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Thomas Wyck, Dutch, 1616-1677

A Courtyard in Italy, c. 1640-50 

Thomas Wijck was a promi­nent artist based in Haar­lem who entered the guild in 1642 and served in lead­er­ship posi­tions sev­er­al times over the course of his career, twice as dean. Aside from his many Ital­ianate views, which he paint­ed, drew, and etched, he is also known for his paint­ings depict­ing alchemists in their work­shops exe­cut­ed in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent mode.1

In rela­tion to Wijck­’s Ital­ianate sub­ject mat­ter, it is fre­quent­ly stat­ed that there is no secure, sur­viv­ing evi­dence that he actu­al­ly went to Italy.2

Arnold Houbrak­en (1660 – 1719), how­ev­er, assert­ed that the artist drew many things from life there, and in Wijck­’s case, we have enough indi­rect evi­dence to sup­port the notion.3

He is entire­ly absent in the Haar­lem archival records between 1644 (the year of his mar­riage) and 1653, leav­ing enough of a gap for an extend­ed stay else­where. A few of his Ital­ianate draw­ings also bear Ital­ian water­marks.4

Fur­ther­more, we know that Wijck was not averse to long-dis­tance trav­el since in the 1660s he went to Britain, where his artist son, Jan, later settled.

A court­yard such as the one in the Peck draw­ing fea­tures as the pri­ma­ry sub­ject mat­ter in many of Wijck­’s Ital­ian-themed draw­ings.5

These fas­ci­nate for their pro­sa­ic nature, espe­cial­ly since they dif­fer so great­ly from the majes­tic build­ings por­trayed in the major­i­ty of works by artists who sojourned to Rome and else­where in Italy. While Wijck occa­sion­al­ly drew larg­er struc­tures, he focused more fre­quent­ly on less dis­tin­guished edi­fices, and on archi­tec­ture that might be old and full of char­ac­ter yet oth­er­wise non­de­script. As such, Wijck is often grouped with the Bam­boc­cianti, or fol­low­ers of Pieter van Laer (1599 – c. 1642, nick­named Bam­boc­cio), a group of most­ly Dutch and Flem­ish artists in Rome who focused on scenes of every­day life, and who enjoyed pres­tige and patron­age both in Italy and back home. While Wijck can­not be defin­i­tive­ly con­nect­ed to Van Laer, we know that the lat­ter was in Haar­lem between 1639 and 1642, just as Wijck was like­ly com­plet­ing his train­ing there.6

In the present work, we see a mule­teer with his bar­rels enter­ing a yard through a great arch, behind which can be seen build­ings in the dis­tance. Though the exact site can­not be iden­ti­fied, the arrow slits above the arch indi­cate this struc­ture is (or for­mer­ly was) the main wall of a city. The dri­ver appears to be bid­ding farewell to his erst­while trav­el­ing com­pan­ion who con­tin­ues on his way. Fore­ground detri­tus — bar­rels, planks, a cook­ing pan, and a bro­ken bas­ket — com­prise pre­cise­ly the sort of anti­cli­mac­tic entry into a city after a long jour­ney that lends the scene its quo­tid­i­an charm. Wijck­’s court­yard, or cor­tile, draw­ings are often set in an inn or tav­ern, or some­place more obvi­ous­ly domes­tic than in the present work. A signed sheet that bears com­par­i­son to the Peck draw­ing in the Teylers Muse­um is a good exam­ple Fig. 26.1.7

Thomas Wijck, An Italian Courtyard
Fig. 26.1

Thomas Wijck, An Ital­ian Court­yard, c. 1636 – 77. Graphite, brush and brown wash, 154 × 232 mm. Haar­lem, Teylers Muse­um, inv. no. p*11.

Its per­spec­ti­val con­struc­tion like­wise revolves around an arched entrance in the mid­dle ground, and it dis­plays styl­is­ti­cal­ly sim­i­lar scrub­by foliage emerg­ing from the walls and stones. Wijck made many of his draw­ings pri­mar­i­ly in wash, using a remark­ably con­trolled fine-point­ed brush for details such as the fig­ures and ani­mals, and gen­er­at­ing del­i­cate light­ing effects in the more broad­ly toned areas. He would some­times touch up details with a pen, just as he does in the present work, to limn the dis­tant build­ings. Sev­er­al of his court­yard draw­ings exist in mul­ti­ple ver­sions, not as strict repli­cas but rather show­ing the same court­yard with slight dif­fer­ences in detail and archi­tec­tur­al arrange­ment.8

Like other artists, Wijck must have returned home with a stock of draw­ings that he could use to cre­ate other works for the col­lec­tors’ mar­ket.9

The present draw­ing is on a sheet of paper with a North­ern water­mark and may be such a work. No relat­ed sheets show­ing the same or sim­i­lar court­yard have come to light, and it is pos­si­ble that Wijck invent­ed the scene entirely.

End Notes

  1. For Wijck’s Ital­ianate draw­ings, see Ste­land 1987 – 88; and P. Schat­born in Ams­ter­dam 2001, 117 – 23; and for his Ital­ian peri­od in gen­er­al, see L. Trez­zani in Brig­an­ti et al. 1983, 222 – 37. For his alchemist paint­ings, see Drago 2019. See also, for his early career, Schnack­en­burg 1992.

  2. For an overview of the evi­dence, see the biogra­phies of the artist by I. van Thiel-Stro­man in Bies­boer et al. 2006, 347 – 51; and L. Trez­zani in Turn­er 1996.

  3. Houbrak­en 1718 – 21, vol. 2, 16 – 17 (“door hem zelf in Ital­ien naar t leven afgeteekent”).

  4. P. Schat­born in Ams­ter­dam 2001, 117, 119.

  5. For these court­yard scenes gen­er­al­ly, see P. Schat­born in Ams­ter­dam 2001, 117 – 23. One of Wijck’s court­yards was also depict­ed by at least two other artists, sug­gest­ing that it was a known inn or stop­ping place in Italy among trav­el­ing Dutch artists (and fur­ther evi­dence that Wijck drew from life in Italy), for which see, idem, 16 – 17.

  6. For Van Laer and the Bam­boc­cianti, see Brig­an­ti et al. 1983; Levine 1986; Jansen & Lui­jten 1988; and Cologne & Utrecht 1991 – 92.

  7. Plomp 1997, 473, no. 566.

  8. For Wijck’s auto­graph rep­e­ti­tion draw­ings, see espe­cial­ly P. Schat­born in Ams­ter­dam 2001. See also Burke 1972; and the pair in the Fodor Col­lec­tion (Ams­ter­dam Muse­um) and Teylers Muse­um: Broos & Schapel­houman 1993, no. 185; and Plomp 1997, no. 566.

  9. Fur­ther­more, only a few of his Ital­ianate draw­ings were appar­ent­ly used as prepara­to­ry mate­r­i­al for his paint­ings; see Van Suylen 2020, 203.