Contents

Trans-substantial Catholics

Watch this. What are the priests doing? Catholic Litmus Test If you are Catholic, then I hope for the sake of your soul you said he is welcoming Christ bodily into the world. If you didn’t you aren’t looking too […]


Poor Hanno

According to the pop-psychologist-pseudo-science writer Malcolm Gladwell in his magnum lite-opus, the Tipping Point we as a species need risk takers. Individuals who are willing to put it all on the line in pursuit of a goal will, if they […]


Intelligence and Happiness?

A while ago, the Inquisition pondered the nature of intelligence, and whether a certain outlook or attendant mental abilities are guides to or from happiness. This has been obliquely in the news of late…


Buried by the Sea

Its odd. Most graveyards in Connemara appear to be near water, if not actually right on the coast. Why? West Galway, or Connemara, has a lot of unused space. Admittedly, much of the land Connemara is industrially and agriculturally useless, […]


Cycling Two Abreast

Cycling two abreast in Ireland is legal, a protected practice, and it is safer.


Indoors / Outdoors (Defuse)

A talk given by The Inquisition at Defuse, on Wednesday 7th November 2012, as part of Designweek in Dublin, Ireland


Nürnburg’s Extra Bombs

Nürnburg got ripped to shreds by Bomber Harris’ boys. By how much appears to be open to debate.


Law & Morality

The preface to HLA Hart’s publication of his 1961 lecture series on the meeting of law and morality is as prevalent today as it ever was.


Foy – The Bodiless Head

A bodiless head is revered as being Saint Foy, who died a cruel death.


Coffee Haters

There are people out there who pretend to like coffee. Coffee Haters – you have been warned.


False Flags 2

False flag, covert ops by Americans against Americans? Sounds crazy, and so it was deemed.


Plastic 55 Years Ago

55 years ago Roland Barthes considered the importance of plastic and what it meant, as a substance and a symbol.


Cesare Borgia’s Party

The Pope, his son and fifty prostitutes – Cesare Borgia’s party.


Marriage – A Potted History

Marriage is thought by many to be a fixed rite, one which is immovable and inflexible. The truth is that it has not always seemed so…


Blinking Morse

The world was shocked when a victim of torture started blinking morse. The story of a US aviator captured in Vietnam.


Synecdoche

Synecdoche is a powerful, expressive linguistic device


The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Contents Page
The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Semper Quarens - Always Looking

Van Ruisdael Pt 2

Landscape with a Stone Bridge. Quick drawing with the flourishes of a confident artist.

Landscape with a Stone Bridge. Quick drawing with the flourishes of a confident artist.

This article follows on from an earlier discussion of Van Ruisdael’s life and times.

The Art of Jakob Van Ruisdael

Van Ruisdael is considered one of the truly great artists, and particularly influential with regard to landscape painting. Through the, circa 800, works of his that have been approved as canonical, he is now one of the better known Dutch artists from the early days of the Netherlands’ independence. Although his renown is vast within the art world, he has not really crossed over into being a household name. In this regard, his true legacy can be seen through its reflection in the work of an artist who is better known in the anglophone world. Constable was a fan.

Drama and Naturalism

Although not always dark in tone, there is always a foreboding in Van Ruisdael’s greatest works. There is always a latent drama in these brooding landscapes, simmering with unease. Even the most pastoral scenes have dull clouds, full-bodied and menacing, closing in above. His colour usage is quite somberly naturalistic, often with small details, highlighted areas and pinpricks of vivid colour, heightening the tension. This all feels “real” in comparison to works by earlier Dutch artists whose emphasis was more on the paint’s physical application (see this smooth and tonally-level image of his mentor’s Cornelius Vroom) and the subsequent accepted style.

The Windmill at Wijk bij Duurstede

The Windmill at Wijk bij Duurstede

The adoption of a regularised and approved style was in large part due to the operation of the guild system. Van Ruisdael himself came up through this system which was responsible for maintaining acceptable styles and high standards. Painting was still very much seen as an artisanal craft. A contemporary description of what would be deemed a successfully acceptable composition; buildings framed by trees on raised ground in the centre, and all backed by a distant panorama.

Winter Landscape

Winter Landscape

Van Ruisdael’s oeuvre covers scenes from mountains, woodlands, rivers and waterfalls, seascapes and images of winter. Human edifices occur throughout – fortified castles, functioning windmills, far-off towns and even tiny solitary figures dwarfed by the vastness of their surroundings. These add scale to the scenes and are usually all but consumed by the wildness and hugeness of their natural surroundings. Long before the notion of the sublime was encountered in the works by Romantic artists, musicians and writers Van Ruisdael brings it to life.

Landscape with a windmill. A quieter, more refined drawing with more exact lines but that same confidence.

Landscape with a windmill. A quieter, more refined drawing with more exact lines but that same confidence.

Van Ruisdael was hugely accomplished and naturally gifted as a draughtsman and these abilities show in his painting. The exact presence, the feeling and depth of the picture are innate and instinctive. Images are precise and were obviously drawn and worked through methodically. The viewer can plainly see the exacting detail. One of the artist’s obsessions was his particular emphasis on arboreal scrutiny (ie. he was good at painting trees) – his trees are gargantuan, solid, natural pillars. They rise up like columns in the nave of a natural church. Van Ruisdael’s exquisitite ability to paint was built on great foundations – many of his drawings can be seen today. The confidence is astounding.

Exaggeration

As already mentioned, even the dullest landscape is enlivened with a sense of drama, most often through clouds. These are huge, weighty presences that hang like ceilings on the verge of collapse. It might all go under. This is most evident in his mid-career works. Rivers are torrents tearing through what ought to be pastoral landscapes from a fertile, productive part of Europe. Rickety buildings and wretched trees totter and sway, scraping across grey vistas. They threaten like Northern interpretations of quixotic windmills, between the viewer and the safety of the tiny built environments on the distant horizon.

This is Van Ruisdael’s great artifice and conceit. He cheated. Well, not exactly. Van Ruisdael made the mundane grandiose. His images are lyrical part fictions.

For example, as a Netherlander, it is interesting that Van Ruisdael’s work should include mountains. While there is no doubt that he did travel, he didn’t do it extensively and would probably have only seen the uplands that now make up the Ardennes region, Alsace and border regions of Belgium, Holland, France and Germany. Southern Belgium’s Flemish Ardennes would certainly have held Van Ruisdael’s interest in this regard. But these are not high plateaus, soaring pinnacles or towering alpine reveries.

Consider an example from the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland:

NGI 4531 - Jacob van Ruisdael, 1628/29-1682 - The Castle of Bentheim, 1653, Oil on canvas, Unframed: 110.5 x 144cm, Photo © National Gallery of Ireland

NGI 4531 - Jacob van Ruisdael, 1628/29-1682 - The Castle of Bentheim, 1653, Oil on canvas, Unframed: 110.5 x 144cm, Photo © National Gallery of Ireland


Bad Bentheim today. Image used under a Creative Commons licence and is by Flickr User dondersteen

Bad Bentheim today. Image used under a Creative Commons licence and is by Flickr User dondersteen

Please note, that unfortunately at the time of publication, anyone wishing to view the work which is described below will not be able to view it in person. There are extensive renovations currently taking place at the gallery.

The artist lived at a time when art was a trade and not a matter of self-expression. Yet, the works we know by him are often not the literal representations we might expect. Scale is exagerrated, very often hugely, as can be seen in the contrast between the photo of the castle at Bad Bentheim in Westphalia, and the painting from the National Gallery of Ireland. 12 paintings of this castle exist from various angles, all of which show it as a virtual mountain-top citadel. As can been seemed from the modern photograph, it patently isn’t.

The Bad Bentheim image is a paradigmatic painting on Van Ruisdael’s greatest theme – man’s place in the world. His is a natural world which could take over at any time. The castle may appear unassailable to a military campaign, but the arboreal growth around it bristles with antipathy. So this castle is in a dangerous place regardless of its stout, resolute appearance. Van Ruisdael lived in a world where nature, in all its forms, was to be feared. Diseases took loved ones away in the blink of an eye, ships ran aground in rough seas, winter plumbed temperatures we are unused to today. The world was harsh.

Two Water Mills and an Open Sluice Gate - one version

Two Water Mills and an Open Sluice Gate - one version


Two Water Mills and an Open Sluice Gate - alternate version

Two Water Mills and an Open Sluice Gate - alternate version

Note also that Van Ruisdael often appears to have tackled the same subject a number of times. This is certainly the case with Bad Bentheim but also with two images of a pair of watermills with a raging torrent tearing through a sluice gate between them. From both angles the water’s power and the resilience of the human structures are clear an pronounced.

Extra

Have a look at a Van Ruisdael in extreme close-up loveliness on Google Art Project.

Bibliography
Anthony Van Dyck: A Life 1599-1641, Robin Blake, Constable, 1999
Wikipedia, of course, has an article about Van Ruisdael
The National Gallery of London has a large collection of Van Ruisdael’s art online
The National Gallery of Ireland has two pieces, one of which is seminal
Van Ruisdael’s place in the cultural history of the Netherlands
The history of the Netherlands
The independent state called the Dutch Republic
Online gallery of Van Ruisdael’s Paintings
Exhibition of Van Ruisdael’s work at Yale
Further works by Van Ruisdael in the National Gallery of Ireland’s online gallery
The Grove Dictionary of Art, Ed. Jane Turner, Oxford University Press, 2003
Master European Paintings from the National Gallery of Ireland, Raymond Keaveney, National Gallery of Ireland, 1992
Jacob Van Ruisdael- Master of Landscape, Seymour Slive, Yale University Press, 2005
The Great Artists – Ruisdael, Ed. Clive Gregory, Marshall Cavendish, 1986
Romanticism
Titian: The Last Days, Mark Hudson, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2009

This article was posted by on Tuesday, April 12th, 2011 at 14:15.
It is archived in Art, Culture, Environment, History, Wild Places and tagged , , , , , , .

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