Northern caravaggism

Discovering Caravaggio's influence on Northern painting in the Kremer Collection

By The Kremer Collection

St.Peter Penitent (1618 - 1620) by Gerrit van HonthorstThe Kremer Collection


The term "Northern Caravaggism," identifies those Northern European artists who were heavily influenced by the revolutionary way the Italian Baroque artist Caravaggio (1571-1610) painted around 1600. His compositions were typically realistic in style and scale, as he created life-size depictions of religious and biblical stories as well as genre paintings, and made use of strong "chiaroscuro" (dark/light) modeling of forms. Caravaggio used everyday people from the street as models and showed them as they are.

His new way of painting attracted many followers, among them many painters from France, Flanders and the Low Countries (Holland). 

The singing lute player (1624) by Hendrick ter BrugghenThe Kremer Collection

Back to Holland

After they had finished their education, most of the Northern painters spent time in Italy. After a few years they returned to their countries of origin and continued to paint in the ‘new manner’. Arguably the largest and most important number of Northern Caravaggists came from Holland, mainly the city of Utrecht. The most famous of these were Hendrick ter Brugghen, Gerrit van Honthorst, Dirck van Baburen and Jan van Bijlert. From Flanders (Belgium) came Abraham Jansens, Theodoor Rombouts, Gerard Seghers and Jan Cossiers. They painted biblical and historical subjects but their scenes of merrymaking, musicians and half figures became very popular. 

The Virgin and Child with the infant St John the Baptist (1617 - 1620) by Abraham JanssensThe Kremer Collection

Famous Utrecht

From 1620 – when Van Baburen and Van Honthorst returned to Holland – Utrecht was the leading centre of caravaggism in northern Europe. A comparison could be made with Impressionism in Paris in the 1860s! This exciting period ended with the deaths of Van Baburen in 1624 and ter Brugghen in 1629. After 1630 Utrecht caravaggism was largely over. However short in timespan, due to its enormous popularity the influence of Utrecht caravaggism was to be felt throughout the painting schools of Holland and included Haarlem (Frans Hals), Leiden (Jan Lievens, Rembrandt), Delft (Johannes Vermeer, Leonard Bramer) and Amsterdam.  

The Virgin and Child by Jan van BijlertThe Kremer Collection

Caravaggism in the Kremer Collection

The Kremer Collection is fortunate to have a strong presence of these Northern caravaggists. We can also show great works by Dutch artists who in turn were strongly influenced by their (older) colleagues in Utrecht. We will discuss all these artists in more detail now.

The singing lute player (1624) by Hendrick ter BrugghenThe Kremer Collection

This is an autograph replica of the painting in the National Gallery in London (1624). In our painting (which is not signed/dated) the colours have been preserved much better than the London prototype. This type of colourful and festive painting became very popular in a short time; which no doubt is the reason why multiple versions often were painted.

Mark the Evangelist by Jan van BijlertThe Kremer Collection

The strong realism with which Saint Mark’s bronzed and deeply lined face has been painted, including characteristic details such as the bushy eyebrows, contrasts with the unconvincing lion’s head. While a human being of flesh and blood had undoubtedly sat as model for the evangelist himself, this exotic animal – which looks more like a large dog with monstrous teeth – bears little relation to reality. This is not so strange, since the artist Jan van Bijlert, who came from Utrecht, had probably never seen a real lion. To paint the creature, he would have had to consult works by other artists, most of whom would have been equally at a loss to capture the essentials of a lion.

Woman counting coins by candlelight (1600 - 1700) by Matthias StomThe Kremer Collection

This work follows in a long tradition of depictions of men or women counting money. Such scenes often hover between genre and allegory, with the figures sometimes meant to represent Avaritia – avarice or greed – one of the seven deadly sins. In Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia, avarice is described as an old woman – ‘because cupidity dominates in the elderly’.

Old woman examining a coin by a lantern (Sight or Avarice) (1623) by Gerrit van HonthorstThe Kremer Collection

Old woman examining a coin by a lantern is a superb example of the work of Gerrit van Honthorst. It is highly probable that Rembrandt knew our painting his youth. His Old man counting his money (Avarice) from 1627 in Berlin depicts an old man studying a coin by candlelight. Rembrandt must have derived the subject from Van Honthorst, but chose instead to depict a man to convey the theme of greed.

St.Peter Penitent (1618 - 1620) by Gerrit van HonthorstThe Kremer Collection

One of the highlights in the collection, Saint Peter Penitent by Gerrit van Honthorst demonstrates at a glance that the artist had a consummate gift for the convincing representation of emotions such as grief and despair. Note how the hands convey the despair Peter is feeling about denying his God. Italian period Van Honthorsts are rare: only 17 works are known to exist today.

The Virgin and Child with the infant St John the Baptist (1617 - 1620) by Abraham JanssensThe Kremer Collection

This painting is clearly inspired by Caravaggio’s famous Rosary of the Madonna in Vienna (Kunsthistorisches Museum) and forms an important, early link between Caravaggio and his Flemish followers. We know of no replicas or autograph variations of the work discussed here, which must be considered one of the highpoints in Janssens’s oeuvre. On the basis of its large dimensions and the subject matter it seems safe to assume that the picture must have originally been an altarpiece.

Musical company with Bacchus (1628 - 1630) by Theodoor RomboutsThe Kremer Collection

In 1625 Rombouts returned to his native city of Antwerp after a sojourn of some nine years in Italy. The circa 30 pictures by Rombouts known today – of which only 12, including the one described here, are signed – were probably all painted after his return to the north. The artist’s self-portrait has been recognised in a number of Rombouts’s genre paintings. The present writer believes Rombouts is the man tuning his lute at the left, based on Anthony van Dyck’s portrait in Munich.

Christ at the column by Jan LievensThe Kremer Collection

This life-size depiction of Christ at the column is one of the earliest works by Jan Lievens, described in 1641 by the Leiden chronicler Jan Orlers as a wunderkind. The Lievens picture here under discussion was probably executed around 1625, at a time when his work served as a model for his friend, the less experienced Rembrandt and there was not yet any sign of influence in the opposite direction

Boy with rumbling pot by Abraham BloemaertThe Kremer Collection

Boy with rumbling pot exhibits a number of characteristics typical of caravaggism: first and foremost, there is its ‘popular’ subject matter; then the composition, which places the half-figure close to the spectator, and the strong lighting; particularly striking are the two diagonal shadows on the rear wall, which increase the picture’s dynamic. Here Bloemaert is influenced by his former pupils, Van Honthorst and ter Brugghen

The 5 senses by Gregorius van OosterlinckThe Kremer Collection

Only 2 paintings are known by this artist who signed his name in big letters on the tankard. Otherwise very little is known about him -no birthdate/place, no teacher, no pupils; the only mention in the guild archives places him in Ghent in 1652. This work is a perfect example of an artist we donot know today yet who produced an attractive painting of high quality.

Laughing man with flute (1623 - 1623) by Peter WtewaelThe Kremer Collection

Only five signed and dated works by Peter Wtewael – son of the famous Joachim Wtewael - him are known today, including Laughing Man with Flute, while others have been attributed to him on stylistic grounds. The work discussed here was produced in 1623, making it the artist’s earliest-known dated painting.

Credits: Story

George Kremer
The Kremer Collection

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