May 17, 2007

Arent van Bolten

Detai from a sheet from the British Museum album of Arent van Bolten's drawings.I’d never heard the name Arent van Bolten until I saw this post at the excellent Monster Brains weblog, with an intriguing photograph of a grotesque bronze statuette, and a similarly weird engraving. My subsequent searches turned up very little useful information about this artist, except for some notices of exhibitions in which his work had been featured. I gathered that the catalogue of one such exhibition (Dawn of the Golden Age—Northern Netherlandish Art 1580-1620: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Dec. ’93 - Mar. ’94), contained some reproductions of van Bolten’s work (and a great deal else besides—this was supposedly one of the largest exhibitions ever staged in Holland), and I hastened to order a copy of it. The images that follow were scanned from its pages.

Print by Pierre Firens(?) after a design by Arent van Bolten, ca. 1604-16.

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Print by Pierre Firens(?) after a design by Arent van Bolten, ca. 1604-16.

The known facts of van Bolten’s life and work are few. He was born at Zwolle ca. 1573. He is known to have been in Italy in 1596 and 1602. By 1603 he was back in his home-town, where he married one Birgitta Lantinck. The couple had eight children. He was a silversmith by profession. At some point he moved with his family from Zwolle to Leeuwarden, where he died, ca. 1633.

Van Bolten’s reputation, however, rests mainly on his drawings, and in particular on the album in the British Museum that bears the title “BOLTEN VAN SWOL/TEEKENINGE” The drawings range from ornament, objects in precious metals, grotesque figures and monsters, to figural scenes from the Bible and mythology, the Shrovetide carnival, the commedia dell’arte and peasant life.
Print by Pierre Firens(?) after a design by Arent van Bolten, ca. 1604-16.

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Print by Pierre Firens(?) after a design by Arent van Bolten, ca. 1604-16.

This album was compiled by an unknown collector ca. 1637, who had the drawings numbered, and grouped into thematic sections. ‘Some of van Bolten’s drawings of monsters and fanciful animals bear a resemblance to those in the prints of Christoph Jamnitzer […] and Wendel Dietterlin the Younger.’ Several of the designs in the album had been ‘turned into meticulously-faithful prints’ and published in Paris (between 1604 and 1616) by a Flemish-born printseller named Pierre Firens. The four images above are examples of these engravings. The last of them combines two of van Bolten’s drawings (nos. 151 and 152 in the album, shown below), into a single composition, embellished with farting monkeys.

Drawing #151 by Arent van Bolten, from the British Museum album.

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Drawing #152 by Arent van Bolten, from the British Museum album.

‘A number of fantastic bronze animals have been attributed to van Bolten on the basis of stylistic similarities to his designs known from the drawings and the prints.’ Four different models have been documented. At least ten examples of the birdlike creature (the first image below) are known. Some of them seem to have been designed as novelty lamps, where the wick (and the flame) would come out of the creature’s mouth. Another figurine, of which just a single example is recorded, depicts a monster with a reptile’s head, a bird’s body and legs, with snail-shells in place of wings. The second image below shows a statuette with the head of a buffalo, the body of a frog, with stylised wings in place of forelegs, and the hind legs of a hoofed animal. It is not known whether these bronzes were van Bolten’s own work, or whether they were modelled from his drawings, or the engraved copies thereof.

Grotesque bronze after a design by Arent van Bolten, ca. 1610-30.

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Grotesque bronze after a design by Arent van Bolten, ca. 1610-30.

The present images are all scans from the catalogue Dawn of the Golden age—Northern Netherlandish Art 1580-1620, edited by Ger Luijten, Ariane van Suchtelen, Reinier Baarsen, Wouter Kloek and Marijn Schapelhouman, and published by the Rijksmuseum in association with Waanders Uitgevers, Zwolle, in 1993. The information I’ve quoted and paraphrased comes from Peter Fuhring’s outline biography of van Bolten, and from the same author’s individual catalogue entries about the artist’s work.

Posted by misteraitch at May 17, 2007 10:45 AM
Comments

Thanks for these amazing scans, it's great to see Bolten's grotesque beast drawings in better detail.

Posted by: Aeron on May 17, 2007 02:57 PM

This post features what is probably the first use of the words embellished with farting monkeys.

Posted by: e.b. on May 17, 2007 09:36 PM

Wonderful, thanks. The first page from a 1971 article by Ingrid Weber is accessible from JSTOR. There is a slight difference in the bio.
Perhaps we should petition the British Museum to turn out its 400+ drawings from Van Bolten for an exhibition or (better) upload onto the web.

{There is also a pair of amusing stabbing penises in the Rijksmuseum pdf catalogue}

Posted by: peacay on May 17, 2007 10:42 PM
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