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All Roads (Do Not) Lead to Rome: The Artist's Journey South in the Seventeenth Century.

IN 1604, the Dutch painter-theorist Karel van Mander (1548-1606) exhorted young artists to travel to Rome to drink in the beauty of the countryside, the splendid ruins of antiquity, and the loveliness of its people. (1) He also proclaimed the Caput Mundi the "capital of the schools of Pictura," thereby alluding to its importance as a hub of artistic activity, akin to Paris of the early twentieth century or New York around 1950. As a resident of the city between 1574 and 1577, Van Mander certainly knew of what he spoke. The impact of Rome upon the trajectory of seventeenth-century art cannot be overstated: between 1600 and 1610, the city welcomed such canonical painters as Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), a Bolognese pioneer in the idealized landscape; Michelangelo da Caravaggio (1571-1610), a Milanese revolutionary who depicted sacred characters as rough, earthly figures; Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610), a German artist who populated lush landscapes with dramatic narratives of gods and Old Testament patriarchs on an intimate scale; and Pieter van Laer (1599-1642), a Dutchman who incorporated the peasants and animals of the campagna into small genre scenes. In short, Rome attracted artists from across Europe in this period.

Rome as a vibrant centre for creative innovation, artistic emulation, and international exchange is the theme of Rome, Capital of Painting, an exhibition on view through August 5,2019, at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's University. At its heart is a painting by Johannes Lingelbach (1622-1674), A Garden with an Artist Drawing After Antiquities, that embodies everything that would have drawn Van Mander and other artists to the metropolis: the elegant gardens framed by rolling hills, the warm southern sunlight, and the major collections of ancient statuary amassed by sophisticated patrons. Most compellingly, the painting speaks to Lingelbach's fellows, through the artist sketching the matronly goddess erected on a pedestal adorned with a carved relief. The artist, likely one of the inexperienced youngsters to whom Van Mander addressed his words, is accompanied by a figure who guides his hand. Fundamental to the young artist's experience is observing the statue in person. The ability to examine its contours from a variety of angles, to study the polished surface of the marble, to observe the changing shadows as light falls across it throughout the day only intensifies the youth's engagement, and thus the learning experience. Lingelbach thus reinforces the city's function as a site of education and professional development.

And yet, in spite of the numerous opportunities afforded to artists in advance of and following the Jubilee Year of 1600, not all ambitious artists travelled to the city. Among such figures are the highly successful Dutch painter-printmaker Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), the French painter Eustache le Sueur (1617-1655), and the Italian master Elisabetta Sirani (1638-1665). Why, then, did these artists not journey to the Eternal City, particularly when aspects of their manner suggest a familiarity with the trends circulating in Rome? Writings of the period offer several explanations.

One of the foremost reasons may have been the perceived perils of contemporary Roman society. Van Mander himself warns that though the people are generally "neither traitors nor thieves" but polite citizens, there are "spendthrifts and lost sons" who make the city their marketplace. Amongst these souls are those who would seek to corrupt naive visitors to the city through wine and women, perversions that could have deleterious and permanent effects. (2) The city's streets were also home to a surprising number of beggars and homeless people. (3) Other authors condemn the "foul papist" religion, which had its seat in the heart of the city. After the Council of Trent in 1563, and continuing well into the seventeenth century, art was marshalled as a strategy for the communication of Counter-Reformation doctrine. Protestant artists were said to be imperilled by this menace to their moral compass. These perceived cultural differences erected a threatening divide between North and South.

The journey was also taxing on a physical and financial level. The long weeks of travel, often over inferior roads and through treacherous mountain passes, involved risks to life and limb. Furthermore, one had to pay for lodging, meals, and transportation through the duration. The voyage was so time-consuming that it practically demanded a stay of at least two years, a commitment that naturally incurred further expense. (4) Artists therefore often looked for patronage from the great art collectors in the city, such as Vincenzo Giustiniani (1564-1637) or Scipione Borghese (1577-1633). Such demands were onerous for young artists who had not yet established themselves as professionals overseeing their own workshops. (5)

Finally, there was a growing awareness of the role that Roman art treasures were finding outside of the city. Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687), a connoisseur and the secretary to the Dutch stadtholder, recorded around 1629 that the young Rembrandt van Rijn and Jan Lievensz felt no compulsion to make the journey to Rome because "... the best Italian paintings of the genre most appreciated and collected these days by kings and princes north of the Alps are to be found outside of Italy." (6) Prints of ancient ruins and statues had certainly made their way north beginning in the last quarter of the sixteenth century, and the best of these, such as the engraving by Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617), communicated with great beauty the monumentality, the grandeur, and the pathos of ancient Rome. But the work of some of the era's most popular artists, such as Caravaggio, was not reproduced in print. (7) Consistent with Huygens' words, paintings by or after Caravaggio had arrived in Amsterdam by 1617 through the art dealer Abraham Vinck (c. 1580-1619), including The Madonna of the Rosary (c. 1606), Judith and Holofernes (1607), and The Crucifixion of Saint Andrew (1607). (8) And, by 1630, many of the artists living outside of Italy who had made the journey south returned with a sense of compositional drama and appreciation for the southern landscape that mirrored what they had observed during their travels, as seen in the painting by Jean Ducamps (1600-1650). Though Huygens criticizes the young Leiden artists for their lack of mobility, he seems to recognize the resources available to them north of the Alps.

WHILE the reasons for not making the Italian journey were many, those who did travel found themselves transformed by this cultural encounter. It greatly fuelled their approach to artmaking, to such a degree that some opted to return for a second sojourn. Rome, as the capital of painting, bore witness to layers of art from antiquity to early modernity, making it the ideal destination for the curious seventeenth-century European artist.


(1) "... for Rome is the city, which above all places, could make an artist's journey fruitful, / being the capital of the schools of Pictura ..." Quoted in Lynn Federle Orr, "Reverberations: The Impact of the Italian Sojourn on Utrecht Artists," in Joaneath A. Spicer and Lynn Federle Orr, Masters of Light: Dutch Painters in Utrecht during the Golden Age (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1997), p. 102.

(2) Some travellers, in fact, never returned from the trip, having either died or married in Rome.

(3) Clare Robertson, Rome 1600: The City and the Visual Arts under Clement VIII (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2015), p. 12.

(4) Once in the city, of course, the foreign artist could easily align himself with a patron and find work to support himself.

(5) As Van Mander's text indicates, artists travelled to Rome before embracing many of the trappings of adulthood, such as marriage and joining the local guild.

(6) Quoted in Christiaan Vogelaar et al., "Een jong en edel schildersduo": Rembrandt & Lievens in Leiden (Zwolle: Waanders, 1991), p. 134.

(7) See Spicer and Orr, Masters of Light, p. 102.

(8) See Spicer and Orr, Masters of Light, p. 405.

JACQUELYN N. COUTRE is the Bader Curator and Researcher of European Art at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University. She received her doctorate from the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University with a dissertation on the late work of Jan Lievensz. Her research has been funded by the J. William Fulbright Foundation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. She is currently an associate editor of the Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art.

Caption: Attributed to Michael Sweerts, A Peasant Holding a Wine Jug, c.1650 oil on canvas Gift of Alfred and Isabel Bader, 1983 (26-002)

Caption: Hendrick Goltzius, The Emperor Commodus as Hercules, from Three Famous Antique Statues at Rome (also known as Hercules and Telephos), c. 1592 engraving on paper Gift of Jan Johnson, 2004 (47-010). Photo: Bernard Clark.

Caption: Jean Ducamps (called Giovanni del Campo), Saint Matthias, c. 1630 oil on canvas Gift of Alfred and Isabel Bader, 1986 (29-137). Photo: Bernard Clark.
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Author:Coutre, Jacquelyn N.
Publication:Queen's Quarterly
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Mar 22, 2019
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