August 05, 2007

Van de Venne’s Album

At some time in the mid-eighteenth Century, John, the first Earl Spencer spent a hundred guineas on an album of a hundred and two paintings which he supposed to be the work of Peter Bruegel. Had he examined the album’s first folio closely, he might have noticed it was dated 1626, some fifty-seven years after Bruegel’s death. On the final folio, moreover, is an hour-glass motif with a signature traced in gold on its base which reads AV Venne fe. In 1978, the album was acquired by the British Museum, who, ten years later, published a book reproducing all of the album’s paintings. This volume (inelegantly titled Adriaen van de Venne’s Album in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum) has been my source for the images that follow. The information quoted and paraphrased here is likewise drawn from Martin Royalton-Kisch’s long and detailed introduction to this work.

1. Detail from 'The King and Queen of Bohemia,' one of 102 gouache paintings by Adriaen van de Venne in the Bristish Museum album.

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2. Detail from 'A Baron,' one of 102 gouache paintings by Adriaen van de Venne in the Bristish Museum album.

Adriaen van de Venne was born in Delft, in 1589. The one contemporary account of his life, Cornelius de Bie’s 1661 Het Gulden Cabinet, (‘The Golden Cabinet’) records that the painter’s parents were ‘estimable people and wealthy.’ The young van de Venne was taught drawing and illumination by a Lieden-based goldsmith named Simon de Valck, and went on to study with one Hieronymus van Diest, apparently ‘a very fine painter in black and white.’ Between 1614 and 1624, van de Venne lived and worked in the town of Middelburg, where he produced a number of fine, large-scale paintings, and where he began providing emblematic illustrations for the works of the poet Jacob Cats. During this period he also produced many independent prints, most of them topical satire or political propaganda.

3. Detail from 'A Game of Balloon,' one of 102 gouache paintings by Adriaen van de Venne in the Bristish Museum album.

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4. Detail from 'A Game of Billiards,' one of 102 gouache paintings by Adriaen van de Venne in the Bristish Museum album.

By 1625, van de Venne had moved to The Hague, where he lived until his death in 1662. Royalton-Kisch speculates that his initial reason for moving there was to complete commissions for the new stadholder Fredrik Hendrik, who had succeeded to the title following the death of Prince Maurits. Van de Venne worked until the 1650s as a prolific illustrator and painter of grisailles, works done only in shades of grey and brown. Most of his grisailles are coarsely-humorous genre scenes depicting ‘the folly of an ignorant peasantry.’ Van de Venne was active in the Guild of St. Luke at The Hague, being elected several times to positions of responsibility within it. Besides painting, he also wrote several volumes of poetry, his verses often as broadly humorous as his grisailles and as stoutly patriotic as his designs for visual propaganda.

5. Detail from 'An Old Poacher,' one of 102 gouache paintings by Adriaen van de Venne in the Bristish Museum album.

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6. Detail from 'Two Men Carrying a Barrel,' one of 102 gouache paintings by Adriaen van de Venne in the Bristish Museum album.

The origins of the album now in the British Museum are obscure. Royalton-Kisch guesses it to have been commissioned by the exiled Frederick V., the ‘Winter King’ of Bohemia. He and his uncle, the stadholder Fredrik Hendrik are both depicted several times in the album, with the former, in line with court etiquette, usually given precedence. Thematically, the album falls into roughly-equal halves, the first being concerned with political imagery (places of importance in the on-giong eighty-years’ war; depictions—both formal and informal—of the nobility, courtiers, professionals and soldiers; and allegorical scenes of various kinds). The album’s second half is mostly concerned with moralising scenes of peasant life, which, while often comical, are generally more sympathetic and wholesome than those sketched by van de Venne in his grisailles.

7. Detail from 'A Peasant Couple and a Dog on Tiptoe,' one of 102 gouache paintings by Adriaen van de Venne in the Bristish Museum album.

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8. Detail from 'A Peasant Pushing a Woman on a Sledge,' one of 102 gouache paintings by Adriaen van de Venne in the Bristish Museum album.

The present images are as follows: (1) The King and Queen of Bohemia, where Frederick and his wife Elizabeth are shown on horseback, followed by Fredrik Hendrik and his wife, Amalia van Solms; (2) A Baron on horseback, accompanied by three boys; (3) A Game of Balloon: an apparently volleyball-like game; (4) A Game of Billiards where Fredrik Hendrik is about to strike a ball, encouraged by the Winter Queen; (5) An Old Poacher with a ‘necklace’ of dead rabbits; (6) Two Men Carrying a Barrel: where the barrel is to be understood as a symbol for Heidelberg, former seat of Frederick V. and Elizabeth, the burden of whose court was then borne by sturdy Dutchmen; (7) A Peasant Couple and a Dog on Tiptoe; and (8) A Peasant Pushing a Woman on a Sledge.

Posted by misteraitch at August 5, 2007 09:13 PM
Comments

Thanks to your good self (and BookFinder), I am now the delighted owner of a copy of this book. It's gorgeous. I agree, there's a lot of humour in the pictures, but it's not cruel or caricaturish - there's genuine warmth there. Thanks for the tip off!

Posted by: sharon on August 9, 2007 11:04 PM

Mr H:

It occurs to me that I really ought to tell you how much I enjoy reading your blog. Although I usually do not have anything to add in the manner of a comment, I am pleased to see your essays; they suggest a subterranean connection between our minds: the things that please you, please me also. Some I already know - but what feels good once, is certainly worth feeling again - and some I might have or should have. Never a waste of time. Thanks.

One question: why Sweden?

Posted by: Gawain on August 16, 2007 04:39 AM
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