Gerson Digital : Poland


3.1 Mannerist Painting in Poland

In view of the political situation during the 17th century, it is best to treat the painting of Poland and Danzig (Gdańsk) together.1 Often the same artists worked for both the Danzig burghers and the Polish kings. The work of Dutch architects and sculptors had come to dominate the appearance of the city of Danzig during the 16th century. Numerous Dutch architects such as Regnier, Gerard and Frederik Vroom, Willem van den Blocke, Willem van der Meer, Antonius van Obbergen, Jacob Josten and others worked there, and Danzig architects sometimes received grants to allow them to travel to the Northern Netherlands.2 Jacob Reyersz. Block went to Poland as surveyor and fortifications architect. The painterPieter Danckerts (1605-1661) [1] was also active as architect in Poland.

The cultural relations between the two countries also found expression in other ways. For instance, the Pole Johannes Maccovius [2], an authority on Protestant theology, taught at the University of Franeker, of which he was also the rector. There he married Anna van Uylenburgh, an older sister of Rembrandt’s wife Saskia. The artistic and scientific connections between Danzig and the Northern Netherlands had a solid foundation in a shared interest in the Baltic trade, which was in the hands of the Dutch by the early 17th century. Of the ships that moored at ‘Danswijk’, a centre of the grain trade, in 1620, 83 percent flew the Dutch flag!

The influence of Dutch painting was hardly less extensive, and this is true even if we only briefly consider the first young mannerist artists from the Low Countries who were not specifically Dutch.3 Among the architect-painters, pride of place belongs to Hans Vredeman de Vries (1525/26-1609), a Dutchman by birth but a Southern Netherlander as far as his art is concerned. He arrived in Danzig in 1592 as city architect in charge of fortifications, but he remained in that function for one year only. Subsequently, until 1595, he was active as painter and draftsman of perspectives. In 1592 he and 28 colleagues petitioned the city magistrates to be allowed to found a painters’ guild, which only materialized 20 years later. Vredeman executed sundry wall and ceiling paintings in Danzig, of which the allegorical paintings and the Last Judgment [3] in the city hall as well as the ‘Orpheus picture’ [4] of 1594 in the Artus Court have survived.4 Several other ‘perspectives’ with allegories on the theme of government have been lost. Vredeman’s son Paulus assisted him with the large works.

Around 1585 the marine painter Hendrik Cornelisz. Vroom (1562/63-1640) visited his uncle, the Danzig city architect Frederik Vroom.5 He received instruction in art there and is even to have painted an altarpiece for the Jesuits.6 Given his restless way of life, he is unlikely to have remained in Danzig for long.

Pieter de Jode (II) after Pieter Danckerts published by Joannes Meyssens
Portrait of the painter Pieter Danckerts (ca. 1605-1661), in or before 1662
Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet, inv./ RP-P-OB-7911

Johannes Pandelius
Portrait of Johannes Maccovius (1588-1644), 1644
Franeker, Museum Martena, inv./ 49 (1977)

Hans Vredeman de Vries
The Last Judgement, 1594-1595
Gdańsk, Muzeum Historycznege Miasta Gdańska (Ratusz)

and Paul Vredeman de Vries Hans Vredeman de Vries
Orpheus playing the lyre (reconstruction), between april and 18 juli 1594
Gdańsk, Muzeum Historycznege Miasta Gdańska (Dwór Artusa)

Could it be that the cousin of the wife of the rector of the university of Franeker, Rombout Uylenburgh (c. 1580/1585-1628), called ‘during his lifetime painter in Danzig’ [in zijn leven schilder tot Dansick] or ‘painter of the King of Poland’ [schilder van den Coninck van Polen], smoothed the way to Poland for others? We have no works by him [5-6].7 We would love just once to see The Polish and Lithuanian Game Market [De Poolsche en Litousche Wiltmarct]. However, his Last Judgment and similar pictures probably differed only slightly from other mannerist depictions of the time.8

Rombout Uylenburgh
Jehoiada commands, in the presence of King Joash, to take Athalia out and to execute her (2 Kings 11:14-16; 2 Chronicles 23:15), c. 1620
Amsterdam, Museum Rembrandthuis

Rombout Uylenburgh
Joash, protected by the soldiers, is crowned and anointed king (2 Kings 11:12), c. 1620
Amsterdam, Museum Rembrandthuis

Cornelis Ketel
The suicide of Saul (I Samuel 31:1-5), c. 1584
Kaunas, Nacionalinis M.K. Ciurlionio dailés muziejus, inv./ MŽ-1353

Isaak van den Blocke
Series of 25 paintings decorating the ceiling of the so called Red Hall (Ratusz Główny) in the town hall of Gdansk, 1604-1608 or1606-1609
Gdańsk, Muzeum Historycznege Miasta Gdańska (Ratusz)

Around 1584 Cornelis Ketel (1548-1616) supplied Thomas Uphagen of Danzig with six life-size pictures showing penitents taken from the Old and New Testaments [7],9 of which two showed up at the second Pott auction of 1763.10 Karel van Mander also mentions a Danaë in Danzig hands and some heads painted by foot found with Andreas Leczinski, Count of Leschno (Andrzej Leszczyński).11

Works by indigenous late mannerists who indulged themselves in allegories and biblical depictions may still be admired in some Danzig churches and public buildings. The figural compositions of Isaak van den Blocke (c. 1574-1627/1628) [8] would appear to be derived from compositions by Vredeman, whose works they in part replaced. The landscapes [9-10] remind one of Gillis van Coninxloo II and David Vinckboons I, although they are harder in execution.

Isaak van den Blocke
The wickedness of mankind and Noah's sacrifice (Genesis 7:10 - 8:17), probably 1611-1614
Gdańsk, Muzeum Historycznege Miasta Gdańska (Ratusz)

Isaak van den Blocke
The wickedness of mankind, Noach en de zijnen gaan aan boord van de ark, probably 1611-1614
Gdańsk, Muzeum Historycznege Miasta Gdańska (Ratusz)

Herman Han (1580-1627) [11], on the contrary, is an adept at Venetian mannerism along in the manner of Bassano and Tintoretto,12 whereas the paintings by Samuel Niedenthal (1620-after 1682) of 1653 (Breslau [Wrocław]) [12] still reflect models by Roelant Savery and Jan Brueghel the Elder. Johann Krieg (c. 1590-c. 1645), a Königsberg (Kaliningrad) painter, was responsible for a city view of Danzig [13] which is still clearly composed according to the recipe of Hans Vredeman de Vries and Hendrick van Steenwijck the Elder.13 As draftsman, he is still fully a mannerist.

The best known and most fecund painter of this group was Anton Möller (1563/65-1611).14 His justice paintings of 1588 in the Artus Court [14-15] are still clearly influenced by Netherlandish forms.15 It was again the ‘perspectives’ of Vredeman de Vries that inspired him.

Herman Han
Allegory of Pride, c. 1600
Gdańsk, Muzeum Narodowe w Gdańsku, inv./ MNG/SD/335/M

Samuel Niedenthal
Orpheus enchanting the animals, dated 1653
Wrocław, Schlesisches Museum der Bildenden Künste, inv./ 17 (1891)

attributed to Bartholomäus Miltwitz and possibly Isaak van den Blocke
City view of Danzig, c. 1615 of after 1620
Gdańsk, Muzeum Narodowe w Gdańsku, inv./ MNG/SD/281/M

Anton Möller
The bad, corrupt judges, 1588
Gdańsk, Muzeum Historycznege Miasta Gdańska (Dwór Artusa)

Anton Möller
The crowning of the seven virtues with the city of Gdańsk in the background, 1588
Gdańsk, Muzeum Historycznege Miasta Gdańska (Dwór Artusa)

In 1601-1602 he created a Last Judgment [16] as pendant to Vredeman’s Orpheus in the Artus Court, but with less elegant mannerism than that of its model.16 The background of his biblical paintings of 1601 in the Town Hall feature beautifully observed views of the city of Danzig [17]. They are the first realistic elements in a schematic compositional type. Möller painted extensively for Danzig, his native city of Königsberg, as well as for Thorn (Toruń). The Dance of the Sexes, which the museum in Königsberg purchased some time ago, belongs to his most appealing works [18]. Möller also copied Dürer [19] and certainly knew many mannerist works, on which he based his drawing style.17 Even the passages of landscape, which seem thoroughly realistic, were probably inspired by engravings by Hans Bol.

We have already repeatedly observed that such paintings and, especially, engravings from the Netherlands flooded all of Northern Germany, and given the lively commercial traffic of the time, they must also have made their way to Danzig. It so happens that such a painting has in fact ended up in Danzig, being in the museum there [20]. It is a depiction of hell signed J V S from the year 1620, with a typically manneristically complicated composition,18 which a Polish merchant donated to the Bartholomew church.19

Anton Möller
The last judgment, c. 1601-1602
Gdańsk, Muzeum Historycznege Miasta Gdańska (Dwór Artusa)

Anton Möller
Christ and the tribute to Caesar, a view of Danzig in the background, dated 1601
Gdańsk, Muzeum Historycznege Miasta Gdańska (Ratusz)

Anton Möller
Dance in a patrician's house, c. 1596 of 1600
Kaliningrad, Stadtmuseum Königsberg

Anton Möller after Albrecht Dürer
The Fall of Man: Eve takes the fruit from the serpent (Genesis 3:6), dated 1580
Gdańsk, Muzeum Narodowe w Gdańsku, inv./ MNG/SD/1563/1

Jacob van Swanenburgh
The Sibyl showing Aeneas the Underworld / Charon's boat, c. 1600
Gdańsk, Muzeum Narodowe w Gdańsku, inv./ MI 445


1 [Van Leeuwen 2013] For a short history of Poland, see Jan Kosten’s article above.

2 [Gerson 1942/1983] Cuny 1910, p. 57; Vermeulen 1931, vol. 2, pp. 458, 473. [Van Leeuwen 2013] Clearly not all these architects were Dutch: Willem van den Blocke and Antonius van Obbergen were born in Mechelen and worked in Antwerp before they arrived in Poland. Recently F.J. Skibinski defended his University of Utrecht dissertation on Willem van den Blocke as sculptor (Skibinski 2013, copy at the RKD).

3 [Gerson 1942/1983] Drost 1938, with literature.

4 [Van Leeuwen 2013] A clever reconstruction of the painting is currently on display in the Artus Court (Muzeum Historycznego Miasta Gdańska, Dwór Artusa). In March 1945, not long after Gerson’s publication in March 1945, Danzig was almost completely destroyed by the Russian artillery and flame throwers. The painting was put in storage in 1944 and went missing after the war. It is possible that the painting still exists but has yet to surface. (Borggrefe/Fusenig/Uppenkamp 2002, p. 320, nos. 162, 321, ill.).

5 [Van Leeuwen 2013] This visit, which he undertook together with his wife, probably did not take place in 1584/1585 but in 1591. They were back in Haarlem on 18 December 1591 (Van Thiel-Stroman 2006, p. 333). It is also possible that their son, the future landscape painter Cornelis Vroom, was born in Danzig (Van Thiel-Stroman 2006, p. 328).

6 [Gerson 1942/1983] Van Mander/Floerke 1617/1906, vol. 2, p. 175. [Van Leeuwen 2013] According to J. Tylicki, some Jesuits were working clandestinely in Danzig, but they could not settle in the city, let alone build a church there, because of opposition from the Protestant city authorities. However, the Jesuits succeeded in erecting a church in Nowe Szkoty (Neuschottland), outside the city walls no earlier than the first half of the 17th century. In any case, no late 16th-century altar paintings have survived in Danzig that can be linked to a work by Vroom that is mentioned by Van Mander (email J. Tylicki to S. Erkens, 20 August 2013). See Simson 1913.

7 [Van Leeuwen 2013] Recently two biblical scenes surfaced that were acquired by Museum Het Rembrandthuis in Amsterdam; a portrait is known from reproductions in print (RKDimages 233043). Also two drawings are now attributed to Rombout van Uylenburgh (RKDimages 237799 and 237847). See Tylicki 2006 and Lammertse/Van der Veen 2006, pp. 27-29. During the research for the Gerson Project at the RKD, Erik Löffler discovered 15 drawings and five grisailles that can be attributed to Rombout Uylenburgh. See his article below.

8 [Van Leeuwen 2013] The Polish and Lithiuanian Game Market as well as the Last Judgement are paintings mentioned in a document of March 1628 as belonging to Rombout Uylenburgh’s widow, Ibel Haye Fries, and her children and hanging in the house of Sybrant Haye Fries [in Leiden] (Bredius 1915-1921, vol. 5, p. 1685). About the fate of these and other paintings by Rombout Uylenburgh mentioned in archival documents, see J. van der Veen in Lammertse/Van der Veen 2006, pp. 22-27. See Erik Löffler’s article below.

9 [Van Leeuwen 2013] Ketel’s painting Saul Killing Himself with a Sword (I Sam. 31:1-5)  in the National Museum in Kaunas (Lithuania), would appear to be one of these paintings. Jan de Maere attributed the painting to Ketel in 2003 (communication Osvaldas Daugelis, director M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art); the attribution has been confirmed by Suzanne Laemers (RKD). On this painting and Uphagen/Ophogen, see Sander Erkens' article below.

10 [Gerson 1942/1983] Van Mander/Floerke 1617/1906, vol. 2, p. 179; Von Holst 1934, pp. 59-60. [Van Leeuwen 2013] Von Holst based himself on the catalogue of this auction, held on 24 November 1763 in Danzig’s Municipal Library. Unfortunately the exceedingly rare auction catalogue went missing during World War II or in the 1950s (communication from J. Tylicki). For more information on the collector Peter Pott, see Sander Erkens’ article below.

11 [Gerson 1942/1983] Van Mander/Floerke 1617/1906, vol. 2, p. 206. Eric-Jan Sluijter has suggested that the Ketel Danaë in Van Mander’s text can possibly be identified with a painting with this subject in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Cognac (Sluijter 2006, p. 54 and p. 399, n. 83). However, according to Ursula de Goede-Broug and Jan Kosten (both RKD) this painting (RKDimages 235895) belongs to the circle of Dirk de Quade van Ravesteyn.

12 [Van Leeuwen 2013] According to Saur 1992-, vol. 69 (2010), p. 34, the early cabinet paintings by Han show knowledge of Flemish painting (Francken family, Louis de Caullery, David Vinckboons) and the use of Flemish prints, while his late altarpieces are painted in the manner of Otto van Veen and Adam van Noort.

13 [Gerson 1942/1983] Secker 1924, p. 259.[Van Leeuwen 2013] Attributed to Bartholomäus Miltwitz (the city view) and possibly Isaak van den Blocke (the foreground with figures) by J. Tylicki (email J. Tylicki to S. Erkens, 10 June 2013). The museum in Danzig still attributes the painting to Johann Krieg. Krieg was probably born in Spickendorf, Saksen-Anhalt (see Saur 1992-, vol. 80, in print).

14 [Van Leeuwen 2013] The works are part of a series that originally consisted of five paintings, being history pieces, which were commissioned by the aldermen of Danzig in 1588. The pictures all pertained to the theme of judgment and justice, representing The Law of Moses, The Praise of the Virtues, The Just Judges, The Unjust Judges and The Last Judgment, which were intended to admonish judges to come to impartial decisions. One of the paintings, that of The Just Judges, was dated 1588. Another work, though it is not known which, carried the monogram of Möller (Ehrenberg 1918, pp. 184-185). A comparison of old photographs (dating from before World War II) with recent versions shows that of the five original paintings only two, The Praise of the Virtues and The Last Judgment, are still in their original location. Only the upper part of the latter piece has survived. The lower section was lost in 1807, during the siege of Danzig.

15 [Van Leeuwen 2013] See note 4 above.

16 [Van Leeuwen 2013] In the years 1579-1582 in Prague Möller made 36 drawings after the woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer’s so-called Small Passion series (Muzeum Narodowe w Gdańsku, RKDimages 235747).

17 [Gerson 1942/1983] Attributed to J. van Stalburch by F. Secker (Secker 1913, pp. 763-764). H. Schneider more convincingly connected the monogram to J. van Swanenburgh, who was indicted for these depictions by the Italian inquisition (Van Regteren Altena/Judson 1936, p. XIII). According to Drost, the work belongs to the school of A. Möller (Drost 1930, p. 128). [Van Leeuwen 2013] This painting is in fact by the hand of Jacob Isaacz. van Swanenburg, a painter from Leiden who visited Italy but who is not known to have been in Poland (Ekkart 1997, p. 127). However, it is not dated 1620 and was not donated to the Bartholomew church by a Polish merchent but donated to the museum by a Dr. Abraham of Berlin (Secker 1913); Gerson brought information concerning two paintings to bear on one work. See note 19 below.

18 [Van Leeuwen 2013] The painting, which a Polish merchant donated to the Bartholomew church in Danzig, was a picture on loan from a Berlin family to the Stadtmuseum in Danzig. Secker described it as follows: [...] we see a group of saints and allegorical figures standing around a bed, conforting a rich man who is dying; above, on clouds, Christ and angels with attributes of the crucifixion. A man, likely the patron and probably also the painter of the picture, kneels frontally in the left corner. But the entire right side depicts on much reduced scale a scene of hell with fantastic vengeance‘ ([..] sehen wir eine Gruppe von Heiligen und allegorischen Gestalten tröstend das Bett eines reichen Mannes umstehen, der im Sterben liegt; darüber auf Wolken Christus und Engel mit den Kreuzigungsattributen. Links in der Ecke kniet frontal ein Mann, wohl der Stifter, vielleicht auch der Maler des Bildes. Die ganze rechte Seite aber stellt in weitaus kleinerem Maßstab Höllenszenen in einem phantastischen Rachen dar […]’ (Secker 1913, pp. 763-764). From the description Sander Erkens recognized the subject as The Dying Man, comparable to the painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder in the Museum der Bildenden Künste in Leipzig (RKDimages 238884).

19 [Gerson 1942/1983] Gyssling 1917; Ehrenberg 1918, p. 181; Drost 1938, pp. 117-121.

Cookies disclaimer

While surfing the internet, your preferences are remembered by cookies. Cookies are small text files placed on a pc, tablet or cell phone each time you open a webpage. Cookies are used to improve your user experience by anonymously monitoring web visits. By browsing this website, you agree to the placement of cookies.
I agree