The Age of Rembrandt – Exhibition at the Albertina Museum, Vienna

The Albertina Museum, Vienna

The Age of Rembrandt
4 March to 21 June 2009

The exhibition The Age of Rembrandt assembles 150 works by some 70 artists from the Albertina Museum’s 17th century Netherlandish holdings, including Hendrick Goltzius, Rembrandt van Rijn, Aert van der Neer, Aelbert Cuyp, and Adriaen van Ostade.

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
An Elephant, 1637
© Albertina, Vienna

The unique selection is completed by some 40 oil paintings from various other collections and museums. The spectrum of the exhibition ranges from landscapes and city views, from maritime pieces and Italianised scenes to portraits, genre scenes and still lifes. Rembrandt, in his technical and thematic versatility, presents himself as an outstanding crystallisation point.

  • The Golden Age

During the 17th century the Netherlands experienced a unique florescence in the economic field, in numerous branches of the manufacturing trades – particularly in shipbuilding – and in the visual arts. After the separation of the Northern from the Southern Netherlands, Amsterdam took over the monopoly position from Antwerp as the most important seatrade port.

The Dutch, who dominated the oceans to a large extent, drew much of their wealth from their East and West Indian colonies. The fact that in the Republic of the Seven United Provinces the patricians and the burghers played a dominant role was an unusual phenomenon by international comparison.

As to the development of the visual arts, this situation was of decisive significance. Ownership of works of art became a status symbol for the wealthy homeowners, who equipped their interiors with oil paintings, as well as works on paper and vellum. Collecting was done, however, also for interest’s sake. The objects in demand were acquired in trade or directly from the artists. They, in turn, were stimulated by the free market to an intensive creativity.

Adriaen van Ostade

Adriaen van Ostade
Village Tavern with Four Figures, 1635
© Residenzgalerie Salzburg

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
Small Self Portrait, around 1657
© Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Within a short time they developed a large number of innovative, true-to-life pictorial genres that complied with the tastes and needs of the buying public and also corresponded with the artists’ own orientation. First of all the domestic landscape, whose discovery ranks among the pioneering achievements of the Netherlandish Golden Century, has to be mentioned here, as well as the city view, the maritime piece, the genre painting and the still life. The art of the portrait, too, flourished under the sign of burgher culture, as an exceptional occurrence within the international tradition of portraiture, which was largely aristocratic. Many artists, with great success, concentrated on special fields.

This division into various specialisations also had its effect on the artists’ technical practice. Apart from paintings, it was drawings that took up a very largely autonomous role in the Netherlands of the 17th century. Apart from studies “drawn from life”, which they produced for their own creative purposes, the artists often also devoted their talents to more commercial requirements.

There was a demand not only for highly detailed, often large-scale compositions, which served as interior decoration; also the intimate and seemingly spontaneously drawn from reality, though in fact carefully composed, monochromatic sketches found a grateful reception. And yet these made-forthe-market, usually signed and dated works are by no means glib or marred by facile routine; on the contrary, they often display an extremely high measure of subtleness. Characteristically, and as a result of the multiplicity of techniques, of functions and the range of applications used, the works rendered on paper or vellum convey a much more differentiated image than do the oil paintings.

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
Family of Beggars at the Door, 1648
© Albertina, Vienna

  • The collection of Netherlandish drawings held by the Albertina

This kaleidoscopic variety of artistic talent and technical prowess finds its full reflection in the Albertina’s holdings of 17th century Netherlandish drawings, the majority of which were acquired by the museum’s founder, Duke Albert of Saxe-Teschen.

With an extraordinary flair for well-balanced representativeness and artistic quality, the prominent collector – familiar as he was with the region through his governorship of the Austrian Netherlands in Brussels during the years from 1781 to 1792 – built up his collection of Netherlandish drawings. Thus it happens that, besides a high proportion of drawings by Rembrandt and other major artists, one may encounter numerous rarities by less well known yet most remarkable talents. Of course the situation regarding the attributions, especially in case of the great masters, has changed dramatically since that time. But today the number of undisputable works still appears to be so large as to enable the Albertina Museum today, solely on the basis of its own holdings, to present a highly representative survey of the art of drawing in the Netherlandish Golden Century – augmented by a concentrated selection of highlights from the collection of printed works.

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
Self-Portrait at a Window
Drawing on an Etching Plate, 1648
© Albertina, Vienna

The fact that the exhibition is determined to a significant degree by carefully worked out and detailed executed compositions, which approximate to the character and the status of oil paintings, can be adduced to two factors.

Firstly, that the style of rendering oriented towards the representational is largely represented in the Netherlands of the 17th century anyway, and secondly that Duke Albert, in accordance with his own tastes and the orientation of his times, showed a particular interest in such “pictures on paper”. The exhibition is segmented, to a large extent, chronologically, and also into temporally distinct, thematically oriented groups; occasionally – as in the case of Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn and Jan van Goyen – a single artist has been placed prominently at the centre.

    Images © Their respective owners


Stampfli & Turci – Art Dealers

Disclaimer & Copyright


~ by Stampfli & Turci on June 4, 2009.

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