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Pleasant Places: The Rustic Landscape from Bruegel to Ruisdael

Walter S. Gibson
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: 1
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppd0h
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  • Book Info
    Pleasant Places
    Book Description:

    The variations of pleasure and their expression in Dutch rustic landscapes of the seventeenth century are recurring themes in Walter S. Gibson's engaging new book. Gibson focuses on Haarlem between 1600 and 1635, in his interpretation of Dutch landscapes and emphasizes prints, the medium in which the rustic view was first made available to the general art-buying public. Gibson begins by looking at the origins of the rustic landscape in the sixteenth-century Flanders and its later reformation by Dutch artists, a legacy very much alive today. He next offers a critical review of "scriptural reading," a popular mode of interpreting the Dutch rustic landscape that incorporates Calvinist-influenced moral allegories. Gibson then explores traditional ideas concerning recreation and suggests that the pleasure of rural landscapes, not preaching, constituted their chief appeal for seventeenth-century urban viewers. Using Visscher'sPlaisante Plaetsen("Pleasant Places") as a point of departure, Gibson examines the ways that townspeople, both the day-trippers and owners of country houses, experienced the Dutch countryside. He also discusses the role of staffage and suggests how the representations of peasants might have conditioned the responses of contemporary viewers to rural images. Finally, Gibson considers how scenes of the dilapidated farm buildings, dead trees, and other evidence of material decay may reflect traditional ideas rustic life as imagined by a townsperson. Or how they may represent another way for the artist to engage his urban audience: far removed from the idealized landscapes of a Giorgione, the rustic landscape of a Ruisdael conveys a countryside that was beginning to disappear under the relentless pressures of urbanization.

    Gibson's multilayered exploration of the rustic landscape enhances our understanding of the Golden Age in Dutch art. His richly illustrated book recalls a countryside now largely gone; at the same time, his evocative language gracefully articulates the role of the Dutch rustic landscape in the history of landscape painting.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92226-6
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xx)
    Walter S. Gibson
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xxi-xxviii)

    Some of the greatest masterpieces of seventeenth-century Dutch painting show quite prosaic scenery: a patch of dunes with a church spire or two rising in the distance, some cottages beside a road, a farm nestled among trees by a stretch of water. In a painting of 1631, Jan van Goyen depicts several weather-beaten old cottages and a dovecote in the dunes (Fig. 1). Even simpler is a landscape that Van Goyen painted in 1641, dominated by two ancient oaks silhouetted against a wide expanse of dune and sky (see Plate 5). A clump of trees and a tumbledown fence are...

  6. 1 Prologue: ANTWERP AND THE SMALL LANDSCAPES OF HIERONYMUS COCK
    (pp. 1-26)

    Claes Jansz Visscher’s etchings of pleasant places of about 1611–12 were produced by an Amsterdam printmaker to commemorate the countryside around the nearby city of Haarlem. Although this suite of landscape etchings played a vital role in inaugurating the rustic landscape in Holland, as we shall see, the birthplace of the rustic scene was neither Amsterdam nor Haarlem, but Antwerp in the previous century, more precisely in the two series of prints that Hieronymus Cock published in 1559 and 1561. Generally known today as theSmall Landscapes, their importance for the later Dutch landscape has long been acknowledged, but...

  7. 2 The Rustic Landscape in Holland: CLAES JANSZ VISSCHER
    (pp. 27-49)

    It was most probably through the new editions issued by the Galle firm in 1601 that thedorpshuysboeckenentered the Northern Netherlands to play a significant role in the early development of the Dutch rustic landscape. Within a period of scarcely more than fifteen or twenty years, the rustic landscape passed through three stages. The first stage began about 1600, possibly earlier, with drawings, some quite casual and often done after life, that artists made for their own use or for the enjoyment of colleagues and patrons. By the middle of the second decade, similar rural views appeared among the...

  8. 3 Scriptural Reading: ITS USES AND ABUSES
    (pp. 50-65)

    The rustic landscapes of the Dutch Golden Age were long considered to be nothing more than faithful transcriptions of nature, lacking “nothing in terms of natural realism,” as Constantijn Huygens wrote of the Netherlandish landscapists in general, “except the actual warmth of the sun and the movement of the air.”¹ Created, it seemed, by artists with no other motive than to record an attractive stretch of native countryside, these landscapes appeared as innocent of deeper meaning as a modern snapshot of a pleasant place taken during a summer vacation. They were faithful transcriptions of nature, modified only by the artist’s...

  9. 4 Painting for Pleasure: AN EXCURSUS
    (pp. 66-84)

    The landscape print series of Claes Jansz Visscher and Jan van de Velde present natural scenery, both domestic and foreign, not as images of the sinful “wilderness of the world,” as John Bunyan described it, and against whose seductions Jacobus Revius also warned, but as “pleasant places,” a concept that both artists stressed in a number of their title prints. These title prints suggest how contemporary viewers would have looked at such images; for purchasers unfamiliar with this relatively new landscape type in prints, these titles would have served as cues to shape their response to these scenes.¹ In any...

  10. 5 Pleasant Places: THE CASE OF HAARLEM
    (pp. 85-116)

    Why did the Dutch buy such copious numbers of prints and paintings showing views of their native countryside? More precisely, how did they respond to these images? We may find some answers to these questions if we turn to one of the earliest examples of the Dutch rustic landscape tradition in prints, thePlaisante Plaetsenpublished by Claes Jansz Visscher about 1611–12 (Figs. 58–69).¹ I have suggested that Visscher created this series of landscapes in artistic emulation of theSmall Landscapesfirst published by Hieronymus Cock, a number of which Visscher had already copied in a series of...

  11. 6 Labor and Leisure in the Dutch Countryside
    (pp. 117-140)

    Dutch landscape paintings, especially views of domestic scenery, are almost always inhabited by anonymous men, women, and occasionally children, who trudge down country roads, herd animals, milk cows and goats, and perform other agricultural tasks.¹ Or they may frequent some country inn, or simply lounge by the side of the road and gossip. It is hardly surprising that until recently, scant attention has been paid to these humble dwellers in the countryside. Their unimportance is suggested by the very term often used to designate such figures,staffage, a pseudo-French word inspired by the Germanstafirenorstaffieren, meaning “to decorate,...

  12. 7 Rustic Ruins
    (pp. 141-172)

    The Dutch rustic landscapes of the seventeenth century—paintings, prints, drawings—often display the e¤ects of weathering and material decay: the dilapidated farmhouse or outbuilding, the collapsing wall or roof, the sagging fence. The examples are endless. In a picture of 1631 by Jan van Goyen (see Fig. 1), the landscape is dominated by a ruinous old farmstead; in Van Goyen’s dune landscape dated in the same year, the chief feature is a derelict piece of fencing against which leans a rotting old door (Plate 12). Old and dilapidated cottages can be found in a number of Rembrandt’s landscape etchings,...

  13. Conclusion: DECEPTIVE VISIONS
    (pp. 173-178)

    The rustic scene first emerged as a major landscape subject in art in the Northern Netherlands during the first decades of the seventeenth century. It was not invented by the Dutch, however, but owes its origins to the enterprise of Hieronymus Cock who some half century before had published two sets of prints depicting farms, cottages, roads, and the like, presumably situated, as he stated on the title print of the first series, in the vicinity of Antwerp. Although intimations of the rustic landscape can be discerned in earlier Flemish art, especially in the backgrounds of figure paintings and in...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 179-236)
  15. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 237-260)
  16. Index
    (pp. 261-292)
  17. Plates
    (pp. 293-308)