Gerson Digital : Poland


7.3 Gdańsk : The ‘Silver Age’

The third period of Netherlandish influences in Danzig painting starts around 1630, after the first Swedish war, when artistic life in the city had to be reconstructed, and ends with the years of the even more devastating second Swedish war (1655-1660), which left only a few active artists on the spot. This notwithstanding, the local painterly life until around 1700 became almost exclusively dominated by Dutch and Flemish ideas, often obviously learned at first hand.

Not so many new masters from the Low Countries themselves appear here after 1630, though Jacob Liscornet the Elder from Antwerp (c.1596-after 1662) became a master in the guild in 1618, and therefore belongs partly still to the earlier period, even if his few known or attributed works date from the later years, like the Last Judgement [1] from the epitaph of Hans Reyger in St. Barbara’s church, signed in 1637, and lost in 1945. The composition is based on Jan Sadeler’s engraving after Christoph Schwarz [2], but the painterly qualities of Liscornet’s work – of average level – point in general to his acquaintance with Flemish art of early 17th century, represented by the Francken family, Hendrick van Balen, or Abraham Janssens. On the other hand, it is not devoid of contemporary Dutch influences of the Rembrandt school.1

Jakob Liscornet (I) after Hans Sadeler after Christoph Schwarz
The Last Judgement, dated 1637
panel, oil paint ? x ? cm
: 1637
Gdańsk, Kościół św. Barbary w Gdańsku

Hans Sadeler after Christoph Schwarz
The Last Judgment, 1588-1595
paper, engraving 454 x 405 mm
upper center : TEMPLA POLI VOLVENS ... ET IMPIA CERNAM libr: Sybill: orat. vul.
Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet, inv./ RP-P-OB-5337

Willem Hondius
Portrait of Adam Kazanowski (1599-1649), 1643-1646
parchment (animal material), graphite 196 x 140 mm
center : 711
Gdańsk, Muzeum Narodowe w Gdańsku, inv./ MNG/SD/411/R

Much more worthy of attention, however, are silverpoint and pen drawings by Willem Hondius from The Hague (b. after 1597), who lived in Danzig from 1636 until his death in 1652. Son of the renowned engraver Hendrick, he himself became the first fully professional representative of the same art in the Baltic city, and also left for posterity interesting portrait studies and genre sketches. The first ones [3], showing acute observation and subtle execution, follow the manner of work of several other engravers, like Crispijn I van de Passe from Utrecht; while the sketches [4] disclose formal affinities with several Dutch artists, like Pieter van Laer, nicknamed ‘Il Bamboccio’. Both types of drawings bring invaluable historical evidence concerning iconography of portrayed state dignitaries, as well as costumes and customs in this part of Europe.2

Willem Hondius
Camp scene, Joseph sold for twenty pieces of silver (?), c. 1640
paper, pen in brown ink, brown and grey wash 132 x 185 mm
center : 739
Gdańsk, Muzeum Narodowe w Gdańsku, inv./ MNG/SD/415/R

Pupil and continuator of Hondius’ profession in Gdańsk, the German Jeremias Falck (c.1609–1677), was apparently also an author of still life paintings; these works, preserved in smaller museums and existing in the art trade, have been attributed to the artist only quite recently. They comprise two monogrammed flower bouquets in the Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie in Dessau and another one that appeared at the Dorotheum in Vienna in 2011 (all three probably dating from c. 1640), but also a banketje in the Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte, Münster, from approximately the same time [5], and a vanitas piece in the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The latter is the only known picture signed by Falck in full, and it dates from 1629 – probably the time of his youth studies in the Low Countries. All these paintings display quite high artistic class, even if their predominantly linear qualities are rather characteristic for the earlier phase of evolution of the art genre. The rather solid flower compositions are modelled on the oeuvre of such masters, as Hans Bollongier and Anthony Claesz from Haarlem; the tabletop piece looks back to the art of Jan Jansz. van de Velde from Haarlem and Amsterdam.3 If the attribution of all these paintings to Falck is ultimately confirmed, it shall be possible to reassert that there was a particular tradition of still life production existing in Gdańsk, beginning with Falck, and continued by Schultz, Stech and Sauerland, whose achievements will be discussed later on.

Jeremias Falck
Still life with oysters on a pewter plate, a peeled lemon, bread and a roemer turned upside down on a pewter plate on a partly draped table, c. 1650
canvas, oil paint 59 x 84 cm
Münster (Germany), LWL - Museum für Kunst und Kultur, inv./ 2231 LM

Out of German masters working in the period under discussion, one of the earliest and not unimportant is Bartholomäus Miltwitz (c.1590-1654), author of both figural compositions set in land- and cityscapes, and portraits, who married in Amsterdam in 1606 and died in Gdańsk around 1655. His pictures, like Children’s bacchanal (c. 1640) [6], with their rather soft forms, deep colours and chiaroscuro let suppose, that he studied Flemish, maybe even Flemish-Venetian painting. Characteristic physiognomies of his figures, far from pretty, point however also to his familiarity with the most impressionist current of Rembrandt’s work.4

Bartholomäus Miltwitz
Children's Baccanal, c. 1640
panel, oil paint 16.4 x 87.2 cm
Kraków, Zamek Królewski na Wawelu, inv./ 8403

Exceptional is the artistic legacy of Samuel Niedenthal from Erfurt (1620-after 1672), active in Danzig for almost 40 years, starting with 1635. Undeservedly forgotten, he was the author of some 600 existing annotated drawings, depicting animals. His unusual interests, though soundly rooted in Italian and Dutch tradition, ranged from local insects to South American birds and mammals [7], for the depiction of which he undertook travels as far as Amsterdam. His documentation is priceless for the history of zoology, and for the artist himself it was useful in producing history paintings in the type of Roelandt Savery from Prague and Utrecht [8], densely populated with fauna in ‘paradise’ landscape, like Orpheus among the animals from 1653, now lost.5

Samuel Niedenthal
Armadillo, dated 1649
paper, pen (technique) 157 x 191 mm
upper center : Ao 1649 den 12. majo.
Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden - Kupferstich-Kabinett, inv./ Tom Ca 211, k. 186

Samuel Niedenthal
Orpheus enchanting the animals, dated 1653
canvas, oil paint 88 x 115 cm
Breslau (hist.), Schlesisches Museum der Bildenden Künste, inv./ 17 (1891)

Bartholomäus Strobel
The assumption of the Virgin Mary, flanked by Saints John the Evangelist and Bernard of Clairvaux, dated 1647
canvas, oil paint 350 x 274 cm
lower center : Bartholomeus Strobelius Autor huius Picturae inveniens pinxit A° 1647
Koronowo, Opactwo Cystersów w Koronowie

The 1630s saw the appearance on the local scene of several other interesting artists. One of them is Bartholomäus Strobel(1591-after 1647), painter to two Holy Roman Emperors and a Polish king, who moved here from Breslau (Wrocław) in Silesia in 1634. Travelling between main Prussian city centres, he is nevertheless supposed to have executed a good part of his works in Danzig. This master is most famous probably for a lost treatise on painting, described by his friend, the famous German Baroque poet Martin Opitz, who also lived in the Baltic port from 1635 until his death in 1639. Strobel is known to have painted both intellectually complicated allegories, inspired mainly by the art of Rudolfine Prague, and – appropriately for him, as another Catholic convert since 1643 – rather stiff altar pictures [9], partly based on Flemish devotional prints, like earlier in the case of Hermann Han. The Netherlandish element in his works is however most visible in his portraits, for example in the likeness of Opitz (possibly 1637) [10], where he reaches towards the recipe of Michiel van Mierevelt, or rather, more precisely, Jan van Ravesteyn and Nicolas Pickenoy.6 Similar patterns were employed by another portraitist chased out of Germany by the Thirty Years’ war at approximately the same time as Strobel, namely by Franz Kessler from Rhineland (1580-after 1650), who also was an early technical inventor. The sole identified portrait from the Danzig period of this artist, depicting Nikolaus Konstantin Giese (1642) [11] is of good quality and more softly painted than his Silesian colleague’s works.7

Franz Kessler
Portrait of Nikolaus Konstantin (?) Giese, dated 1642
canvas, oil paint 129 x 84 cm
upper left : Anno 1642
Wilanów (Warschau), Muzeum Pałacu Króla Jana III w Wilanowie

Bartholomäus Strobel
Portrait of Martin Opitz van Boberfeld (1597-1639), c. 1636-1637
canvas, oil paint 113.5 x 92.5 cm
on the back : R. 80
Gdańsk, Biblioteka Gdańska PAN (Polska Akademia Nauk), inv./ 2IV4435

Laurence Neter
Elegant company in conversation in a loggia, dated 1641
copper, oil paint 24 x 36 cm
lower left : LDN fecit.1641
Amsterdam, Kunsthandel P. de Boer

Portraiture was one of the specialities of Laurence Neter from nearby Elbing (1600/1604-1651), who however is better known for cabinet-format histories and genre pieces [12] in the manner of Anthonie Palamedesz from Delft, or Dirck Hals from Haarlem. Neter learned and exercised his profession at first in Holland, before returning in 1639 to his native Prussia, and settling in Danzig, where the city council awarded him the position of free master, even though his art is of average quality, at the most. It is possible, that Neter, whose paintings are today present in some quantity on the art market, was Netherlandish by descent.8

By mid-century, many of the painters active here in the 1620’s, or 1630’s, have passed away, as did Neter, who died in 1651. The same fate met August Ranisch from Dresden (born c.1620), a talented artist who unfortunately left this world only three years after becoming a guild master in 1650.9 Only one fairly sure work by him survives, namely The Baptism of Christ [13] in Catholic St. Nicholas church in Danzig. Qualified construction, soft chiaroscuro, and subtle colours of this composition point to his knowledge of paintings of the Rubens school, like the ones by Cornelis de Vos, or Gaspar de Crayer. In contrast to this Flemish-influenced artist, his contemporary Ambrosius Sprengel (1625-1694), also known only by one ascertained painting: The Stoning of St. Stephen in Oliva cathedral [14], dated 1649, displays evident borrowing of composition from a drawing by Pieter Lastman, today in Berlin, while the warm, brownish hues of his picture, as well as face and costume types are clearly Rembrandtesque. Sprengel was an unusual artist, belonging to the patrician circles and exercising his art as a pastime.10

August Ranisch
Baptism of Christ in the river Jordan, 1650-1653
canvas, oil paint 210 x 145 cm
Gdańsk, Kościół św. Mikołaja w Gdańsku

There were two more Rembrandtists known in Danzig in those years, both also working outside the guild: the brothers van Tweenhuysen, portraitists, and Johann Aken. Helmich van Tweenhuysen (c. 1604-1673), son of a Zwolle burgomaster is mentioned in sources along with his brother Arendt, whose oeuvre is unknown today. Of Helmich, three paintings were identified starting with the 1980’s: one in National Museum in Wrocław, Poland, and two in the European art trade [15]. Judging by these works, he was a man of formidable training, modelling his art after that of Salomon Koninck.11 As for Johann Aken (c. 1610-1689), of unknown nationality, he seems to have travelled along the southern Baltic: in the 1630’s and 1640’s he lived in Danzig, then by mid-century moved to Lübeck and was buried in Riga, Latvia in 1689. In the 1660’s he executed some signed pictures in the city hall in Tallinn, Estonia, on the base of which it was possible to attribute some pictures in Danzig to him, among others the 1647 Christ before Pilate canvas [16], made for the church in Hel and today kept in the National Museum in Gdańsk. As many other paintings by this averagely talented artist, it is obviously based on Rembrandt’s etching [17].12

Ambrosius Sprengel
The stoning of St. Stephen, 1649
copper, oil paint 171 x 117 cm
: A. Sprengel
Oliwa (Gdańsk), Archikatedra Oliwska

Helmich van Tweenhuysen (II)
Portrait of a bearded cleric, c.1650
canvas, oil paint 74 x 58.7 cm
London, Sphinx Fine Art

attributed to Johann Aken after Rembrandt
Pilate showing Christ to the people, 'Ostentatio Christi', 'Ecce Homo' (John 19:4-6), dated 1647
panel, oil paint 235 x 200 cm
Gdańsk, Muzeum Narodowe w Gdańsku

Rembrandt and Jan Gillisz. van Vliet
Ecce Homo, dated 1636
paper, etching, 2nd state 549 x 447 mm
lower left : Rembrandtf.1636 cum privile
London, private collection Victor Koch


1 The picture from St. Barbara was the only ascertained one by Liscornet. Apart from brief dictionary entries, see on this master Tylicki 2012, pp. 318-319, with some new attributions.

2 Willem Hondius lacks a modern monograph; see, however, Tylicki 2005A, pp. 153-162 and passim, and Tylicki 2012, pp. 320-321.

3 On this artist, see now Sobecka 2008.

4 The most comprehensive overview of this artist’s life and oeuvre: Tylicki 2010; see also other essays in the same volume.

5 Tylicki 2005A, pp. 89-91 and 216-236; Tylicki 2012, p. 320. Again, surprisingly there exists no monograph on this very unusual artist.

6 Newest monograph: Tylicki 2000; there also exist some later essays forwarding additional data and interpretations, notably Tylicki 2008.

7 Vey 1972 and Tylicki 2001A.

8 Summary of knowledge on the artist: Tylicki 2005, pp. 705-708 and Tylicki 2012, pp. 350-351, but a full monograph is yet once more overdue.

9 Scant published information on this painter is collected by Tylicki 2012, p. 318; archival one - by Pałubicki 2009, pp. 589-590.

10 Again, sparse data is brought together by Tylicki 2012, p. 319.

11 Kandt 2003, pp. 310-314 and Hillegers 2013 - the last to be treated with some care, as it summarizes a couple of controversial theses from Polish literature.

12 Tylicki 2014 (in print).

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