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Willem Romeyn, Dutch, c. 1624-c. 1695: Boy with Two Laden Donkeys in the Hills, 1694 

Willem Romeyn enjoyed a fifty-year-long career paint­ing and draw­ing Ital­ianate sub­jects. In his twen­ties, the artist trav­eled to Italy and worked in Rome from 1650 to 1651 under the Ital­ian­ized name Gugliel­mo Romano. Dur­ing this short peri­od, he amassed a large stock of stud­ies from life that he later used to gen­er­ate fin­ished com­po­si­tions in his stu­dio in Haar­lem. Here, don­keys heav­i­ly laden with gear stop at the side of a trail in a remote hilly loca­tion, attend­ed by a young boy. Romeyn’s skill­ful use of wash­es to define tex­ture, as seen in the pack ani­mal’s shag­gy coats, and the effects of intense sun­light, bring a sense of verisimil­i­tude to this imag­ined moment.

Although he remains lit­tle stud­ied, Willem Romeyn had a long career paint­ing and draw­ing Ital­ianate sub­jects, pri­mar­i­ly in Haar­lem, where he also served promi­nent­ly in the local guild.1

Romeyn’s style stayed remark­ably con­sis­tent over his five-decade career, reveal­ing the endur­ing influ­ence of his mas­ter, Nico­laes Berchem (1621/22 – 1683), with whom he stud­ied between 1642 and 1646.2

Since they were only a few years apart in age, Berchem and Romeyn are bet­ter con­sid­ered as con­tem­po­raries, both belong­ing to the so-called Sec­ond Gen­er­a­tion of Dutch Ital­ianates. In con­trast with Berchem, how­ev­er, we actu­al­ly have evi­dence that Romeyn made the trip south of the Alps since he is record­ed liv­ing and work­ing in Rome under the Ital­ian­ized name of Gugliel­mo Romano in the years 1650 – 51. He was back in Haar­lem by 1652.3

Romeyn exe­cut­ed a large num­ber of draw­ings over the course of his career, though a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of these date to the early 1690s, includ­ing the present work.4

They demon­strate his undi­min­ished strength as a drafts­man later in life. Most are like­wise signed and fin­ished works in his pre­ferred com­bi­na­tion of black chalk and gray wash. Romeyn inher­it­ed Berchem’s skill­ful care in his use of wash­es to define tex­ture, form, and the lumi­nous effects of sun­light, all of which can be seen to great effect in the Peck draw­ing. In this work, Romeyn skill­ful­ly con­trast­ed the shag­gy coats of the pack ani­mals with the var­i­ous tex­tures of the sacks and the wick­er gear loaded onto them. The boy fac­ing away from us remains anony­mous and hid­den in his cloak, stand­ing at rest in a remote and hilly loca­tion with his charge. That the pack ani­mals face in oppo­site direc­tions seems to indi­cate that their stop by the side of the trail was more than a momen­tary one.

Like many of his fel­low Dutch Ital­ianates, Romeyn enjoyed depict­ing trav­el­ers in var­i­ous land­scapes, espe­cial­ly those with ancient ruins in the back­ground. By con­trast, Romeyn’s focus here is almost sole­ly on the boy and his pack ani­mals, with only a few sug­ges­tions of a land­scape. He rarely depict­ed fig­ures and ani­mals so near and with such care, but this work relates to three other draw­ings in which Romeyn did so, all signed and dated 1694, and all sim­i­lar in for­mat and dimen­sions as well as sub­ject mat­ter.5

The draw­ing from Frank­furt in this group jux­ta­pos­es a mule (wear­ing the medal­lion blind­ers) with the slight­ly small­er don­key to the right Fig. 66.1.

Willem Romeyn, Figures with a Donkey and Mule
Fig. 66.1

Willem Romeyn, Fig­ures with a Don­key and Mule, 1694. Black chalk and gray wash, 209 × 329 mm. Frank­furt, Städel Muse­um, inv. no. 849.

It is pos­si­ble that the artist intend­ed a sim­i­lar con­trast between a mule and a don­key in the Peck draw­ing, though the exact iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the ani­mal at the cen­ter is dif­fi­cult to deter­mine beneath the bulky load it car­ries. In gen­er­al, these com­po­si­tions appear to have been inspired by Karel du Jardin (1626– 1678), a fel­low Dutch Ital­ianate, and pos­si­bly also a fel­low stu­dent of Berchem’s in the 1640s. Du Jardin was fond of fea­tur­ing pack ani­mals such as these in his paint­ings and etch­ings from the early 1650s onward.6

One of the char­ac­ter­is­tic fea­tures of Romeyn’s work­ing method is the reuse of fig­ures and other motifs in his draw­ings and paint­ings across the span of his career. The stand­ing boy with his walk­ing stick in the present work, for exam­ple, appears in exact­ly the same pose in a draw­ing from over three decades ear­li­er, View of the Roman Forum, dated 1660 Fig. 66.2.7

Willem Romeyn, View of the Roman Forum
Fig. 66.2

Willem Romeyn, View of the Roman Forum, 1660. Gray wash on paper, 155 × 240 mm. Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. RP-T-1905-207.

Like­wise, the slight­ly more dis­tant don­key in the left mid­dle ground of the present sheet fea­tures in the same pose and aspect in two other draw­ings.8

Romeyn obvi­ous­ly kept a large stock of stud­ies from life, espe­cial­ly those made dur­ing his years in Italy, from which he could gen­er­ate fin­ished com­po­si­tions in the stu­dio. While his life stud­ies gen­er­al­ly do not sur­vive, one such exam­ple might be a study for the fore­ground don­key on the right that was recent­ly on the art mar­ket Fig. 66.3.9

Willem Romeyn (attributed to), Study of a Laden Donkey
Fig. 66.3

Willem Romeyn (attrib­uted to), Study of a Laden Don­key. Black chalk and gray wash on paper, 118 × 135 mm. Present where­abouts unknown.

Peter Schat­born demon­strat­ed that Romeyn not only recy­cled fig­ures and motifs, but also larg­er views of Rome and its ruins as well.10

Such a pro­ce­dure cer­tain­ly exem­pli­fies the vital impact of draw­ing as a prac­tice for artists who vis­it­ed Rome for only a short por­tion of their work­ing career. Romeyn pos­sessed an impres­sive abil­i­ty to inven­tive­ly and seam­less­ly recom­bine his stud­ies to cre­ate live­ly orig­i­nal com­po­si­tions such as this one, in which the con­vinc­ing qual­i­ties of sub­ject and place belie the imag­i­nary nature of the representation.

End Notes

  1. For an overview of Romeyn’s draw­ings, see P. Schat­born in Ams­ter­dam 2001, 147 – 51; and Knab 1964 for an intro­duc­tion to the artist. Knab’s main goal in his arti­cle was to posit that an impor­tant group of draw­ings of Roman sub­jects in Kas­sel is by Romeyn’s hand, but Lisa Oehler sug­gest­ed Willem Schellinks in a sub­se­quent and more thor­ough study of the group (Oehler 1997). Both sug­ges­tions have been thor­ough­ly refut­ed; see Ste­land 1999, who sug­gests instead an anony­mous fol­low­er of Jan Asseli­jn. Romeyn served as vin­der or oud­vin­der in the guild three times (1660, 1661, 1677) and was nom­i­nat­ed on three other occa­sions (1670, 1671, 1676); for which see the rel­e­vant entries in Miede­ma 1980.

  2. See Miede­ma 1980, vol. 2, 543, for his reg­is­tra­tion as one of Berchem’s first three stu­dents in the guild records. For his accep­tance into the guild as mas­ter in 1646, see idem, vol. 2, 1040, some­times given incor­rect­ly as 1644.

  3. Hoogew­erff 1942, 123 – 24. He is list­ed twice in the stati delle animé of the parish of San Loren­zo in Luci­na as Gugliel­mo Romano, first as pit­tore fia­men­go, and then as olan­dese, pit­tore. He does not appear to have been a mem­ber of the Bentvueghels there, nor (if so) has his Bent-name sur­vived; see Hoogew­erff 1952, 77.

  4. For some of Romeyn’s other draw­ings from the early 1690s, see White & Craw­ley 1994, 298 – 99, nos. 430 – 33; Ste­fes 2011, 472 – 73, nos. 876 – 77; and Plomp 1997, 352 – 53, nos. 404 – 05.

  5. The other three draw­ings are those in the Städel Muse­um, Frank­furt, inv. no. 849; the Cour­tauld Gallery, Lon­don, inv. no. D.1952.RW.2039; and for­mer­ly in the Einar Per­man col­lec­tion, Stock­holm. This cohe­sive group was first estab­lished by F. Robin­son in Chapel Hill, Itha­ca & Worces­ter 1999 – 2001, 84.

  6. For sim­i­lar paint­ings in Du Jardin’s oeu­vre, see Kil­ian 2005, pas­sim; and for exam­ples among his etch­ings, which may have arguably had greater impact, see Holl­stein, vol. 6, 22 – 47, espe­cial­ly nos. 2, 6, and 27.

  7. See P. Schat­born in Ams­ter­dam 2001, 148, fig. B. The same dilap­i­dat­ed oxcart to the right of the boy in this draw­ing was like­wise exact­ly repeat­ed decades later in a draw­ing dated 1693 in the Teylers Muse­um, Haar­lem; see Plomp 1997, 352, no. 404.

  8. Paris, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Art, inv. no. Mas.1944 (Lugt 1950, 64, no. 515); and Ham­burg, Ham­burg­er Kun­sthalle, inv. no. 22437 (Ste­fes 2011, 473, no. 877). This par­tic­u­lar repeat­ed motif was first spot­ted by Shel­don Peck (email to Mark Broch, 4 Decem­ber 2012, print­ed copy in cura­to­r­i­al files, Ack­land Art Museum).

  9. This draw­ing was offered for sale in 2012 by Foolscap Fine Art, The Hague. The study appears to have been done from life, though it is also pos­si­ble that it copies an ear­li­er study by Romeyn.

  10. Ams­ter­dam 2001, 147 – 51.