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Jan de Biss­chop, Dutch, 1628-1671

Study of a Bronze Statuette, after Willem Danielsz. van Tetrode, c. 1660-70 

An ama­teur artist with great skill, Jan de Biss­chop was an astute and enthu­si­as­tic copy­ist of Clas­si­cal and Renais­sance sculp­ture. This draw­ing, how­ev­er, shows De Biss­chop’s inter­est in the work of Willem van Tetrode, a Dutch sculp­tor active in the six­teenth cen­tu­ry. It doc­u­ments a table­top-size bronze of Mar­cus Cur­tius, an ancient Roman sol­dier described in Livy’s His­to­ry of Rome. A sym­bol of mil­i­tary valor, Mar­cus Cur­tius hurled him­self into a chasm cre­at­ed by the gods in the Roman forum to save the city. De Biss­chop’s draw­ing, fea­tur­ing bold brush­work and his per­son­al blend of red­dish-brown ink, con­veys beau­ti­ful­ly both the rid­er’s for­ti­tude and the horse’s utmost ter­ror as they under­take their sac­ri­fi­cial mission.

Jan de Biss­chop holds a spe­cial place in the his­to­ry of Dutch art since he was not a pro­fes­sion­al artist, but rather a promi­nent lawyer work­ing in The Hague. He nev­er­the­less stood at the cen­ter of an elite cir­cle of dilet­tantes who most­ly drew rather than paint­ed. De Biss­chop made a sig­nif­i­cant impact on artists of his era through his draw­ings and etch­ings, and par­tic­u­lar­ly through his books pro­mot­ing clas­si­ciz­ing ideals of beau­ty in art.1

His draw­ings are espe­cial­ly notable for their bold brush­work that makes effec­tive use of the white reserve of the paper to cre­ate dra­mat­ic high­lights, a tech­nique he may have picked up from his pre­sumed teacher, Bartholomeus Breen­bergh (1598 – 1657). He was also famous for his dis­tinc­tive red­dish-brown ink, the recipe for which was appar­ent­ly his own inven­tion.2

It was men­tioned as early as 1697 by Willem Goeree (1635 – 1711) in his trea­tise on draw­ing, who notes that it was made by com­bin­ing an Indi­an ink with car­bon soot and a cop­per-based vit­ri­ol, the effect of which lends his draw­ings a par­tic­u­lar warmth and vibran­cy.3

Cer­tain pas­sages in the present sheet have dis­col­ored over time, such as in the mane, under­side, and rear of the horse, like­ly due to the oxi­da­tion of lead-white addi­tions.4

Despite this, the sheet still man­ages to con­vey De Biss­chop’s bril­liant man­ner of bring­ing his sub­ject forth against a dark background.

While this draw­ing has long been known to his­to­ri­ans of sculp­ture, it does not appear in the lit­er­a­ture on De Biss­chop, for whom a cat­a­logue of his more than 500 draw­ings remains a desider­a­tum.5

His sub­ject here is sig­nif­i­cant from an art his­tor­i­cal stand­point because it doc­u­ments a table­top-size bronze stat­uette attrib­uted to Willem Daniel­sz. van Tetrode (c. 1525 – 1580), an impor­tant Dutch sculp­tor who worked in Italy for many years, notably in the work­shop of Ben­venu­to Celli­ni (1500 – 1571), before return­ing to the Nether­lands around 1566 – 67.6

Despite being high­ly regard­ed in his time, Tetrode’s sculp­ture is rel­a­tive­ly rare today, and only recent­ly has his sur­viv­ing cor­pus been brought more fully to light and the true extent of his influ­ence bet­ter doc­u­ment­ed. This is the only known case of De Biss­chop mak­ing a draw­ing after a sculp­ture by Tetrode. For many years, the bronze depict­ed here was con­sid­ered a work by Dutch archi­tect and sculp­tor Hen­drick de Keyser (1565 – 1621) — before that, to Leonar­do da Vinci (1452 – 1519), an attri­bu­tion more eas­i­ly dis­missed — until Frits Scholten argued con­vinc­ing­ly for Tetrode’s author­ship.7

Two orig­i­nal casts of the bronze are extant, both in Amer­i­can art muse­ums Fig. 57.1,Fig. 57.2.

Willem Danielsz. van Tetrode (attributed to), Warrior on Horseback
Fig. 57.1

Willem Daniel­sz. van Tetrode (attrib­uted to), War­rior on Horse­back, 1562 – 65. Bronze, height 40.6 cm. Louisville, J. B. Speed Art Muse­um, inv. no. 1949.30.2.

Willem Danielsz. van Tetrode (attributed t0), Warrior on Horseback
Fig. 57.2

Willem Daniel­sz. van Tetrode (attrib­uted t0), War­rior on Horse­back, 1562 – 65. Bronze, height 39.7 cm. Los Ange­les, J. Paul Getty Muse­um, inv. no.

They dif­fer slight­ly, and only in terms of acces­sories: the ver­sion in the Speed Art Muse­um has a clus­ter of flames emerg­ing from the plinth, while the Get­ty’s rider wears a detach­able cape and bears a shield with a Medusa head image.8

The flame, cape, and Medusa head on the shield are miss­ing in De Biss­chop’s draw­ing. He did not nec­es­sar­i­ly draw from one of these spe­cif­ic exam­ples since other casts or copies of this bronze would have almost cer­tain­ly been in cir­cu­la­tion at the time.9

In 1624, the sil­ver­smith Thomas Cruse (1586 – 1649) of Delft (Tetrode’s home­town, where he returned briefly after his trav­els in Italy) owned five pieces by the sculp­tor along with eigh­teen cast­ing molds of his works.10

This sug­gests that Cruse and oth­ers were in the busi­ness of mak­ing repli­cas of Tetrode’s small-scale bronzes such as this, which must have been in some demand. The Brus­sels clock and gun-maker Cas­par van Tur­ck­el­stein (1579 – c. 1648) also made a num­ber of repli­cas of Tetrode’s bronzes, though not always exact.11

Van Tur­ck­el­stein’s changes some­times includ­ed the addi­tion of a rocky ground to the plinth, sim­i­lar to the one depict­ed in De Biss­chop’s draw­ing.12

Tetrode’s eques­tri­an war­rior most like­ly rep­re­sents Mar­cus Cur­tius, the ancient Roman hero famous for his act of self-sac­ri­fice.13

The story as set forth in Livy’s His­to­ry of Rome (VII.6) recounts how a great chasm of immea­sur­able depth opened in the mid­dle of the Roman Forum. Accord­ing to sooth­say­ers, this seem­ing admon­ish­ment from the gods could only be redressed through the sac­ri­fice of Rome’s great­est asset. Mar­cus Cur­tius, a young Roman sol­dier of courage and skill, declared that Rome’s most con­sid­er­able bless­ing could only be its mil­i­tary valor. Thus, rid­ing fully armored and with his arms out­stretched, he plunged head­long into the abyss which closed after him. Such moral exem­pla from ancient sources, espe­cial­ly those treat­ing the theme of self-sac­ri­fice, became pop­u­lar sub­ject mat­ter in Renais­sance art.14

One fea­ture of Tetrode’s bronze, repeat­ed to great effect in De Biss­chop’s draw­ing, is the expres­sion of sheer ter­ror found on the horse, a crea­ture under­stand­ably less enthu­si­as­tic about the leap into the abyss than its rider.

The pre­cise iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the sub­ject has gen­er­al­ly been left open in the schol­ar­ship on Tetrode.15

The flame on the plinth of the Speed’s ver­sion, how­ev­er, argues strong­ly in favor of the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Mar­cus Cur­tius, in which the abyss exud­ing flames reflects a medieval adap­ta­tion that turned the chasm into a por­tal to hell.16

Sev­er­al Ger­man Renais­sance prints and draw­ings also depict flames or smoke.17

They fur­ther fea­ture in later Dutch prints, notably in an engrav­ing by Hen­drick Goltz­ius (1558 – 1617) from 1586 in which one sees Mar­cus Cur­tius depict­ed for a sec­ond time in the back­ground in the act of mak­ing his leap Fig. 57.3.18

Hendrick Goltzius, Marcus Curtius
Fig. 57.3

Hen­drick Goltz­ius, Mar­cus Cur­tius, 1586. Engrav­ing, 370 × 239 mm. Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. RP-P-OB-10.340.

Although com­po­si­tion­al­ly dif­fer­ent, it is entire­ly plau­si­ble that Goltz­ius was inspired by Tetrode’s dynam­ic Mar­cus Cur­tius bronze given that the print­mak­er was clear­ly in the habit of bor­row­ing a num­ber of poses and anatom­i­cal fea­tures from the sculptor’s works in the years 1585 – 90.19

Dis­cov­er­ing De Biss­chop’s inter­est in Tetrode in this era pro­vides one of our last glimpses of the sculp­tor’s impact before his name and works dis­ap­peared into near obliv­ion until the early twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. In his draw­ing prac­tice, De Biss­chop was an astute and enthu­si­as­tic copy­ist of sculp­ture, but his efforts were almost entire­ly focused on clas­si­cal antiq­ui­ties or works by Ital­ian Renais­sance artists. It is dif­fi­cult to say whether De Biss­chop was aware of Tetrode’s author­ship of the bronze (or its pro­to­type, if it was a copy), but we know that he occa­sion­al­ly took an inter­est in sculp­ture by North­ern artists as well. Known exam­ples include his draw­ings after works by Hen­drick de Keyser, Frans Du Ques­noy (1597– 1643), and a recent­ly dis­cov­ered sheet after a bust by Con­rad Meit (1485 – 1550/51).20

End Notes

  1. For basic lit­er­a­ture on De Biss­chop’s art and pub­li­ca­tions, see Van Gelder 1971; Van Gelder & Jost 1985; and Jelle­ma & Plomp 1992. His books, the Icones and Par­a­dig­ma­ta, were pub­lished in 1668/69 and 1671 respectively.

  2. For De Biss­chop’s ink, see Van Gelder 1971, 217; Jelle­ma & Plomp 1992, 15; and La Cam­era 2007, 157 – 58.

  3. Van Gelder 1971, 217 (cit­ing Goeree’s 1705 ed., 91). The terms Goeree used for these three ele­ments are Oost-Indis­che inkt, roet, and koper-rood.

  4. Other exam­ples of oxi­da­tion in De Biss­chop’s sheets can be found through­out his album of 140 draw­ings in the Vic­to­ria & Albert Muse­um; for which see Turn­er & White 2014, vol. 1, 25 – 67, no. 23, passim.

  5. The draw­ing’s author was already cor­rect­ly iden­ti­fied as De Biss­chop when it was in the Ten Cate and Meiss­ner col­lec­tions, though its sub­ject was then incor­rect­ly assumed (not sur­pris­ing­ly) to be an uniden­ti­fied ancient Roman relief; see Han­nema 1955, vol. 1, 107, no. 179; Düs­sel­dorf 1964, no. 4; and Bre­men & Zürich 1976, 79, no. 163. For its first link with the bronze stat­uette, see Hall 1973, 40 – 41; fur­ther cited in the lit­er­a­ture on the sculp­ture by W. Halse­ma-Kubes in Ams­ter­dam 1993 – 94, 403, under no. 57; and F. Scholten in Ams­ter­dam & New York 2003, 71 – 72.

  6. For Tetrode’s life and works, see espe­cial­ly Ams­ter­dam & New York 2003.

  7. The early attri­bu­tion to Leonar­do was made in Hall 1973; later argued as a work by De Keyser in Ams­ter­dam 1993 – 94, 402 – 03, no. 57; and then Tetrode in Ams­ter­dam & New York 2003, 53, 118 – 19, nos. 11 – 12 (though Scholten’s pro­posed attri­bu­tion to Tetrode was men­tioned in pass­ing slight­ly ear­li­er in Jolly 1999, 135, note 54).

  8. A third, pos­si­bly still extant, ver­sion of the bronze has the rider wear­ing a plumed hel­met but with­out cape or sword (sale, Lepke, Frank­furt, 23 April 1936, lot 114); see Ams­ter­dam & New York 2003, 119, under no. 12.

  9. For casts and copies of Tetrode’s works after his death, see F. Scholten in Ams­ter­dam & New York 2003, 66 – 72.

  10. Bredius 1915 – 22, vol. 4 (1917), 1456 – 58; and Ams­ter­dam & New York 2003, 66 – 69.

  11. Ams­ter­dam & New York 2003, 67 – 69.

  12. See, for exam­ple, Van Tur­ck­el­stein’s copies from circa 1640 in the Her­zog Anton Ulrich Muse­um of Tetrode’s Her­cules Pomar­ius (Ams­ter­dam & New York 2003, 68, fig. 82, and 123, no. 24); and Mer­cury (idem, 67, fig. 81, and 117 – 18, no. 10).

  13. Halse­ma-Kubes (Ams­ter­dam 1993 – 94, 403) averred that no clear-cut iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the war­rior presents itself,” but made the sug­ges­tion of either Perseus or Mar­cus Curtius.

  14. Berbara 2001.

  15. See, how­ev­er, Van Bin­nebeke 2003, vol. 1, 152 – 53, no. 32, vol. 2, 228 – 30, figs. 94 – 97, in which Tetrode’s bronze in the Getty is unam­bigu­ous­ly iden­ti­fied as Mar­cus Curtius.

  16. Berbara 2001, 152.

  17. One can point to prints of Mar­cus Cur­tius by, among oth­ers, Mas­ter I.B. (active c. 1523 – 1530), 1529; Hein­rich Alde­gr­ev­er (1502 – c. 1561), 1532; Georg Pencz (c. 1500 – 1550), 1535; and Hans Brosamer (c. 1500 – 1552), 1540; as well as to a draw­ing by Erhard Schön (c. 1491 – 1542), 1541, British Muse­um, inv. no. 1949,0411.123.

  18. New Holl­stein (Goltz­ius), no. 167. See also the undat­ed engrav­ing by Willem van Swa­nen­burg (1580 – 1612), which may have like­wise been inspired by Tetrode’s bronze; Holl­stein, no. 26.

  19. See S. God­dard and J. Ganz in Williamstown, Madi­son & Lawrence 2001 – 02, which builds on con­nec­tions between Tetrode and Goltz­ius estab­lished in Rad­cliffe 1985; and Van Bin­nebeke 1993.

  20. De Biss­chop made a draw­ing of De Key­ser’s bust of Lei­den bur­go­mas­ter Pieter Adri­aen­sz. van der Werff (see Jelle­ma & Plomp 1992, 56, no. 49; then in a pri­vate col­lec­tion but now in the Rijksmu­se­um, Ams­ter­dam, inv. no. rp-t-2015 – 29) as well as three views of his bronze Mer­cury in his album in the Vic­to­ria & Albert Muse­um (see Turn­er & White 2014, vol. 1, 34 – 35, nos. 23.19 – 23.21). For his draw­ings after Frans Du Ques­noy, see Jelle­ma & Plomp 1992, 56, no. 50. For his draw­ing after Con­rad Meit’s bust, see I. van Tuinen in Boom et al. 2020, 367 – 69.