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The Learned Eye

The Learned Eye: Regarding Art, Theory, and the Artist's Reputation

Ernst van de Wetering
Marieke van den Doel
Natasja van Eck
Gerbrand Korevaar
Anna Tummers
Thijs Weststeijn
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    The Learned Eye
    Book Description:

    The 'learned eye' or oculus eruditus was a concept used by seventeenth-century writers on painting. It illustrated their view that the ideal artist was not only skilled in painting techniques, but also had knowledge of the history of art and an interest in poetry and literature. In this book, dedicated to Rembrandt scholar Ernst van de Wetering, the 'learned eye' refers to the experienced eye of the art historian, the curator, or the restorer. More specifically, the concept explains an issue central to understanding seventeenth-century art and its context: the artist's concern with the intellectual and social status of his profession. The book contains contributions on Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Frans Hals, Poussin and others, all linked by the theme of the 'learned eye', focusing on studio practice, theory of art, or the development of the artist's self-image. These themes reflect the scope of research and teaching of Ernst van de Wetering who first trained as an artist before becoming an art historian. Since 1987 he has been professor of art history at the University of Amsterdam, and, for more than ten years, the inspiring leader of the Rembrandt Research Project. The importance of starting with the art object itself is a familiar concept to anyone who has attended the lectures of Ernst van de Wetering, whose own familiarity with the painter's craft, with Rembrandt's studio practice, and the history of art has 'opened the eyes' of many. This book brings together essays by some of Van de Wetering's students, colleagues and friends, who were influenced in different ways by his approach to the art of painting. The contributors touch on four main issues. The first concerns material aspects of the work of art. Second, these findings are confronted with the rules of art that were recorded by contemporaries. Third, the 'learned eye' figures as part of the artists' desire to enhance the status of their profession. The fourth issue situates painting in its context of patrons and art lovers, who wanted to learn the basic principles of painting and obtain 'eruditos oculos' themselves.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0538-8
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-7)
    (pp. 9-16)

    ‘In painting one has to have learned eyes.’This is one of theParadoxaformulated by Cicero,¹ a phrase that was taken up eagerly by authors writing on painting in the Italian Renaissance, looking for classical authorities to quote from.² It was also rephrased by Dutch theorists of the seventeenth century and adapted to the art of their time. Franciscus Junius, in the Dutch edition of hisThe painting of the ancients,talks about the necessity of‘een Konst-gheleerd oogh’– ‘a learned eye’.³ Junius was not a painter himself but a philologist with a dilettante’s experience in drawing; he wrote...


    • In the Beginning There Was Red
      (pp. 18-27)

      Red is one of the oldest colours used by man. Already in prehistoric times, some 35,000 years ago, red earth was used in European cave paintings. Also, the 71 pieces of red ochre that were recently discovered in the ca. 100,000 year old Qafzeh cave in Israel were, judging by the anatomically modern humans living there,Homo sapiens sapiens– clearly chosen for their red colour. Researchers say that the red ochre found in the cave supports the controversial theory that symbolic thinking, a hallmark of modern-day human thought, arose deep in the Stone Age.¹ The pieces of red ochre pigment...

    • The Use of Wood in Rembrandt’s Workshop. Wood Identification and Dendrochronological Analyses
      (pp. 28-37)

      Though art historians in general are more observative towards the frontside of paintings, the back can be of great interest too.* Backs often carry stickers and inscriptions that give telling insides into the painting’s provenance. But the support itself can also contain a wealth of information. Seemingly endless afternoons of thread-counting by members of the Rembrandt Research Project have generated valuable knowledge on the use of canvas in seventeenth-century workshops, and especially in Rembrandt’s studio.¹ The same is true for Rembrandt’s use of wood as a support, though the counting and measuring was this time mainly carried out by dendrochronological...

    • Rembrandt’s Drawing The Raising of the Cross in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
      (pp. 39-46)

      In 1961 I drew attention to a drawing representingThe Raising of the Crossin the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (FIG. 1). I discussed it briefly and illustrated it in my long review of Benesch’s six-volume ‘Corpus’ of Rembrandt drawings in theKunstchronik.¹ I discussed the drawing, which in Boston was classified as ‘School of Rembrandt’, as a copy of a lost original, and analyzed briefly its place between Rembrandt’sThe Raising of the Crossin black chalk in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam (Ben. 6: ca. 1627/28) (FIG. 2) and the painting in Munich, one of...

    • The Portrait of Theodorus Schrevelius
      (pp. 47-56)

      Theodorus Schrevelius (1572-1649), started his career as a schoolmaster in Haarlem and was headmaster of the Latin school in Leiden from 1625 to 1642. In this article I will draw attention to a painted portrait of this famous humanist and historiographer, which was, as I will argue, made by Frans Hals (FIG. 1). Two engraved copies after this painting exist: one by Jacob Matham (1571-1631) (FIG. 2) and one by Jonas Suyderhoef (ca. 1613-1686) (FIG. 3), to which a poem by Caspar Barleaus has been added. The two engravings and their respective differences are essential in determining the authorship of...


    • The Contours in the Paintings of the Oranjezaal, Huis ten Bosch
      (pp. 59-85)

      In obtaining a convincing three-dimensional illusion on the painting’s flat surface, the contours of the forms depicted play an important role. Indeed, it is not just the modelling with light and shade that gives the effect of rounding and depth, the rendering of the outer boundaries of the figures is equally important in realizing these effects. In Netherlandish painting of the seventeenth century, one of the most important pictorial ambitions was to achieve a convincing illusion of reality, and the manner in which the contours were rendered was a major consideration for painters. In hisDe Schilder-konst der Oude(1641),...

    • Aelbert Cuyp’s Innovative Use of Spatial Devices
      (pp. 87-98)

      When Aelbert Cuyp (1620-1691) grew up in his hometown of Dordrecht, the city did not have a strong artistic tradition.¹ The most well-known painter of a generation before Aelbert was his own father Jacob (1594-1651/2), who had specialized in portraiture. In the field of landscape painting, there were virtually no painters of significance and when the City Council decided to commission a large panoramic picture of Dordrecht for the city hall in 1629, the assignment was awarded not to a local artist but to Adam Willaerts (1577-1664), a Utrecht painter of Flemish descent (FIG. 1). Cuyp was nine years old...

    • Colour Symbolism in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Painting
      (pp. 99-110)

      In Ernst van de Wetering’s wonderfully insightful bookRembrandt. The Painter at Work, we learn much about the artist’s craft, not only about the materials with which he worked, but also about how he used them.¹ We are told, for example, about the size and character of the painter’s palette, and how it changed over time. We learn about the types of paints that artists placed on their palettes, and the reasons for their arrangements. Ernst explains about the nature of the support, and about the build-up of paint from the ground layers to the uppermost glazes. He discusses the...

    • Rembrandt and Rhetoric. The Concepts of affectus, enargeia and ornatus in Samuel van Hoogstraten’s Judgement of His Master
      (pp. 111-130)

      In this essay I will try to shed new light on the period appreciation of Rembrandt departing from rhetoric. The view that Dutch art theory was essentially in favour of a ‘classicist’ doctrine, and critical towards Rembrandt as a painter who putatively did not obey to the ‘rules of art’, can be substantially modified.¹ From my analysis of Samuel van Hoogstraten’s treatise, theInleyding tot de Hooge Schoole der Schilderkonst, Rembrandt emerges as a ‘rhetorical’ painter. As is well known, Van Hoogstraten’s treatise probably contains vivid reflections of the practises of speaking and thinking about art in Rembrandt’s studio, where...


    • ‘A Record and Memorial of his Talents for Posterity’: Anthony van Dyck’s Sketch of the Garter Procession
      (pp. 133-139)

      Van Dyck’s largest and most important oil sketch is a grisaille showing the Knights of the Order of the Garter taking part in a procession held annually on St. George’s Day, April 23rd(FIG. 1). The King, Charles I, can be clearly made out beneath a canopy on the left hand side of the composition. The oil sketch records an extremely important but sadly uncompleted royal commission for a series of large tapestries which were to have hung in Inigo Jones’s Banqueting House at Whitehall, beneath the great painted ceiling by Rubens.¹ A discussion of this remarkable work, which has...

    • ‘Das Werk erdacht und cirkulirt’. The Position of Architects at the Court of King Ferdinand I of Bohemia and His Son, Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria
      (pp. 140-149)

      The triforium of the Saint Vitus cathedral at the Prague castle is decorated with a series of busts. This series, which is dated 1374, shows next to the bust of the Bohemian king Charles IV, his family and some prominent members of his court. The architects Matthias of Arras en Peter Parler share a remarkably prominent position on the same level as their patron. Portraits of builders are not rare in gothic churches; they appear quite often and have even been called traditional.¹ It is therefore not Parler’s appearance that surprises, but the fact that his portrait has the same...

    • Crossing the Wall of History. Etienne Delécluze on the Art and Morality of Jacques-Louis David
      (pp. 151-157)

      For recent centuries we have a choice variety of tools at our disposal to prove that this or that event indeed occurred at such and such a time, and the wonderful side-effect of these tools is that they give us more information than we explicitly asked for. Thus on the day when Queen Mother Juliana died, many films were shown, giving astonishing evidence of the changes in the way people behaved only fifty-odd years ago. For one thing the way they moved from A to B was quite different from ours – stiffer, in a way, less fluent, as if they...

    • Goltzius, Painting and Flesh; or, Why Goltzius Began to Paint in 1600
      (pp. 158-178)

      For many visitors to the spectacular Goltzius exhibition held in 2003 in Amsterdam, New York and Toledo,¹ the paintings would have come as a surprise. After admiring around 175 more or less chronologically arranged drawings, engravings and penworks, delicate virtuoso performances in the handling of line, one suddenly came to a group of eleven large and colourful paintings with rather naturalistic life-size figures, that seemed far removed from Goltzius’ work as a draftsman and engraver. Visitors may have wondered why Goltzius started to paint so suddenly and why so late in his career? Apart from that, many of them may...


    • ‘Pour mon honneur et pour vostre contentement’: Nicolas Poussin, Paul Fréart de Chantelou and the Making and Collecting of Copies
      (pp. 181-189)

      On 25 July 1665, Gian Lorenzo Bernini visited Paul Fréart de Chantelou’s collection in the latter’s Paris residence on the Rue Saint Thomas du Louvre. With the permission of his patron, Pope Alexander VII, Bernini had travelled to France to work on the expansion of the Louvre. Louis XIV excused Chantelou from his duties at court asmaitre d’hotelin order to assist the celebrated Italian architect and sculptor during his approximately five-month sojourn in the French capital. Chantelou kept a diary during this period in which he assiduously charted the progress of the Louvre expansion plans as well as...

    • Gerard de Lairesse and Jacob de Wit in situ
      (pp. 190-205)

      As one steps out of Ernst van de Wetering’s headquarters, the Kunsthistorisch Instituut at 286 Herengracht in Amsterdam, a turn in either direction, but especially to the right, will lead one past seventeenth- and eighteenth-century houses on both sides of the canal, as well as more recent structures. This experience, repeated week after week and year after year, would contribute to a sense of neighbourhood, and of familiarity and continuity in the course of daily life. If we look back over decades, however, a different picture emerges, one that the historian or any thoughtful person will understand, even without the...

    • ‘The Painter he findes at his Easill at worke’
      (pp. 206-213)

      Ernst and I first met in spring 1965. In the woodlands of Friesland a ‘Romantic Week’ had been organised by way of farewell to Henk Schulte Nordholt from his admiring students. Their professor was leaving for Rome and found it important to recount once again his beloved stories aboutHerzensergiessungen eines kunstliebenden Klosterbruders. To tell about Novalis and Caspar David Friedrich, about Arnold Böcklin and Jakob Burckhardt. So in the daytime we attended lectures and went for walks. In the evening we would listen together to such delights as Janet Baker singing arias from Berlioz. At that time there was...

  8. Bibliography of Ernst van de Wetering
    (pp. 214-221)
  9. About the Authors
    (pp. 222-224)
  10. Index of Names
    (pp. 225-228)