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Nico­laes Berchem, Dutch, 1620-1683

Trav­el­ers in an Ital­ian Land­scape, 1655 

Accom­pa­nied by a group of herders and their live­stock, a mount­ed shep­herdess points to an immense land­scape vista in the dis­tance. Such Ital­ianate views were extreme­ly pop­u­lar in the Nether­lands, pro­duced by artists whether they had trav­eled south of the Alps or not. It is unlike­ly that Nico­laes Berchem, who spe­cial­ized in these scenes, ever went to Italy, but rather bor­rowed his sub­ject mat­ter from artist col­leagues who did. 

Relat­ed to one of Berchem’s famous paint­ings and a black chalk draw­ing pro­to­type, this work was made using a coun­ter­proof. The artist placed a blank sheet on the drawn pro­to­type, press­ing firm­ly to trans­fer some of the chalk lines. This process made a repro­duc­tion in reverse. Berchem then skill­ful­ly applied tonal gra­da­tions of wash to model the fig­ures, cre­at­ing a high­ly fin­ished draw­ing like­ly intend­ed for the market.

This live­ly com­po­si­tion cen­ters on a group of herders as they drive their live­stock through a vast panoram­ic land­scape. Such scenes helped define Nico­laes Berchem as one of the lead­ing artists of his gen­er­a­tion spe­cial­iz­ing in Ital­ianate land­scapes that often fea­ture, as here, the ide­al­ized, bucol­ic lives of roam­ing shep­herds and shep­herdess­es.1

The ques­tion of whether Berchem ever trav­eled to Italy has been sub­ject to debate, but recent schol­ar­ly con­sen­sus square­ly dis­miss­es such a trip.2

Instead, Berchem seems to have adduced his Ital­ianate style from artist col­leagues who made the jour­ney south, and who often con­tin­ued to pro­duce such sub­ject mat­ter upon return­ing to the Nether­lands. Ital­ianate paint­ings were in great demand back home and fre­quent­ly achieved high prices in the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry.3

Berchem’s works were not only pop­u­lar in his life­time, but even more so in the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry, when he was esteemed (along with Rem­brandt) as one of the great­est Dutch artists of the pre­ced­ing age.4

This draw­ing is close­ly relat­ed to one of Berchem’s most cel­e­brat­ed paint­ings, Ital­ian Land­scape with Fig­ures and Ani­mals in the British Royal Col­lec­tion Fig. 44.1.5

Nicolaes Berchem, Italian Landscape with Figures and Animals
Fig. 44.1

Nico­laes Berchem, Ital­ian Land­scape with Fig­ures and Ani­mals, 1655. Oil on panel, 32.8 × 44.1 cm. Wind­sor, Col­lec­tion of Her Majesty The Queen, inv. no. RCIN 404818.

The rid­ing shep­herdess who ges­tures or points remained one of Berchem’s favorite motifs through­out his career.6

His shep­herdess­es always rode sidesad­dle (though it is not imme­di­ate­ly appar­ent from this angle) and required dif­fer­ent artis­tic con­sid­er­a­tions in terms of ful­crum and bal­ance in their poses than male rid­ers. Both the draw­ing and the paint­ing are signed and dated 1655, but the draw­ing shows the com­po­si­tion in reverse and is more focused on the cen­tral fig­ure group. The Peck draw­ing and the paint­ing in Wind­sor derive from a com­mon pro­to­type, a much sim­pler black chalk and wash draw­ing that he signed and dated the year before in 1654 Fig. 44.2.7

Nicolaes Berchem, Travelers in an Italian Landscape
Fig. 44.2

Nico­laes Berchem, Trav­el­ers in an Ital­ian Land­scape, 1654. Black chalk and gray wash­es on paper, 146 × 226 mm. Present where­abouts unknown.

As Annemarie Ste­fes first real­ized, the Peck draw­ing was devel­oped from a coun­ter­proof of this lat­ter work.8

To make a coun­ter­proof, an artist places a blank sheet on top of the draw­ing and rubs it firm­ly (or uses a press) to cre­ate an off­set image. This trans­fers enough chalk to cre­ate a repro­duc­tion in reverse of the orig­i­nal. The coun­ter­proof is nec­es­sar­i­ly fainter in appear­ance, though it could be worked into a more fin­ished draw­ing by apply­ing fur­ther media by hand, as was the case here.

We know that Berchem made coun­ter­proofs pre­vi­ous­ly from sev­er­al exam­ples found on the fac­ing pages of his early sketch­book of ani­mal stud­ies from circa 1644 in the British Muse­um Fig. 44.3.9

Nicolaes Berchem, Resting Cow
Fig. 44.3

Nico­laes Berchem, Rest­ing Cow, from the Lon­don sketch­book, c. 1644 – 45. Black chalk on paper with coun­ter­proof on fac­ing page, each leaf 96 × 150 mm. Lon­don, British Muse­um, inv. no. 1920,0213.2.

He used some of these stud­ies for a series of etch­ings. Berchem’s like­ly moti­va­tion, in this case, was to cre­ate draw­ings in reverse that would aid in the prepa­ra­tion of the plates since the result­ing print­ed image would then appear in the same direc­tion as the orig­i­nal sketch.10

What is unusu­al about the Peck draw­ing, and fas­ci­nat­ing for our under­stand­ing of his­tor­i­cal process­es, is that Berchem appears to have made this coun­ter­proof as the basis for cre­at­ing a fin­ished ver­sion (one that he signed and dated) that could be sold as a work of art in its own right. It is the only known case of a signed or oth­er­wise high­ly fin­ished auto­graph repli­ca made with the assis­tance of a coun­ter­proof in his oeu­vre that has thus far come to light.11

This prac­tice is more fre­quent­ly encoun­tered in the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry when artists pro­duced coun­ter­proofs of their draw­ings to gen­er­ate a sec­ond ver­sion for sale, or to pre­serve one for stu­dio use.12

In the present work, Berchem start­ed with a coun­ter­proof of the black chalk lines, still vis­i­ble beneath the wash, that line up exact­ly with the 1654 draw­ing when over­laid dig­i­tal­ly in reverse. He then exten­sive­ly applied wash­es with great atten­tion to detail, cre­at­ing tac­tile vol­umes and a sense of direc­tion­al light. The sub­tle han­dling of the wash is quite excep­tion­al in cer­tain pas­sages, such as in the cloth­ing of the woman and her com­pan­ion, where Berchem employed at least four gra­da­tions of tone to care­ful­ly model the fig­ures. Such skill strong­ly sug­gests Berchem’s own hand rather than that of a fol­low­er such as Abra­ham Begeyn (1637 – 1697), an attri­bu­tion sug­gest­ed when the draw­ing appeared at auc­tion in 2003, before its sta­tus as a reworked coun­ter­proof by Berchem him­self was noted by Ste­fes.13

A copy of the orig­i­nal 1654 draw­ing was used by Jan de Viss­ch­er (1633/34 – 1712) to make an etch­ing of the com­po­si­tion Fig. 44.4.14

Jan de Visscher, Travelers in an Italian Landscape
Fig. 44.4

Jan de Viss­ch­er, Trav­el­ers in an Ital­ian Land­scape, in or after 1656. Etch­ing on paper, 157 × 234 mm. Ams­ter­dam, Rijk­sprentenk­abi­net, inv. no. RP-P-OB-61.954.

Viss­ch­er made more prints after Berchem’s designs than any other print­mak­er and prob­a­bly worked at Berchem’s behest despite the fact that Berchem him­self was an adept etch­er.15

There is one small but dis­tinct change in the com­po­si­tion that dis­tin­guish­es the Peck draw­ing from the 1654 pro­to­type and Visscher’s etch­ing based on it: the dog in the fore­ground fol­low­ing behind the shep­herdess has turned his head to face the view­er. One can still detect a faint ghost­ing of the orig­i­nal black chalk lines from the coun­ter­proof that show his snout fac­ing for­ward, but Berchem clev­er­ly reworked this one spot to give the hound a slight twist of the head. He pos­si­bly sought to make a sub­tle improve­ment to the com­po­si­tion, or per­haps just want­ed to add a play­ful note of vari­a­tion to a suc­cess­ful design that he clear­ly con­sid­ered wor­thy of repeat­ed use.

End Notes

  1. For Berchem’s life, see P. Bies­boer in Haar­lem, Zürich & Schw­erin 2006 – 07, 11 – 35; and I. van Thiel-Stro­man in Bies­boer et al. 2006, 102 – 05. For his draw­ings, see espe­cial­ly Ste­fes 1997 (with a cat­a­logue); P. Schat­born in Ams­ter­dam 2001, 187 – 95; and A. Ste­fes in Haar­lem, Zürich & Schw­erin 2006 – 07, 97 – 115.

  2. For an overview of the issue, see P. Bies­boer in Haar­lem, Zürich & Schw­erin 2006 – 07, 21 – 24. Seri­ous doubts about a pre­sumed trip to Italy were first put for­ward in Ste­fes 1997, 47 – 48.

  3. For the mar­ket for Ital­ianate land­scape paint­ing in the Nether­lands, see A. Chong in Ams­ter­dam, Boston & Philadel­phia 1987 – 88, 114 – 18.

  4. G. Seel­ig in Haar­lem, Zürich & Schw­erin 2006 – 07, 59 – 69.

  5. White 2015, 97 – 98, no. 20; and Haar­lem, Zürich & Schw­erin 2006 – 07, 41, 138, no. 18 (and cover image).

  6. See, for exam­ple, Moun­tain­ous Land­scape with Shep­herds and Cat­tle from circa 1670 to 1675, also in the British Royal Col­lec­tion (inv. no. RCIN 405218); and White 2015, 94 – 95, no. 18.

  7. Ste­fes 1997, vol. 2, 110 – 11, no. II/51.

  8. Report by Annemarie Ste­fes from 2011, cura­toral files, Ack­land Art Muse­um. My thanks to Annemarie Ste­fes for fur­ther shar­ing her knowl­edge in sub­se­quent ver­bal discussions.

  9. British Muse­um, inv. no. 1920,214.2; and Ste­fes 1997, no. I/7.

  10. For spe­cif­ic exam­ples, see G. Wuest­man in Haar­lem, Zürich & Schw­erin 2006 – 07, 120 – 22; A. K. Whee­lock in Wash­ing­ton & Paris 2016 – 17, 59, no. 4; and Fucci 2018b (a review of the lat­ter), 413, under no. 4.

  11. My thanks to Annemarie Ste­fes for con­firm­ing this point.

  12. Fucci 2022b.

  13. The draw­ing does not appear in Ste­fes’s 1997 dis­ser­ta­tion, but she con­firmed the attri­bu­tion to Berchem in 2011 (report in the cura­to­r­i­al files, Ack­land Art Muse­um). While Begeyn’s mod­el­ing with wash­es is com­pe­tent, it is fre­quent­ly splotch­i­er and less con­trolled; see, for exam­ple, his signed Goatherder and His Flock (Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. rp-t-1897-a-3334).

  14. For the drawn copy, see Bock & Rosen­berg 1930, vol. 1, 78, no. 330, vol. 2, pl. 64 (as Berchem); and Ste­fes 1997, no. AZ – 130, and under no. II/51, who iden­ti­fies it as a copy and notes that the sig­na­ture is not auto­graph. The copy is dated 1656. For the etch­ing, see Holl­stein, vol. 41, 64 – 66, no. 94 (part of a series of four prints depict­ing shep­herds, nos. 91 – 94). One won­ders if Jan de Viss­ch­er made the drawn copy him­self, which is indeed indent­ed for trans­fer, to aid in his mak­ing of the etching.

  15. For Jan de Viss­cher’s prints after Berchem, see Wuest­man 1996; and idem in Haar­lem, Zürich & Schw­erin 2006 – 07, 119 – 31. For Viss­ch­er gen­er­al­ly, see Haw­ley 2014.