Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Visible World

The Visible World: Samuel van Hoogstraten's Art Theory and the Legitimation of Painting in the Dutch Golden Age

Thijs Weststeijn
Beverley Jackson
Lynne Richards
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 512
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Visible World
    Book Description:

    How did painters and their public speak about art in Rembrandt's age? This book about the writings of the painter-poet Samuel van Hoogstraten, one of Rembrandt's pupils, examines a wide variety of themes from painting practice and theory from the Dutch Golden Age. It addresses the contested issue of 'Dutch realism' and its hidden symbolism, as well as Rembrandt's concern with representing emotions in order to involve the spectator. Diverse aspects of imitation and illusion come to the fore, such as the theory behind sketchy or 'rough' brushwork and the active role played by the viewer's imagination. Taking as its starting point discussions in Rembrandt's studio, this unique study provides an ambitious overview of Dutch artists' ideas on painting. The Visible World was awarded the Jan van Gelder Prize in 2009. "Thijs Weststeijn's book ... is destined to become one of the principal bibles for those who even remotely wish to read and understand Samuel van Hoogstraten's thinking ... written in clear, elegant language", Jan Blanc in Simiolus 33/4 (2007-8). "By asking purposeful questions about Dutch Baroque art theory and Van Hoogstraten's place within it, Thijs Weststeijn has provided convincing and thoughtful answers, and made a most appreciated and masterful contribution to the field." Amy Golahny in Sehepunkte 10 (2010), nr. 6. "[Weststeijn] shows persuasively how Van Hoogstraten's Inleyding is rooted in the tradition of classical rhetoric and philosophy ... Chapters about aspects discussed in detail in the Inleyding, such as pictorial imitation, coloring and the depiction of emotion, reveal that Van Hoogstraten's perspective on the theory of art was an idiosyncratic one ... Weststeijn supposes at various moments in his book that Samuel van Hoogstraten wanted in particular to provide a legitimation for Rembrandt's painting practice by writing down the ideas that he must have heard in the latter's studio." Bram de Klerck in NRC Handelsblad, 13 February 2009. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0789-4
    Subjects: Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-5)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 6-8)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgements
    (pp. 9-10)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 11-22)

    ‘Is there a Baroque theory of art?’ The art historian Jan Białostocki posed this famous question in an article in which he set out to define the specific characteristics of seventeenth-century ideas about painting, as distinct from the older tradition. He was responding to the prevailing view that only fifteenth-and sixteenth-century artists wrote about their profession in an interesting manner.¹ His question is most relevant in relation to Dutch art: is there a theory of Northern Netherlandish painting in its so-called ‘Golden Age’? Godfried Hoogewerff, noting in 1939 that Dutch painters had not written a great deal, concluded: ‘We find...

  5. Chapter I Samuel van Hoogstraten in the Republic of Letters
    (pp. 25-80)

    In 1924, Julius von Schlosser declared that Dutch painters took no interest in literature and that art theory left them cold. ‘The very country that developed an art which, while being wholly independent and self-contained, also revealed and paved the way for the work of the moderns, the Netherlands, most notably Holland, was vastly uncommunicative in its main utterances’. Van Hoogstraten did not succeed in bridging this gap, in Von Schlosser’s view: ‘The great didactic poem by the Rembrandt pupil Samuel van Hoogstraten of Dordrecht shows him to be a thorough classicist and rhetorician in the Romanic tradition ... Such...

  6. Chapter II The Visible World
    (pp. 83-120)

    Van Hoogstraten begins his introductory address ‘To the Reader’ by expressing his desire to invest the art of painting with a status among the liberal arts. He wants to contribute to the tradition of art theory so as to make plain that his profession is more than a craft, since ‘this art encompasses the entireVisible World; and ... there is scarcely a single art or science of which it is fitting for a Painter to remain ignorant’ (italics SvH). The argument that painting requires a thorough grounding in numerous fields of knowledge had already been put forward by Alberti;...

  7. Chapter III Pictorial Imitation
    (pp. 123-168)

    Van Hoogstraten describes the art of painting as ‘a mirror of nature’ and an ‘ape of nature’. Imitation is evidently a key element in his art theory. Early modern views of this theme are fairly complex, and a variety of associations cling to the ideas set forth in theInleyding. In the Renaissance, the imitation of nature was frequently regarded as inextricably bound up with the imitation of examples and models.¹ Julius Caesar Scaliger’sPoeticsgoes so far as to discuss these two forms of imitation as variants of the same mode of expression: ‘We have a method of expressing...

  8. Chapter IV The Depiction of the Passions
    (pp. 171-216)

    In the introduction to hisSchoone Roselijn, Van Hoogstraten equates his painting with his writing on the grounds that they have a common aim – to depict the human passions: ‘Poetry is a sister, indeed a part, of my GoddessPictura, and consequently I changed my hand, but not my mind [when I exchanged the brush for the pen], contemplating, reflecting on, and considering the emotions and passions of men.’¹

    The quotation illustrates how in Van Hoogstraten’s theory of art, the passions play a role in the comparison between painting and poetry or drama, and in his project to raise the...

  9. Chapter V The Eloquence of Colour
    (pp. 219-266)

    An artist’s powers of persuasion do not depend solely on the representation of human figures in a dramatic context. He can also, says Van Hoogstraten, add to the persuasiveness of his work by means of his painting manner, his style. Indeed, the early modern theory of art postulates that colours and tonal values have a direct emotional effect. While passions are deemed to affect the complexion, so, conversely, the sight of colour is believed to have an immediate effect on the inner being.

    The title page of the sixth chapter of theInleyding, which is devoted to colour, shows a...

  10. Chapter VI Painting as a Mirror of Nature
    (pp. 269-326)

    Van Hoogstraten’s comparison of a painting to ‘a mirror of Nature, which makes things seem to be that are not’, is probably the best-known quotation from theInleyding. He holds that art ‘reflects the whole of nature’, calls it a ‘sister of reflexive Philosophy’ and describes the general tasks of painters in terms of ‘infinite reflections’.¹ This mirror metaphor is not as simple as it may appear: it relates to the deceptive quality of the image produced by the painter. The positive appreciation of deception that sounds in the metaphor was developed primarily in the classical theory of rhetoric. Indeed,...

  11. Excursus: Painting as a ‘Sister of Philosophy’
    (pp. 329-351)

    Thus far we have looked at Van Hoogstraten’s ideological underpinning of an art that reflects and contemplates the visible world primarily from the perspective of ancient philosophy, in particular Stoicism and Aristotelianism. This chapter will examine the ideological context of his ideas from another perspective: instead of looking at the classical tradition, it endeavours to determine the influence of a contemporary philosophical debate that Van Hoogstraten was introduced to by his friend Willem van Blijenberg.

    Although his theory is manifestly determined by concepts from antiquity, it nonetheless contains a clearly discernable shift away from the ideas of predecessors like Van...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 353-360)

    Was there such a thing as a theory of the art of the baroque? What conclusions can be drawn from the multiplicity of material that has been discussed in this study, in which the issue of investing seventeenth-century painting with theoretical legitimacy has served as a heuristic guideline? This study of theInleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonsthas proved, one may hope, that the barrenness of Hoogewerff’s ‘arctic expanse’ was an ill-chosen metaphor for the climate of art theory in the Netherlands. Contrary to Julius von Schlosser’s view of Van Hoogstraten as an uninspired exponent of official theory,...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 361-442)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 443-462)
  15. Index of subjects
    (pp. 463-467)
  16. Index of names
    (pp. 468-472)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 473-476)