters who competed with Dutch and Flemish artists from the past. None of the contributions were to exceed the time limit of twenty minutes, some were even limited to only ten. In order to accommodate the divergent nature of these contributions, the program was split into four main sessions, though some of the readings could easily have fitted into more than one category. Each session offered the opportunity for discussion.[5]

Both occasions and the themes arising from them were adequately introduced by keynote speakers Rieke van Leeuwen and Everhard Korthals Altes, creating a solid reference framework. Van Leeuwen explained the ontological structure, possibilities and innovations of ‘Gerson Digital’, and drew attention to the many additions to Gerson’s original material, for instance 250 German collectors of Dutch art. Korthals Altes explored the reception of Dutch art amongst collectors from the Holy Roman Empire by reconstructing the international impact of, among others, the Dutch art dealer Gerard Hoet.

The first session focused on ‘Collectors of Netherlandish art in Germany and Central Europe 1600–1800’. In her case study, Anne-Sophie Laruelle introduced lesser known collectors of Flemish tapestry, other than the well-documented Habsburg collectors of these ‘woven paintings’. She presented examples of the mid-16th century Electors of Saxony, the Electors of the Rhine and the Palatine Counts – the latter’s collection even exceeding 450 pieces by the end of the century. The majority of the tapestries depict scenes based on engravings, such as for example The Seven Planets by Georg Pencz. These works of art were mainly manufactured by the many Flemish weavers who had migrated to Germany in the years 1540–60. Barbara Uppenkamp revealed an inventory of the collection of the 17th-century Hamburg merchant and ship-owner Hinrich Hambroek. After having been accused of squandering his inheritance, Hambroek, the black sheep of his family, was forced by his relatives to draw up a detailed inventory of his assets. His art collection comprised 64, mostly Dutch and Flemish 16th– and 17th-century paintings. Remarkable in its own right is the vast number of depictions of saints he owned – notably those uncommon in Lutheran iconography – although Hambroek himself adhered to Lutheranism, the dominant religion in Hamburg. This collection is quite revolutionary in Hamburg. Uppenkamp provided a precise description of the contextual circumstances, adding up to the balance sheet of the provenance of these works, while trying to assess the overall meaning of Hambroek’s collection as a whole. She also drew a poignant sketch of the arrangement of some of the works in situ, shedding light on the timeless and personal predilection for pairing portraits of one’s ancestors. Changing the focus from a Hamburg private collector to a Bohemian princely one, Lucie Nemeckova introduced the collecting habits of several members of the House of Lobkowitz, one of the leading noble dynasties in the Holy Roman Empire. Their gradually accumulated and unrivalled collection, intended to illustrate the family’s dignity, sophistication and honour, was intended to emulate Emperor Rudolph II’s famous collection. Its current reputation, however, is primarily based on the contributions of three different members of the Lobkowitz family. Polyxena Pernstein, for instance, brought the impressive amount of high quality art with her from the Spanish branch of the family. In addition to paintings from the Italian and Spanish schools, fine examples of the Brueghel dynasty and by Rubens and Honthorst were added to the collection. Another acquisition was a Delftware dinner service, consisting of almost 150 pieces, consequently one of the largest still in existence.

In the session ‘Networks and Negotiations’, Patrick Larsen shed light on Jürgen Ovens’s role as an art agent and collector in his position as priviliged painter to the Dukes of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf, Frederick III – whom he probably first met in circa 1650 – and Christian Albrecht. Travelling back and forth between Schleswig-Holstein and the Dutch Republic, Ovens was well acquainted with the Dutch art market. His network in Amsterdam, and in particular his contacts with the Uylenburgh workshop, made him a successful mediator of Dutch culture, which benefitted all parties involved. Through the acquisition of Dutch art and the establishment of a fine library, Duke Frederick III was able to transform Gottorf Castle into one of the most notable cultural centres of northern Europe. In the meantime, Ovens himself also amassed an impressive collection of Dutch and Flemish art, which represented such names as Jan Lievens, Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. A noble collection again commanded centre-stage, this time by Gero Seelig, who revealed the very core of the collection by divulging the motives of Christian Ludwig von Mecklenburg in Schwerin for its creation and expansion, in which the Duke’s active personal involvement as well as that of his agent Johann Nicolas van Haften played an important role. Against the background of a devastating fire in 1725 and the power struggle with his older brother, his ‘conspicuous consumption’ of art was launched: displaying princely magnificence and splendour in order to compensate a lack of pedigree. He spent most of his budget on Dutch art which he bought at auctions in The Hague, Amsterdam and Hamburg, such as Frans van Mieris’s Duet of 1658, for which he paid 3,000 guilders. Little has changed since that era. The present collection still mirrors the ambitions and taste of this prince, and therefore exemplifies the tenets of the connoisseurs of Dutch painting in the first half of the 18th century. Thomas Döring’s case study was dedicated to Peter Schenk, a versatile and innovative engraver, publisher and art dealer, who was born in Germany and became a citizen of Amsterdam. Among his clients were German princes such as Johann Wilhelm of Palatine, August the Strong of Saxony and Anton Ulrich, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, for whom he created, for example, excellent reproductions of portraits in mezzotint, as well as maps. He travelled assiduously back and forth from Amsterdam to Germany to consult (court) painters for contributions and to invite poets to prepare maxims for his engravings. Döring presented Schenk’s Album Amicorum (Leiden). It reveals Schenk’s admiration for, and cooperation with, Gerard de Lairesse, as well as his experimental self-portrayal. He also introduced Schenk’s little-researched contribution to the Album Amicorum of Johann Jacob Müller (Brunswick), which documents a conversation with an agent-artist at the Leipzig Book Fair in 1699, that confirms Schenk’s relationship with De Lairesse. Justus Lange’s contribution concerned Wilhelm VIII, Landgrave of Hessen-Kassel, in his capacity as collector of works by Rembrandt. Lange concentrated on the financial side of the collecting process. Once the collection comprised 34 works ascribed to Rembrandt, of which today 24 still remain, though only 12 are currently accepted as originating from the Dutch master’s own hand. Lange demonstrated how this Rembrandt collection came into being. Alongside purchases through auctions, via art dealers or from collectors, 8 pieces came from the eminently expensive Valerius Röver cabinet. It consisted of 64 Dutch paintings, and was acquired for 40,000 guilders, meaning an average of 625 guilders per painting. After some dazzling, but hilarious calculations concerning generic values and prices, and after establishing that the Landgrave turned a cold shoulder to ‘Rembrandts’ at bargain prices, Lange came to the conclusion that prices certainly were not a decisive factor for this collector. Catherine Phillips’s subject, coinciding with her PhD research from 2013, proved to fit the goals of the conference extremely well. The Austrian Minister Charles Cobenzl converted into a champion and collector of Flemish and Dutch art soon after his appointment in Brussels (1753), where he played an active supporting role in the arts of the Austrian Netherlands. He gradually revealed himself as a great admirer of Rubens and was devoted to the conservation of his works in churches. Cobenzl would ardently promote art with a Flemish provenance in Austria as well, which can be confirmed by his letters to his superior Wenzel Anton von Kaunitz. One of Cobenzl’s clients was Catherine the Great, who bought 46 paintings from him, of which 19 were of Flemish, and a further 19 were of Dutch origin.

The penultimate session, ‘Collecting, Connoisseurship and Academic Discourse’, began with Stefan Bartilla, who introduced the Bohemian lawyer and physician Joseph Hoser, whose early 19th-century private collection in Vienna consisted mainly of Dutch and Flemish paintings. He also collected German and Austrian paintings made in the Dutch tradition, such as the remarkable genre paintings of Norbert Grund. Being the physician of Archduke Karl and having befriended the future director of the Albertina, Franz Rechberger, Hoser had access to this collection and learned to become a systematic collector with a scientific approach. This is testified by the catalogue raisonné he prepared of his own collection. In 1843/44 he bequeathed his collection to the Privat-Gesellschaft der patriotischen Kunstfreunde, predecessor of the National Gallery, Prague. Hoser’s collection in particular sheds light on the reception of Dutch realism, which changed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Ingrid Vermeulen took the Dresden print room in the Zwinger, and its arrangement since 1720 by Johann Heinrich von Heucher, as her starting point to demonstrate how works of art were divided into separate schools of art. These schools were arranged according to national origin, rather than style, as was previously usually the case. Works with a Dutch and Flemish origin were displayed together. Works with a German origin, however, were arranged by theme, as a defence against the prejudice of being ‘barbaric Gothic’. Heucher’s remarkable display precedes the well-known division of national schools made by Christian von Mechel in 1781 in the Viennese Belvedere. Vermeulen also referred to Heucher’s successor Carl Heinrich von Heinecken, publisher on monograms Johann Friedrich Christen and connoisseur Christian Ludwig von Hagedorn, to illustrate the debates that have led to the independent status of German art, separated from Northern and Southern Netherlandish art. Anne-Katrin Sors provided insight into Johann Dominik Fiorillo, the first professor of Art History in Göttingen, and one of the first to draw attention to Dutch art in favour of Italian. In his nine volumes of the compendium of Art History in the German language, Geschichte der zeichnenden Künste, published between 1798–1820, a disparity in the representation of the two leading schools of painting, Italian and Dutch, speaks volumes: four out of nine are dedicated to Dutch and German painting alone. By processing the Göttingen sub-collections Uffenbach (works on paper) and Zschorn (paintings), Fiorillo developed new methods. Using archive material disclosed for the first time, Sors made it possible to validate the full extent of Fiorillo’s importance for the methodology of the academic discipline, as well as for the reception of Dutch and Flemish art by the romantic movement.

In the context of the last session, ‘Artists, Collectors and the “Nachwirkung” of Netherlandish art’, Lilian Ruhe looked into a self-portrait of the Vienna-based German painter Christian Seybold, who painted himself with a dated Viennese newspaper and a loupe in his hand and a palette with brushes on a table. The interpretation as yet was that Seybold manifested himself as a citizen and artisan, climbing to the higher rank of court servant, whilst profiling himself as an engaged member of society. This was solely founded on the presence of the newspaper in a presumed homely setting. Instead, Ruhe proposed a new interpretation: Seybold in the simultaneous role of court painter and Rembrandt, derived from many subtly hidden and visible clues offered by the painting, which she aligned with the historical reality of circumstances. For instance, next to references to Apelles’s colour palette, by focusing on a painted undated news item that in reality coincides with the date of Seybold’s decretal appointment at the Dresden court, the painter refers to this high status. Seybold’s costume, pose and distribution of light are derived from several of Rembrandt’s painted and etched self-portraits from collections he must have known intimately. His guise as Rembrandt van Rijn is underlined by the painted news item containing the words “über den Rhein”, partly hidden under his index finger, but known from the physical issue, thus a programmed conundrum intended to be solved by contemporary insiders. Stefanie Rehm’s ten minute lecture showcased the phenomenon of connoisseurship as a parlour game. At stake was the riddle set up in 1772–73 by the Amsterdam collector Johannes Lubbeling, who challenged Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein’s expertise during his visit to Lubbeling’s collection. The anecdote was found in Tischbein’s memoirs (pub. 1861). Lubbeling shows Tischbein a painting, telling him he would never guess by whom it was painted. The following analysis results in a fictive contest between Wouwerman and Rembrandt, that ends in favour of Wouwerman. The entertaining quality of the riddle, as well as aspects of vanity, exchange of knowledge and connoisseurship, the collection as a stage for discourses on art, as well as time bound preferences are all reflected in this story. Julia Ellinghaus drew attention to an outstanding collection of over 800 small format oil paintings assembled by the Frankfurt baker and spice-trader Johann Valentin Prehn and his sons. Today the works are displayed in the Historical Museum, Frankfurt. They were only recently published in a catalogue, as well as online.[6] Although all genres and schools of painting were collected, the majority consisted of Dutch and Flemish paintings from the 17th century, comprising almost a quarter of the total collection. These small paintings are samples of different styles and schools, rather than being the epitome of high quality. Many previously unfamiliar material is therefore included in the book and the digital publication. Annotated auction catalogues provide insights into the price segment Prehn was able to afford. Claudia Hofstee ensured the coda of the conference program with a flash talk about her research still in progress. It concerned the Bohemian collector Felix Sekerka Count of Wrschowetz at the Věžníkovský Palace, Prague and his need for pendants for his collection of Dutch and Flemish 17th-century paintings. These contemporary counterparts were executed by local painters, such as Johann Rudolf Bys and Johann Adelbert Angermayer. Two collection inventories are known, one from around 1700 and one dating from 1723, the year the Count died. After his death his entire collection was sold, among others to the Royal collections in Dresden, the Nostitz Gallery in Prague, the Liechtenstein collection in Vienna and to other European galleries.

Notwithstanding the fact that not all of the presented research was premiered at this conference, however, presented in a new context, this was amply compensated by the broad spectrum of subjects involving the reception of Dutch and Flemish art in the Germanic countries. The contributions of the conference will be digitally published in the context of Gerson Digital Germany IV.

Gerson Digital

By updating and expanding Horst Gerson’s magnum opus ‘Ausbreitung …’ the RKD is paying an appropriate tribute to the legacy of its former employee (1934–1966, from 1954 as director). After having revised earlier Gerson sections about Poland (2013), Denmark (2015) and Germany part I (2018), which spans the 17th century,[7] by bringing to conclusion Germany II, about the ‘Nachwirkung’ of Dutch and Flemish art in Germany, Austria, Bohemia and Silesia in the 18th and 19th centuries, another major step in the evolution of the project has been taken. In addition, over 10,000 records on the German countries have been made available in RKDExplore. At this moment ‘Gerson Digital’ is only halfway completed. Still waiting to be processed in the project are Sweden, Spain and Italy.

The latest update can be found at https://gersongermany2.rkdmonographs.nl/. Through the menu the user can already access the title page, which lists excellent peer reviewers for the project, all having earned their spurs in this field.[8] Art historians who are familiar with conducting research at the RKD in person will be pleased that the research was supported by, amongst others, Ursula de Goede, the last curator of the RKD-department ‘Buitenland’ (foreign countries) dissolved in 2015. The goals and desiderata of ‘Gerson Digital’ are stated in the note to the reader: “[t]he aim was and is to produce a fully revised, critically annotated and illustrated digital publication, and to stimulate and publish new research. A secondary aim is to enrich and deepen the art-historical information on the international context of Netherlandish art in RKDExplore”.

When all these targets are achieved and their functionality has been put to the test, the user of the database will certainly be delighted by the fact that almost every mentioned artwork in the articles is illustrated, excellently annotated and features actualised commentary. The seemingly endless stream of entered names, artistic relations and interdependencies, as well as notions concerning style, testify that Gerson’s book can still be considered a mer à boire, from which there still issues a steady flow of data still issues, making research easier than ever before. The complete text of Gerson’s Ausbreitung in ‘Germany II’ is integrally translated into English, therefore maximizing its accessibility. The original German text is, of course, still available in PDF format. One of the main advantages of the interface is the possibility to limitless add updated research to the sections. The only minor flaw to be found so far is of a temporary technical nature: once on a page, one cannot freely browse through the paragraphs or wander aimlessly from one page to the next. Switching from one publication to another is also not possible at this moment. While browsing in the section ‘Germany II’, there is no way to enter, for example, ‘Denmark’. Information will only appear after inserting a new keyword or after returning to the main menu. Still being a monograph in progress, this problem will be solved in the near future.

[1] Program: ‘Introduction to the program’ – Rieke van Leeuwen: Presentation of Gerson Digital: Germany II and the RKD’s research on collectors; Everhard Korthals Altes: The German Craze for Dutch and Flemish art in the 18th century. Past, Present and Future Research; ‘Collectors of Netherlandish art in Germany and Central Europe 1600–1800’: Anne-Sophie Laruelle: Collecting Netherlandish Tapestry in Germany during the 16th century; Barbara Uppenkamp: Dutch and Flemish Paintings in a 17th Century Hamburg Collection; Lucie Nemeckova: The Art of Collecting. Princely Collections in Bohemia and Moravia. A Case Study

‘Networks and Negotiations’; Patrick Larsen: Jürgen Ovens (1623–1678) as an Art Agent for the Dukes of Gottorf; Gero Seelig: Building a Princely Art Collection: a Showcase Example from Mecklenburg; Thomas Döring: Prints for Princes. Peter Schenk (1660–1711) as a Printmaker, Publisher and Art Dealer between Amsterdam and Leipzig; Justus Lange: Praising and Pricing: Landgrave Wilhelm VIII. of Hessen Kassel (1682–1780); Catherine Philips: ‘Patriotic’ Taste: Count Charles Cobenzl (1712–1770) and the Promotion of Flemish Art.

‘Collecting, Connoisseurship and Academic Discourse’: Stefan Bartilla: Dr. Josef Hoser (1770–1848), Collector, Amateur and Researcher; Ingrid Vermeulen: A Paper Picture Gallery in the Dresden Print Room (c. 1728–1750). Transnational German School Concepts and the Western-European Rivalry of Art; Anne-Katrin Sors: The Emergence of the Academic Discipline Art History from the Art Collection at Göttingen University

‘Artists, Collectors and the ‘Nachwirkung’ of Netherlandish art’; Lilian Ruhe: Rembrandt between Danube and Elbe. Christian Seybold (1695–1768) and his Self-Portrait with the ‘Wienerisches Diarium’ dated May 26th 1745; Stefanie Rehm: Rembrandt or Wouwerman? An Anecdote by J.H.W. Tischbein between Connoisseurship and Literary Topos; Julia Ellinghaus: How small do you want it? Dutch and Flemish Paintings in the Miniature Cabinet of the Frankfurt baker Johann Valentin Prehn (1749–1821); Claudia Hofstee: Netherlandish Old Masters as a Driving Force: Felix Wrschowetz (1654–1720) as a patron of Bohemian counterpart pictures.

[2] Horst Gerson: Ausbreitung und Nachwirkung der holländischen Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts, Haarlem 1942/ Amsterdam 1983.

[3] See for example Virginie Spenlé’s synopsis of conferences. Virginie Spenlé: Review of ‚Museen und fürstliche Sammlungen im 18. Jahrhundert. H-Museum, H-NetReviews. April, 2004, p. 1; or the exhibition held in London, Royal Academy of Arts, 27 January – 15 April 2018, Charles I: King and Collector. See also the Frühneuzeit-Info 25 (2014) to the theme “Kunstsammlungen”: https://www.univie.ac.at/iefn/zeitschrift/bisher-erschienen/#-Jahrgang-25-(2014).

[4] See for example Nils Büttner/Esther Meier (eds.): Grenzüberschreitung. Deutsch-Niederländischer Kunst- und Künstleraustausch im 17. Jahrhundert, Marburg 2011; Michael North: Kunstsammeln und Geschmack im 18. Jahrhundert, Berlin 2002; Everhard Korthals Altes: Anton Ulrich und die Niederlande – Deutsche Reichsfürsten sammeln niederländische Malerei. In: Jochen Luckhardt (ed.): “…Einer der grössten monarchen Europas”?! Neue Forschungen zu Herzog Anton Ulrich Petersberg: Michael Imhof Verlag 2014, pp. 152–173.

[5] Though the subjects of ‘Gerson Digital Germany II’ and the conference were dominated by Germany, it was notable that the lingua franca in both cases was English, which made the material accessible to all. At the same time it is indicative of the loss of German language skills outside the German language areas, especially in the neighbouring country the Netherlands, where the language of its most important foreign partner regrettably no longer features in the (art history) students’ curriculum.

[6] https://bildersammlung-prehn.de/en/prehn/prehn-art-cabinet (accessed 28 March, 2019).

[7] http://gersonpoland.rkdmonographs.nl/; http://gersondenmark.rkdmonographs.nl/; http://gersongermany.rkdmonographs.nl/title-page (accessed 20 March, 2019). ‘Germany I’ was released at the 8th and 9th October 2017 on the occasion of the conference ‘Masters of Mobility. Cultural Exchange between the Netherlands and Germany in the long 17th Century’, organised by the RKD, the Rijksmuseum and Leiden University. (The conference contributions are being processed for publication soon.)

[8] Germany, Austria and Bohemia (II). The 18th and 19th Centuries. A Translated, Illustrated and Annotated Chapter from Horst Gerson’s Ausbreitung und Nachwirkung der holländischen Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts (1942/1983), annotated by Rieke van Leeuwen, peer reviewed by Stefan Bartilla, Ellinoor Bergvelt, Nils Büttner, Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, Juliette Roding, Gero Seelig and Nicolette Sluijter-Seijffert. Research assistance by Ursula de Goede, Claudia Hofstee, Paul van Kooij and Jan Kosten.

Printversion: Frühneuzeit-Info 30, 2019, S. 214–219.


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