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Jan Blanc
Université de Genève
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1205 Genève
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Historians of Netherlandish Art Conference
Ghent & Bruges 2018, 23-26 May 2018

Artists on the move: new methods, new directions

Session II - Thursday 24 May, 11.00 - 12.30

Organizers and Session Chairs: Jan Blanc (Université de Genève), Marije Osnabrugge (Université de Genève)

The mobility of artists is an omnipresent phenomenon throughout the history of art. Its great significance for Netherlandish art in the sixteenth andseventeenth century has made it  a recurrent component of research, even more so with the recent emergence of migration studies. In the early modern period, over a thousand Dutch and Flemish artists spent a short or longer period outside their region of origin.

In some cases, a study trip sufficed to satisfy an artist’s ‘urge to travel’ (reislust), whereas others left never to return. The mobility of Netherlandish artists, as well as the short or longer stays of foreign artists in the Netherlands, had an undeniable impact on the development of Netherlandish art, both in terms of the careers of individual artists and on art as a whole. Individual artists needed to adapt to new environments, with different social and cultural rules and artistic and economic contexts. The absence from their home region, presence abroad and the journey itself, all left their marks on their life and artistic development. Meanwhile, local artists and patrons were confronted with the existence of art elsewhere, forcing them to place local art and artistic practices within an international context and indeed question the identity, if not the proper definition, of ‘local’ art.


Programme

Sander Kast (Utrecht) 

“I will do well enough to get to the top - leave that to me”. Network strategies of Dutch migrant artists in The Hague and London

Stefania Girometti (Heidelberg / Paris) 

More than reislust: The Flemish painter Michele Desubleo and mobility as success factor

Abigail D. Newman (Ghent / Antwerp) 

Translating collaboration: ‘Flemish’ floral garlands in Spain

Abstracts

Sander Kast (Utrecht)

“I will do well enough to get to the top - leave that to me”. Network strategies of Dutch migrant artists in The Hague and London

The aim of my PhD-project, The Impact of Dutch 17th-Century Painting on the British Art World, is to show how, through the migration of artists, Dutch Golden Age painting contributed to the rise of the English School of Painting during the long eighteenth century. As is well known, before the eighteenth century, the English did not have a strong tradition in painting and depended on continental artists such as Van Dyck, Lely, Verelst, Wissing, Kneller and Schalcken. As I show in my dissertation, this lack of locally born and trained artists was an important incentive for Dutch artists to migrate to England. Between 1660 and 1710, a total of 180 Dutch artists were working in England, with most of them clustering in and around the area of Covent Garden in London. This colony of Dutch artists formed a creative cluster there which brought about a transfer of artistic skills and knowledge.


In the paper, I will show that the majority of these migrant artists had been trained in The Hague, had moved to The Hague prior to their migration and/or made use of the international network of courtiers, politicians and diplomats in the Dutch court city in order to get a foothold in England. The image of The Hague as a hub for the migration of artists which arises from my research can be explained with the art literature from the time in which young artists are encouraged to pursue wealth and fame by trying to obtain the favor of, in Goeree’s words, “Koningen, Prinssen, Vorsten en Heeren”. In order to achieve wealth and fame, artists were advised to get into contact with people of standing who could introduce them to people higher on the social ladder.


In Dutch art literature it Is often emphasized that, in order to climb the social ladder successfully, artists had to show courtly behavior. Whereas most Dutch authors only touch upon this topic very briefly, one of them, Samuel van Hoogstraten, writes about it at length in his courtier's handbook Den Eerlyken Jongeling. In this handbook, Van Hoogstraten describes how a young ambitious man could ‘befriend’ people at court, and use these friendships to get introduced to other people. The kind of social bonds which Van Hoogstraten and other authors advised artists to establish is what we would now call a “patron-client relationship”, a term from cultural anthropology. By making use of correspondence between artists and their brokers and patrons, I will show that the strategies described in Dutch art literature and courtier handbooks were actually used in practice by artists in The Hague and that, in several cases, the network activities of these artists resulted in a career in England. So, instead of focusing on migrations patters alone, I will uncover the conventions, behavior and use of the language shaping these migrations patterns and demonstrate that they adapted their work to the English courtly style along the way.

Stefania Girometti (Heidelberg / Paris) 

More than reislust: The Flemish painter Michele Desubleo and mobility as success factor

Conforming to the contemporary Zeitgeist, the Maubeuge-born painter Michel Desoubleay, called Michele Desubleo or Michele Fiammingo (1602-1676), left Flanders for Rome before 1624. Once there, he was helped by his renowned stepbrother Nicolas Régnier and was introduced into his well-developed business network. Like some of his fellow Flemish painters he never returned to Flanders but rather spent his whole career working for prestigious patrons in North and Central Italy. After Rome, he worked in Guido Reni’s Bolognese atelier and remained in the papal city until 1652, teaching at the local Accademia Ghisilieri.


On the one hand, his mobility led him to deal with different artistic practices, contexts and patrons. Recent technical analysis on Desubleo’s paintings done within the author’s PhD thesis revealed for the first time how even the pigments he used were affected by his travels. On the other hand, the commercial rise of the art market, its high concurrence and the survival problem linked with it also are factors to consider when examining his case. When investigating the strategies foreign painters used to construct their artistic identity outside their home region, we must bear in mind that they were furthering their public perception according to their current environment. Desubleo succeeded in creating a solid business network, showing the positive outcomes mobility had on his mediation between “local” traditions and his own style.


Desubleo represents a case-study of a talented and yet still relatively unknown Flemish painter, whose style was appreciated by his contemporaries, with thanks to its hybridity. Until his late career in Venice and Parma, he joined various, sometimes hostile, artistic communities. By investigating the strategies he developed to insert himself into these professional networks, this paper aims to contribute in two ways to the session’s methodological discussion about artists on the move. Firstly, by answering the question about how Desubleo succeeded in proving his talent in a new and often hostile context. How freely did he move across different networks and artistic communities? Can we still identify any marks of this mediation process in his paintings? Secondly, the paper will consider to what extent mobility has been a crucial factor both for Desubleo’s success and for his rapid oblivion. Which consequences had the contemporary sources on Desubleo’s (missing) placement within the Netherlandish art historical canon? What role did the “travel factor” play in this? Raising these and other closely related questions would enhance the necessary rethinking of the travel impact on Flemish artists’ careers and open new perspectives on less investigated painters like Michele Desubleo.


Abigail D. Newman (Ghent / Antwerp) 

Translating collaboration: ‘Flemish’ floral garlands in Spain

In their peregrinations across Europe and beyond, Flemish artists proved highly adept at translation: whether literally in the linguistic modification of their names as they integrated into foreign cultures or in the translation of techniques and artistic values. This paper considers the Flemish artistic practice of collaboration and how it was translated and transformed in one particular foreign context. In examining how ideas and practices related to collaboration travelled and evolved, it confronts the role of immigrants and their children in these transmissions and the implications of such movements.


Collaboration was a distinguishing aspect of Flemish painting practice, particularly in Antwerp. Prized by collectors, the practice was also structurally encouraged by the city’s painters’ guild, which fostered a cooperative environment. While this spirit undergirded workshop production and the execution of multi-work projects, it also nurtured the practice in which two artists painted together on one support, with the contributions of each remaining recognisable. Such collaboratively painted works appealed both locally and abroad.


One particularly eager market was the Madrid court, a centre that also boasted a vibrant community of Flemish immigrant artists and their children. Both imported paintings and Flemish artists active ‘on the ground’ decisively contributed to the reception of this form in Spain and the somewhat selective translation of the artistic practice that generated it. Antwerp collaborations usually entailed a figure painter collaborating with a specialist in landscapes, seascapes, architectural paintings or still lifes, particularly those with animals or flowers. All of these arrived in Spain, where a range of inventories, shipment lists and art treatises attest to the high regard for such paintings and their viewers’ attentiveness to the respective contributions of each painter. The writer of a 1636 inventory of Madrid’s Alcázar Palace, describing Rubens’ and Brueghel’s series of the senses, delighted in the detailed enumeration of each artist’s contribution. Collaboratively painted works by less renowned masters also often retained both their creators’ names (e.g. a 1675 Madrid inventory mentions two landscapes ‘from the hand of  bandestoquen, little figures by Gentil’, probably referring to collaborations by Ignatius van der Stock and Louis Cousin).


Although Spanish artists adopted many Flemish genre specialties, it was only in the genre of floral garlands surrounding a central image that the Flemish collaborative process was retained. This artistic process was evidently seen as integral to the genre itself. Artists from Flemish immigrant families – who were particularly well-informed on artistic developments in the Low Countries – played a fundamental role in transmitting this process to their Spanish colleagues. Juan van der Hamen y León, the Madrid-born son of a Flemish immigrant, experimented extensively in this genre in the late 1620s. Another principal exponent was Gabriel de la Corte, the son and grandson of Flemish immigrant painters. Van der Hamen and De la Corte worked within a close-knit group of Madrid flower and figure painters, bound by familial and professional ties.


Why was it only in this one Flemish genre that the collaborative process of production ‘translated’ so smoothly into the Spanish context? The particular devotional qualities of Flemish garland paintings, this paper will argue, were crucial not only to their enthusiastic reception in Spain, but also to how and why this production process was embraced in this genre and not in others in Spain. Artists from Flemish families played a critical role in this ‘translation’ of artistic practice.