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Jan Lievens, Dutch, 1607-1674: Landscape with Ruins, Possibly Castle Egmond, c. 1650-60 

Depict­ed from a low view­point of a rub­ble-strewn mound, the exposed inte­ri­or vaults and stand­ing walls of a build­ing appear mon­u­men­tal beside the back­ground trees. The struc­ture has been ten­ta­tive­ly iden­ti­fied as the ruins of Cas­tle Egmond, a medieval cas­tle in North Hol­land that the Dutch destroyed in 1573 to pre­vent the Span­ish from occu­py­ing it dur­ing the Dutch Revolt. 

Jan Lievens and other artists appre­ci­at­ed the site for its his­toric and aes­thet­ic val­ues. His fluid and dynam­ic pen strokes, applied in a vari­ety of tones, endow the draw­ing with a sense of vital­i­ty and bril­liance, enliven­ing an oth­er­wise decay­ing structure.

This large and com­mand­ing sheet demon­strates Jan Lieven­s’s abil­i­ties as a land­scape drafts­man. Of his approx­i­mate­ly 150 known draw­ings, land­scape com­po­si­tions rep­re­sent about half of his out­put. Since he only made about a dozen land­scape paint­ings, he clear­ly pre­ferred the medi­um of draw­ing for this genre.1

Because of their scale and degree of fin­ish, we can assume that he made most of his land­scape draw­ings for the col­lec­tors’ mar­ket, like­ly this work as well. None of his land­scape draw­ings relate to his paint­ings.2

Although the present work is on Euro­pean paper, Lievens occa­sion­al­ly used spe­cial sup­ports such as vel­lum or Japan­ese paper for his land­scape draw­ings, under­scor­ing their sta­tus as valu­able fin­ished works. Rem­brandt (1606 – 1669), his broth­er­ly rival when they were young artists in Lei­den togeth­er in the late 1620s, often did the same from the late 1640s onward in his own prints and drawings.

Lieven­s’s style is remark­ably dis­tinct in these works. In the Peck draw­ing, his high­ly fluid and rapid­ly hatched lines cre­ate strong diag­o­nal move­ment, seen espe­cial­ly in the foliage and in the crum­bling walls of the ruin. The ulti­mate effect endows the com­po­si­tion with a loose dynamism and sense of shim­mer­ing vital­i­ty. Flem­ish and Ital­ian artists have been cited as impor­tant influ­ences on Lieven­s’s land­scape draw­ing style, but none come close to his indi­vid­ual way of han­dling the pen. For this com­po­si­tion, the artist care­ful­ly mod­u­lat­ed the tone in stages to enhance the sense of per­spec­ti­val depth in a series of zones from the upper left to the lower right. He used stronger dilu­tions of ink and added den­si­ty to the tight­ly looped under­growth in the lower right, where he also appears to have made addi­tions in a dif­fer­ent, dark­er ink. The low­ered view­point lends the com­po­si­tion a tapes­try-like effect by reduc­ing the blank areas of the vis­i­ble sky. This ori­en­ta­tion addi­tion­al­ly mon­u­men­tal­izes the ruin itself, which is perched on an oth­er­wise hum­ble mound.

The ruins in this draw­ing have long been assumed to be those of Brederode Cas­tle, but this iden­ti­fi­ca­tion is almost cer­tain­ly incor­rect, as point­ed out recent­ly by Wietske Donker­sloot.3

Unlike most of the medieval or postmedieval ruins vis­i­ble in the Nether­lands at the time, those of Brederode remain pre­served today in much the same state of ruin since the castle’s final destruc­tion in 1573. This makes it a rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple mat­ter to com­pare the image against the site, which reveals no notable points of cor­re­spon­dence. The orig­i­nal link with the cas­tle was based on an early inscrip­tion found on the verso, read­ing slot te breederoo (Cas­tle of Brederode). The mis­take is not com­plete­ly sur­pris­ing since this ruin was by far the most fre­quent­ly depict­ed one in sev­en­teenth-cen­tu­ry Dutch art.4

An old inscrip­tion on the verso of a draw­ing by Lievens for­mer­ly in the Van Regteren Alte­na Col­lec­tion like­wise incor­rect­ly iden­ti­fies the site as Brederode, an inac­cu­ra­cy caught much ear­li­er in the lit­er­a­ture.5

These errors aside, Lievens did depict Brederode on at least one occa­sion.6

Donker­sloot’s sup­po­si­tion that the Peck draw­ing instead shows the ruins of Cas­tle Egmond has merit.7

Any pre­cise cor­re­spon­dence to this site, how­ev­er, remains dif­fi­cult to ver­i­fy since those ruins have long been cleared down to their foun­da­tions.8

Nev­er­the­less, a paint­ing by Jacob van Ruis­dael that dates to around the same time reveals some points of sim­i­lar­i­ty Fig. 42.1.9

Jacob van Ruisdael, Landscape with the Ruins of the Castle Egmond
Fig. 42.1

Jacob van Ruis­dael, Land­scape with the Ruins of the Cas­tle Egmond, c. 1650 – 53. Oil on can­vas, 95 × 125 cm. Chica­go, Art Insti­tute of Chica­go, inv. no. 1947.475.

The exposed inte­ri­or vaults and stand­ing walls are sim­i­lar to those in Lieven­s’s draw­ing, as is the rub­ble-strewn mound run­ning down to the water. While this pro­posed iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the site must remain ten­ta­tive, we can at least con­firm that Lievens was in the Egmond area one or more times from a draw­ing that depicts the ruins of the near­by Abbey of Egmond, for­mer­ly one of the most sig­nif­i­cant medieval abbeys in the coun­try.10

Both Cas­tle Egmond and the Abbey of Egmond were destroyed by the rebel com­man­der Diederik Sonoy (1529 – 1597) in 1573 to keep them out of Span­ish hands dur­ing the Dutch Revolt. Like Brederode, both sites were high­ly appre­ci­at­ed in Lieven­s’s day for their his­tor­i­cal and artis­tic value. The Counts of Egmond had been among the most pow­er­ful in Hol­land, and the exe­cu­tion of Count Lam­oral by the Span­ish in 1568 did much to spark the Dutch Revolt in the first place. The sites also pro­vid­ed use­ful source mate­r­i­al for a painter like Ruis­dael, who imag­i­na­tive­ly incor­po­rat­ed some of the remains of both the cas­tle and abbey in the two ver­sions of his famous Jew­ish Ceme­tery. 11

One might rea­son­ably won­der if Lievens made an imag­i­nary pas­tiche in the stu­dio for the present work as well, whether based upon Egmond Cas­tle or anoth­er ruin, but the seem­ing­ly spe­cif­ic and com­plex low­ered view­point argues for a com­po­si­tion made from an actu­al site. What­ev­er the case, Lievens did not com­mon­ly fea­ture ruins in his land­scape draw­ings, and this work stands as a high point in his treat­ment of the subject.

Despite the large num­ber that sur­vive, Lieven­s’s land­scape draw­ings have proven dif­fi­cult to date.12

No reli­able chronol­o­gy has been devel­oped based on style due to their rel­a­tive homo­gene­ity, and few topo­graph­i­cal clues have helped the mat­ter.13

By gen­er­al schol­ar­ly con­sen­sus, most appear to have been made in the 1650s or 1660s, or at least after Lieven­s’s return to the Nether­lands in 1644, after a decade abroad in Lon­don and Antwerp. A poten­tial con­nec­tion between Lievens and the Egmond area worth not­ing is that the artist once made a drawn por­trait of René Descartes Fig. 42.2.14

Jan Lievens, Portrait of René Descartes
Fig. 42.2

Jan Lievens, Por­trait of René Descartes, 1644 – 49. Black chalk, 241 × 206 mm. Gronin­gen, Groninger Muse­um, inv. no. 1931.0173.

A com­pelling thought, though some­what spec­u­la­tive, is that Lievens was inspired to draw the ruins while vis­it­ing the famous French philoso­pher, who lived in the small vil­lage of Egmond aan den Hoef next to the cas­tle ruins (among which he was appar­ent­ly fond of wan­der­ing) in the years 1643 – 49.15

Lieven­s’s por­trait must date between the artist’s return to the coun­try in 1644 and Descartes’s depar­ture for Swe­den in 1649. This may be slight­ly too early for the present sheet, which bears a water­mark more sug­ges­tive of a date of pro­duc­tion in the early 1650s. On the other hand, Sumows­ki estab­lished that Lievens was inclined to make his fin­ished draw­ings by work­ing in the stu­dio from sketch­es made ear­li­er on-site.16

Such may be the case here if a visit to Egmond in the late 1640s indeed served as an inspi­ra­tion for this bold landscape.

End Notes

  1. See Sumows­ki Draw­ings, vol. 7 (1983), passim.

  2. For overviews of Lieven­s’s land­scape draw­ings, see Schnei­der & Ekkart 1973, 73 – 76; Sumows­ki 1980; Ekkart in Braun­schweig 1979, 30 – 31; Sumows­ki Draw­ings, vol. 7 (1983), 3710 – 11; and Rubin­stein in Wash­ing­ton, Mil­wau­kee & Ams­ter­dam 2008 – 09, 73 – 76. Some fur­ther prob­lems are out­lined in Roy­al­ton-Kisch 1998, 620 – 22.

  3. Donker­sloot 2012, 31 – 32.

  4. For a com­pre­hen­sive study of Brederode as an object of artis­tic inter­est, see Donker­sloot 2006. For fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tions of its iconog­ra­phy, see Fucci 2018a, 137 – 44.

  5. Sumows­ki Draw­ings, vol. 7 (1983), no. 1711x. See also Ams­ter­dam 1988 – 89, no. 62; and the sale cat­a­logue, Christie’s, Ams­ter­dam, 10 Decem­ber 2014, lot 170 (with Lau­rens Schoe­mak­er’s sug­ges­tion that it might be part of a ruined town wall instead).

  6. Sumows­ki Draw­ings, vol. 7 (1983), no. 1742x. This draw­ing shows the cas­tle ruin just inside the outer bai­ley (voor­burcht).

  7. Donker­sloot 2012, 32. Donker­sloot’s other sug­ges­tion that the ruins might be those of Huis ter Kleef (out­side of Haar­lem) is less convincing.

  8. See Burg­er 1988 for a study of the his­to­ry and archi­tec­ture of Cas­tle Egmond, includ­ing a num­ber of early images of the ruin. For other sev­en­teenth-cen­tu­ry views, see also Renaud 1940; and Niemei­jer 1959. Roe­lant Rogh­man made a num­ber of draw­ings of the ruins in 1646 – 47, for which see Van der Wyck & Kloek 1989 – 90, vol. 2, nos. 45 – 48; and Plomp 1997, nos. 356 – 58.

  9. For this paint­ing, see Slive 2001, no. 29; and Los Ange­les, Philadel­phia & Lon­don 2005 – 06, no. 18.

  10. Sumows­ki Draw­ings, vol. 7 (1983), no. 1722x . See also Ams­ter­dam 1988 – 89, no. 61; and Wash­ing­ton, Mil­wau­kee & Ams­ter­dam 2008 – 09, no. 124. While Schnieder con­sid­ered this sheet one of Lieven­s’s best draw­ings, Ekkart dis­missed it as a copy; both Sumows­ki and Schat­born, how­ev­er, have reaf­firmed it as an authen­tic orig­i­nal (see the afore­men­tioned lit­er­a­ture, with fur­ther ref­er­ences). NB: the entry in Wash­ing­ton, Mil­wau­kee & Ams­ter­dam 2008 – 09 (no. 124) erro­neous­ly con­flates the sites of the cas­tle and the abbey, which were actu­al­ly locat­ed in dif­fer­ent areas, the cas­tle next to Egmond aan den Hoef, and the abbey next to Egmond-Bin­nen. A few other draw­ings attrib­uted to Lievens depict the Cas­tle Egmond itself, though these are per­haps copies; see Braun­schweig 1979, no. 87, with fur­ther references.

  11. See Los Ange­les, Philadel­phia & Lon­don 2005 – 06, no. 22.

  12. For the chronol­o­gy prob­lem, see Sumows­ki Draw­ings, vol. 7 (1983), 3710; and G. Rubin­stein in Wash­ing­ton, Mil­wau­kee & Ams­ter­dam 2008 – 09, 75 – 76.

  13. For the topo­graph­i­cal aids in dat­ing, see Sumows­ki 1980, 372.

  14. Sumows­ki Draw­ings, vol. 7 (1983), no. 1660x. See also Ams­ter­dam 1988 – 89, no. 45; and Wash­ing­ton, Mil­wau­kee & Ams­ter­dam 2008 – 09, no. 112. While some doubts have been expressed in the past about the iden­ti­ty of the sit­ter, recent schol­ar­ship has reaf­firmed that the draw­ing indeed depicts Descartes.

  15. For Descartes’s years in Egmond, see Van den Berg 2014. He had moved there specif­i­cal­ly to avoid the pub­lic spotlight.

  16. Sumows­ki 1980.