Peasant Scenes and Landscapes

Peasant Scenes and Landscapes: The Rise of Pictorial Genres in the Antwerp Art Market

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 392
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Peasant Scenes and Landscapes
    Book Description:

    Modern viewers take for granted the pictorial conventions present in easel paintings and engraved prints of such subjects as landscapes or peasants. These generic subjects and their representational conventions, however, have their own origins and early histories. In sixteenth-century Antwerp, painting and the emerging new medium of engraving began to depart from traditional visual culture, which had been defined primarily by wall paintings, altarpieces, and portraits of the elite. New genres and new media arose simultaneously in this volatile commercial and financial capital of Europe, home to the first open art market near the city Bourse. The new pictorial subjects emerged first as hybrid images, dominated by religious themes but also including elements that later became pictorial categories in their own right: landscapes, food markets, peasants at work and play, and still-life compositions. In addition to being the place of the origin and evolution of these genres, the Antwerp art market gave rise to the concept of artistic identity, in which favorite forms and favorite themes by an individual artist gained consumer recognition.

    InPeasant Scenes and Landscapes, Larry Silver examines the emergence of pictorial kinds-scenes of taverns and markets, landscapes and peasants-and charts their evolution as genres from initial hybrids to more conventionalized artistic formulas. The relationship of these new genres and their favorite themes reflect a burgeoning urbanism and capitalism in Antwerp, and Silver analyzes how pictorial genres and the Antwerp marketplace fostered the development of what has come to be known as "signature" artistic style. By examining Bosch and Bruegel, together with their imitators, he focuses on pictorial innovation as well as the marketing of individual styles, attending particularly to the growing practice of artists signing their works. In addition, he argues that consumer interest in the style of individual artists reinforced another phenomenon of the later sixteenth century: art collecting. While today we take such typical artistic formulas as commonplace, along with their frequent use of identifying signatures (a Rothko, a Pollock),Peasant Scenes and Landscapesshows how these developed simultaneously in the commercial world of early modern Antwerp.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0743-9
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION: “Cultural Selection” and the Origins of Pictorial Species
    (pp. 1-15)

    Modern viewers of art take for granted the conventional formulas of easel paintings that adhere to expectations of pictorial genre, such as landscape or “genre” painting (scenes of “daily life” and “ordinary” people). Yet these categories have their own origins and early histories, and the easel paintings that constitute their principal medium—as well as another vital new medium, inexpensive prints—did not always exist in a visual culture composed primarily of wall paintings or altarpieces and portraits of the elite.

    As we shall see, the rise of these pictorial genres and their media coincided. Sixteenth-century Antwerp, the most volatile...

    (pp. 16-25)

    Over the span of the sixteenth century, the Brabant port city of Antwerp on the river Scheldt bestrode the economic world of Europe like a colossus.¹ Up to the end of the fifteenth century, Antwerp had served as the site of prosperous annual trade fairs (along with nearby Bergen-op-Zoom), where imported textiles from the English Merchant Adventurers competed with nearby Flemish textile industries for the Continental market. Trade “colonies” from rival Bruges, particularly the Hanseatic Germans, the Spaniards, and a variety of Italian merchant groups, established local communities in the city and began to filter business.² Indeed, their move was...

  7. CHAPTER 3 TOWN AND COUNTRY: Painted Worlds of Early Landscapes
    (pp. 26-52)

    Consider this scenario: Serious pictorial production began to get underway in the boom town during the teens of the new century. Thereafter local images showed an increasing dominance of certain stereotypical subjects. These resulted partly from copying famous models and partly from the demands of finding ready buyers for the new works. Increasingly the middle classes of the city began to be familiar with those models and their pictorial formulas, which in turn stimulated new, more rapid production of the same pictorial types. What started out as the innovative, if hybrid works of a few visual pioneers soon became by...

    (pp. 53-86)

    All that urban growth and financial activity in the city of Antwerp during the early sixteenth century (Chapter 2) inevitably influenced art-making. As a result, new themes engaging urban problems and the money economy formed a new kind of painting. Today these scenes are usually defined in a group called “genre subjects” by scholars, based upon the dismissive categorization of such themes as inferior by the critics of the French Academy of the late seventeenth century.¹ “Everyday” subjects, however, whether involving labor or leisure, were often produced in combination with a sacred subject, like the landscape paintings and prints examined...

    (pp. 87-102)

    Like the cases of world landscapes and commercial images, scenes of markets and kitchens began as hybrid works, with attached religious subjects presented in miniature in the background. Also like the landscapes, which came to include peasant laborers and eventually began to exclude both religious and mythological scenes from their settings, the new foundations of what would later be called “still life” soon began to take on an increasingly secular character, a world composed exclusively of peasants hawking produce in the market or servants preparing meals in the kitchens of these large panels. Sometimes the presence of the human figures...

    (pp. 103-132)

    Examination of landscape images from the early sixteenth century showed—after about half a century of imagery with religious (sometimes mythological) narratives in these expanded-setting easel paintings and prints—that landscapes with peasants were introduced shortly after mid-century. In similar fashion, we have seen how pictures with moral concerns, first addressed in an urban context of tavern scenes and countinghouses, shifted increasingly after mid-century into a marketplace setting dominated by peasant produce vendors. Perhaps not surprisingly, Pieter Aertsen, who principally introduced the figures of peasant vendors into hybrid religious subjects (Chapter 5), also produced some of the first images of...

  11. CHAPTER 7 SECOND BOSCH: Family Resemblance and the Marketing of Art
    (pp. 133-160)

    If Buckminster Fuller could summarize his own contributions to twentieth-century futuristic inventions by asserting that “I seem to be a verb,” then the artistic contributions of Hieronymus Bosch to the history of Netherlandish painting in the “long” sixteenth century could be aptly encompassed by another proposition—that he became an entire pictorial category. The best sign of Bosch’s success with his artistic descendants can be found in the several testimonials after mid-century that dubbed Pieter Bruegel a “second Bosch.” Such testimonials begin already in 1572 with the verse tribute by Domenicus Lampsonius appended to an engraved portrait of Bruegel: “Who...

  12. CHAPTER 8 DESCENT FROM BRUEGEL I: From Flanders to Holland
    (pp. 161-185)

    Only recently has the importance of the Bruegel tradition been acknowledged for the North Netherlands, because of the anachronistic separation of art history scholarship between Flemish and Dutch art traditions along the modern national borders between Belgium and the Netherlands.¹ Attending simultaneously to artists on both sides of the river Scheldt—including in particular those Flemish artists who migrated northward after 1585—actually underscores the ranges of Bruegel’s extended influence, even while showing the decisive evolution of his own pictorial ideas into new but related ideas of landscape and figure groups. Both the forms and contents of this next generation...

  13. CHAPTER 9 DESCENT FROM BRUEGEL II: Flemish Friends and Family
    (pp. 186-207)

    For Flemish art, particularly the continuing tradition in Antwerp itself, Bruegel continued to serve as a model, not least because of the ongoing production of paintings by his sons: Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564–1637/38), who most often made literal copies after the compositions of his father; and Jan Brueghel (1568–1625), the more inventive artist (and sometime collaborator with Rubens and other artists).¹ Perhaps more surprisingly, Rubens himself occasionally took Bruegel as a model and painted “in Flemish,” both for scenes of peasant festivities (such as Rubens’s LouvreKermis; Figure 9.1) and for panoramic landscapes with peasant labors (Figure...

  14. CHAPTER 10 TRICKLE-DOWN GENRES: The “Curious” Cases of Flowers and Seascapes
    (pp. 208-225)

    The career of Jan Brueghel shows us how complex generalizations about genre formation can be. We have seen Jan reprising some of the oldest traditions of sixteenth-century Flemish painting, including both world landscapes (going back to Patinir) and hell scenes (going back to Bosch), both staples transmitted on to him by his father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. In the process, of course, he also infused his own refinements to the images, working on a small scale with exquisite delicacy of color and brushwork and often combining these familiar forms with altered subject matter, such as the mythological subjects within the...

  15. CHAPTER 11 CONCLUSIONS: Value and Values in the Capital of Capitalism
    (pp. 226-234)

    Pictorial genres crystallize into conventions only after a period of experimentation. Their eventual characteristics emerge out of a pathway of successes, imitated by later successors striving for similar results (genres are made out of other genres, asserts Tzvetan Todorov).¹ As noted in the previous chapters on individual themes, genres usually begin as complex hybrids, and only in retrospect does their trajectory seem apparent. More unsuccessful ventures find few successors, so the defining features of themes and forms often seem to have been inevitable from the start. Sometimes the variants overlap simultaneously in a given moment.

    For example, later in the...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 235-316)
    (pp. 317-352)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 353-370)
    (pp. 371-373)