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Jacob van der Ulft, Dutch, 1627-1689: Walls of an Ital­ian Town in a Hilly Land­scape, c. 1680 

Using dynam­ic light­ing effects, achieved with var­i­ous tones of dilut­ed ink con­trast­ed with the white of the paper, Jacob van der Ulft con­vinc­ing­ly places the view­er just out­side an Ital­ian town or villa on a sunny day. Although the scene pro­vides an over­all impres­sion of trav­el­ing through the Roman coun­try­side, the like­li­hood that the artist drew it from life is slim. Ques­tions remain about Van der Ulft’s trav­els south, espe­cial­ly because he was known to copy Ital­ian views from prints and draw­ings by other artists. The col­lec­tion of archi­tec­tur­al ele­ments por­trayed here sug­gests Van der Ulft con­jured the view entire­ly from his imagination.

Jacob van der Ulft spent the major­i­ty of his career in his native city of Gor­inchem in South Hol­land, where he served in a num­ber of impor­tant civic and polit­i­cal posi­tions in the 1660s and 1670s, includ­ing as mayor (burge­meester).1

The style, tech­nique, and sub­ject mat­ter of his draw­ings fre­quent­ly resem­ble those of the noted ama­teur artists Jan de Biss­chop (1628 – 1671) and Con­stan­ti­jn Huy­gens II (1628 – 1697). Even today, con­fu­sion occa­sion­al­ly per­sists in dis­tin­guish­ing these artists’ draw­ings from Van der Ulft’s, espe­cial­ly those of De Biss­chop (a dif­fi­cul­ty noted as early as 1821 by Chris­ti­aan Josi), and exac­er­bat­ed by Van der Ulft’s prac­tice of copy­ing De Biss­chop’s com­po­si­tions.2

While no per­son­al con­nec­tion with De Biss­chop can be firm­ly estab­lished, it seems like­ly that they knew each other. We know that Van der Ulft was on famil­iar terms with the Huy­gens fam­i­ly, with let­ters reveal­ing that Con­tan­ti­jn’s broth­er Chris­ti­aan attempt­ed to serve as a kind of agent-deal­er of Van der Ulft’s art­works in Paris in 1666, and that Lodewijk Huy­gens was respon­si­ble for installing Van der Ulft as mayor of Gor­inchem dur­ing the quelling of anti-Orangist sym­pa­thies there in the early 1670s.3

These rela­tion­ships are worth empha­siz­ing because Van der Ulft is often, and mis­lead­ing­ly, lumped togeth­er with these high­ly placed courtiers as a fel­low dilet­tante whose main occu­pa­tion was that of politi­cian. On the con­trary, his trade back­ground and pro­lif­ic out­put in a vari­ety of media, as well as doc­u­ment­ed com­mis­sions, sug­gest that he was fre­quent­ly (if not always pri­mar­i­ly) an artist by pro­fes­sion, one engaged in the actu­al busi­ness of mak­ing paint­ings, draw­ings, prints, and stained-glass win­dows. He like­ly trained as a glazier with his father. Despite the fact that none of his win­dows are known today, Arnold Houbrak­en (1660 – 1719) remark­ably called him the fore­most glass painter of the cen­tu­ry.4

He is also list­ed as an archi­tect in a 1659 doc­u­ment, which is inter­est­ing in light of the many inven­tive capric­cios that he both paint­ed and drew of ancient Roman or Roman-like archi­tec­ture.5

The present draw­ing is more pro­sa­ic than most of Van der Ulft’s stud­ies of build­ings, which com­mon­ly fea­ture grander and obvi­ous­ly clas­si­cal archi­tec­ture, whether invent­ed or real. We appear to be stand­ing just out­side the walls of a town on a tran­quil day in an untrou­bled part of the coun­try­side. It bears com­par­i­son to a draw­ing in the Teylers Muse­um that fur­nish­es a sim­i­lar­ly placid view of a villa on the out­skirts of a for­ti­fied town with sub­stan­tial walls seen in the dis­tance to the right Fig. 59.1.6

Jacob van der Ulft, Hilly Landscape with a Roman Villa
Fig. 59.1

Jacob van der Ulft, Hilly Land­scape with a Roman Villa. Pen and brown ink, brown wash, over traces of black chalk, 177 × 292 mm. Haar­lem, Teylers Muse­um, inv. no. q*35.

Though slight­ly small­er, the Teylers sheet bears a water­mark iden­ti­cal to that of the Peck draw­ing, and the styl­is­tic sim­i­lar­i­ty fur­ther sug­gests that it could have been made around the same time. Sev­er­al other draw­ings by Van der Ulft also sit­u­ate the view­er just out­side a town or villa, though some­times from a slight­ly far­ther van­tage point and offer­ing a wider prospect of the whole.7

The over­all impres­sion is one of trav­el or a jour­ney through the Roman cam­pagna, although with­out quite enough uni­for­mi­ty to sug­gest a planned series, such as the group of twen­ty-eight Dutch cas­tle ruins that Van der Ulft drew in the early 1660s.8

Such views raise the long-pon­dered ques­tion of whether or not Van der Ulft actu­al­ly vis­it­ed Italy. Despite Houbrak­en’s won­der­ment at the nat­u­ral­ness of Van der Ulft’s Ital­ian sub­jects, he averred that the artist had never been to Rome, and noted that such views could have been taken from prints and draw­ings.9 Mod­ern schol­ar­ship tends to con­cur with Houbrak­en’s assess­ment.10

Lend­ing weight to the argu­ment that he never went to Italy is the fact that Van der Ulft was an avid copy­ist, as his sev­er­al known repli­cas of De Biss­chop’s draw­ings attest. A fur­ther com­pli­ca­tion is that De Biss­chop also prob­a­bly never went to Italy him­self, like­wise tak­ing his views from oth­ers.11

De Biss­chop, how­ev­er, had access to major col­lec­tions of draw­ings in the hands of noted liefheb­bers (art lovers), as he stat­ed him­self in one of the ded­i­ca­to­ry pref­aces of his Icones, from which he could have taken some of his views that Van der Ulft later copied.12

There is also some spec­u­la­tion that Van der Ulft came into pos­ses­sion of a large num­ber of De Biss­chop’s draw­ings after the lat­ter’s death in 1671.13

Although this is not the type of famous Roman ruin or scene that artists tend­ed to copy, the unas­sum­ing nature of the present work does not pre­clude that there was a pro­to­type by anoth­er hand. Van der Ulft’s charm­ing View of an Oste­ria Fig. 59.2, for exam­ple, sim­i­lar in style and for­mat, appears to have been taken direct­ly from a draw­ing by Willem van Nieu­landt II (1584 – 1635).14

Jacob van der Ulft, An Osteria in the Campagna
Fig. 59.2

Jacob van der Ulft, An Oste­ria in the Cam­pagna. Graphite, pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, 185 × 296 mm. New York, Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art, inv. no. 1994.59.

It is also pos­si­ble that Van der Ulft gen­er­at­ed the present work entire­ly from his imag­i­na­tion, much like his capric­cios. The appar­ent loose­ness of the archi­tec­tur­al agglom­er­a­tion here argues for a pure­ly invent­ed work. What­ev­er the case, Van der Ulft man­aged to con­vey dynam­ic light­ing effects in a remark­ably con­vinc­ing man­ner by using a wide range of tone, as well as the white reserve of the paper. He also used black chalk, not just to set down the ini­tial design, but also as an inte­gral ele­ment of the final com­po­si­tion, limn­ing cer­tain archi­tec­tur­al ele­ments (such as the tower, chim­ney, and house in the upper left) in a bright yet sub­tle man­ner against the sky. He often used pen for such out­lines, but the chalk in this case cre­ates a more nat­ur­al impres­sion. While the dat­ing of Van der Ulft’s draw­ings has long been dif­fi­cult, this work appears to accord with oth­ers the artist inscribed with dates in the 1670s.15

This sheet comes from an album of sixty-three draw­ings by Van der Ulft that was either assem­bled by or came into the pos­ses­sion of the Barons van Hard­en­broek, which was men­tioned for the first time by Kramm in 1863.16

A group of fifty-eight of these draw­ings remains togeth­er in the Fon­da­tion Cus­to­dia, Paris, but the Peck draw­ing came from a small­er group, per­haps from the same album, that was sold sep­a­rate­ly in 1992 (which includ­ed the afore­men­tioned Oste­ria in New York).17

The present draw­ing is one of the few to retain the blue-paper back­ing sheet from the Hard­en­broek album, and bears a water­mark dat­ing circa 1770, there­by offer­ing what might be a reli­able notion of when the album was assembled.

End Notes

  1. For an overview of the Van der Ulft’s life and career, see Tissink & De Wit 1987, 33 – 57.

  2. Josi 1821, unpag­i­nat­ed (under Van der Ulft); Tissink & De Wit 1987, 38 – 39; and Jelle­ma & Plomp 1992, 16 – 17. For spe­cif­ic exam­ples of De Biss­chop’s draw­ings that Van der Ulft copied, see Jelle­ma & Plomp 1992, 28 – 31, nos. 9, 12 – 14. A num­ber of fur­ther copies can be found in the Baron van Hard­en­broek album of fifty-eight draw­ings by Van der Ulft in the Fon­da­tion Cus­to­dia, Paris, inv. no. 6481. Cer­tain caches of draw­ings in present-day col­lec­tions still pose prob­lems in terms of dis­tin­guish­ing the hands of De Biss­chop and Van der Ulft; see, for exam­ple, Jaffé 2002, vol. 3, 350 – 68, nos. 1398 – 441; and Turn­er & White 2014, vol. 1, 65, no. 23.126.

  3. Tissink & De Wit 1987, 42 – 44.

  4. Houbrak­en 1718 – 21, vol. 2, 196 – 98.

  5. The 1659 notar­i­al act called him schilder en archi­tak; Tissink & De Wit 1987, 47. For Van der Ulft’s Roman capric­cio paint­ings, see Repp-Eck­ert 1989. Some of Van der Ulft’s pre­sumed work as a book illus­tra­tor has been ques­tioned, for which see Plomp 2006 (reat­tribut­ing sev­er­al illus­tra­tions to Ger­brand van den Eeckhout).

  6. Plomp 1997, 404, no. 477.

  7. See, for exam­ple, the draw­ings by Van der Ulft in Ams­ter­dam (Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. RP-T-1900-A-4428), Dres­den (Kupfer­stich-Kabi­nett, inv. no. c 1988– 582), Lei­den (Uni­ver­siteits­bib­lio­theek, inv. no. pk-t-aw-2260), and Paris (Musée du Lou­vre, inv. no. RF 720).

  8. For a study of Van der Ulft’s recon­struct­ed cas­tle ruin series, see Dumas 2017.

  9. Houbrak­en 1718 – 21, vol. 2, 197

  10. Tissink & De Wit 1987, 36; and Peter Schat­born in Ams­ter­dam 2001, 199. A few ear­li­er com­men­ta­tors, how­ev­er, assumed that Van der Ulft had been to Rome; see Hoogew­erff 1952, 145; and Kramm 1857 – 64, vol. 6 (1863), 1658 – 59.

  11. Colen­bran­der 1985; and Schat­born in Ams­ter­dam 2001, 197 – 99. Their mutu­al friend, Con­stan­ti­jn Huy­gens II, indeed made the voy­age to Rome in 1650, though his diary entries and any draw­ings that he may have made there do not appear to have sur­vived; see Ams­ter­dam & Ghent 1982 – 83, 14.

  12. See the ded­i­ca­tion to Jan Uyten­bo­gaert at the begin­ning of the sec­ond vol­ume of De Biss­chop’s Icones (1669); Van Gelder & Jost 1985, 135 – 36.

  13. This idea appears to have been first put for­ward by Car­los van Has­selt in Brus­sels, Rot­ter­dam, Paris & Bern 1968 – 69, 154, under no. 150. This idea seems frus­trat­ed, how­ev­er, by the fact that De Biss­chop’s stu­dio estate was not auc­tioned until 1677 (10 Feb­ru­ary; accord­ing to Schat­born in Ams­ter­dam 2001, 199) yet a num­ber of Van der Ulft’s copies are dated 1674 and 1675 (e.g., in the album in the Fon­da­tion Cus­to­dia, Paris, inv. no. 6481), thus after De Biss­chop died, but before the sale of his artworks.

  14. For this like­ly pro­to­type by Van Nieu­landt, see Lon­don, Paris, Bern & Brus­sels 1972, no. 64.

  15. For exam­ple, the View of Tivoli, dated 1673, from the Van Regteren Alte­na Col­lec­tion (Christie’s, Lon­don, 10 July 2014, lot 59); and the three views of Roman vil­las or struc­tures, all dated 1674, in Frank­furt (Städel Muse­um, inv. nos. 2883, 2885, 2886).

  16. Kramm 1857 – 64, vol. 6 (1863), 1658 – 59.

  17. See the intro­duc­tion to the group of Van der Ulft draw­ings in the sale cat­a­logue of the Hans van Leeuwen Col­lec­tion (Part I), Christie’s, Ams­ter­dam, 24 Novem­ber 1992, 106 – 11, lots 190 – 97.