Skip to main content

Dutch Painter of Light

Italiaans landschap met de Ponte Molle Rijksmuseum SK-A-51
Meridional Landscape with Horsemen and a Cart drawn by Oxen; in the Background the Ponte Lucano over the Aniene and the Plautii Tomb, ca.1652

Jan Dirksz Both was a Dutch landscape painter born in Utrecht around 1609. Known as an Italianate painter, i.e a painter of lush italian-style landscapes inspired by Claude Lorrain and almost always from imagination, or capriccio. Both was a pioneer of using the drama of Baroque chiaroscuro in his vivid landscapes. Also interesting is how Both often painted artists painting or drawing, as subjects in the paintings, which was a theme sometimes seen in the works of artists such as Piranesi, Pannini, and Bellotto among others. Whereas most vedute painters incorporated strong elements of architecture in their scenes, Both focused more on the geography and verdant foliage and how light changes the landscape.

In the above painting you can see how Both uses a very warm palette, even in his blues. Look at how the clouds are painted with thick yellow brushstrokes that merge into yellow-green, with blue-green greys in the shadows as the clouds grow higher in altitude. Note how he paints small traces of that yellow-green across the top of the sky, so subtle yet it makes the deep cobalt blue sky pop out. Those yellow-greens and blue-green greys continue below along the range of hills and the valley beyond. Even Both's green foliage has deep ruddish undertones, which become increasingly darker as they come closer to the foreground. Both paints the leaves of those magnificent trees with loving attention to hue and value, whereas many painters today would use a thick brush to dapple on the canvas to indicate all that foliage, Both lets us know it is the best part of the painting. You cannot fake leaves. The main figures here seem like background elements, almost silly, all three on horses and accented with warm red clothing, yet serve to give scale and perspective to the overall landscape. Both uses light in a highly sensual and glorious tone, even if only to reveal nature itself as miraculous to behold.

Landscape with a draftsman, by Jan Both
Landscape with a draftsman, ca. 1645

Both's use of perspective, space and scale here with a zig-zag composition leads the eye from the cool distant mountains to the warmth of the foreground rocks and foliage. Note how Both uses scale to juxtapose space...the foreground tree looms tall compared to the one off in the distance, its leaves hit by the sunlight. Even the tiny figures crossing the bridge provide an important sense of scale. What is interesting here is how Both paints the cool morning mist behind the bridge by blending those colors simple yet it creates so much atmosphere to an already beautiful scene. Those distant trees are side-lit with very cool tones that contrast against the warmer trees of the middle and foreground. Both uses cool beside warm all over this painting, along with soft beside hard edges. Texture is the main ingredient in landscape, not just light and sky. It is a masterpiece not merely because it is scenic, but because it invites us to walk inside the painting, inside this peaceful world of drama and sensuality without shock-value. The more we explore it the more beautiful it becomes.

Jan Both 003
Italian landscape by evening, ca.1645

Absolutely dream-like, this surreal painting is more an experience than a landscape. I have never seen anything like this in the thousands of landscape paintings I have seen, and over a hundred years before Turner. In this world of agriculture and working peasants, Both challenges what real wealth truly means by asking us what we hold more important, earthly possessions which fade...or Nature, which is true beauty and eternal? I truly enjoy the idea of painting as philosophical. This very warm palette, with no blues and hardly any greens at all, yet a wondrous landscape...Both proves sunlight itself can be pure sensuality.

Jan Both, 1634 - 1652 - Italiaans landschap met tekenaar - Google Art Project
Italian landscape with draughtsman, ca.1650

Gorgeous. Pure poetry. Both explores a fuller palette of warms and cools to enhance his textures to dramatic effect. Look at those clouds...the range of drama, expression, and hues are paintings in themselves. Breathtaking. And the way Both uses green here, not as a hue of leaves but as an accent color throughout the trees, from grayish green in the distance to an almost fluorescent green in the foreground. Both even uses a warm range of tones that is nearly orange in some areas. The waterfall off to the right is not a focal point yet is beautiful nonetheless. Both's landscapes are dreams, states of mind, fantasy that pulls us in...and lingers in our memories. This is not just another landscape painter. This may be one of the greatest of all time.

Landscape with the Judgement of Paris by Jan Both and Cornelis van Poelenburch
Landscape with the Judgement of Paris, ca.1650

Click here to zoom in at National Gallery in London

This copy from Wikipedia has lost the original colors for some reason, but looking purely at the composition we can glimpse into the genius of Both's vision. The figures were painted by Cornelis van Poelenburgh, a contemporary Dutch figure painter with vibrant skintones. What makes this work so intriguing is how Both really makes the mythology irrelevant to the background of Nature itself, the true story here. And yet we want to be with those figures in this lush verdant dream. Paris hands the apple to Venus as a gesture of preference for true nature of love and beauty over the complex materialism of human creations, and Both personifies the idea itself in the overall composition itself. Both challenges the notion of landscape as mere decoration on the walls of the wealthy and instead, offers us paradise as Nature itself, mindfulness, away from the problems of our own creation to the perfection of beauty itself.


Popular posts from this blog

More Old Master Drawings

There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body. Robert Henri Charles Louis Müller , A Standing Female Nude Leaning Against an Arch, ca.1864 Once again I decided to talk about some Old Master drawings and delve into the thinking behind how these drawings may have been created and the knowledge of the artist. In the above drawing by Müller, done in sanguine with white chalk highlights, the figure is drawn from a low view-point, with her body twisting toward her left side while resting on one knee. Note how Müller alternates the bent right leg with the bent left arm to create dynamic contrast. The right arm is also foreshortened and partially in shadow. Expressing power and femininity, this is a study that is Renaissance in spirit, even Mannerist, revealing the female nude as sculptural yet always graceful. Anton Raphael Mengs , Seated male nude viewed from the back, 1755 One of several Academic nu


Nymphs and Satyr, 1873 If there is one artist today that hardly needs an introduction, it would be William-Adolphe Bouguereau , supreme giant of 19th century Academic art. Born on November 30, 1825 in La Rochelle on the southwest of France, his talent would define the era he lived in only to fall into obscurity for decades after his death in 1905 until as recent as the early 1980's, shockingly. Today he has the distinction of being lionized by the Art Renewal Center as one of the greatest artists of all time while at the other end of the spectrum vilified by modernists as artificially perfect and sentimental. In fact it is quite rare to see such polarization over an artist of a calibre like Bouguereau, whose bravura is difficult to equal yet at the same time thematically his work admittedly tends toward women and children, a subject matter that sold well and he had endless patience for. Over the vast array of his oeuvre, some 820 paintings, I have tried to find some of his v

The Genius of Ramon Casas

Open Air Interior, 1892 Born on January 4, 1866 in Barcelona, Ramon Casas i Carbó was a Spanish portrait painter and graphic designer. He was a contemporary of Santiago Rusiñol , both founders of the Spanish art movement modernisme . Where Santiago painted pensive interiors and moody landscapes, Casas focused more on the portrait and figure with a penchant for costume and posture. His palette often consists of more muted tones with vibrant color accents. Casas enjoyed a lengthy and prominent career throughout Europe and South America where he often exhibited in shows with his friend Rusiñol. In Open Air Interior above, Casas encapsulates a quiet moment outdoors during tea time. I love these kind of paintings for their calm visual intensity. The way that man sits in his chair, lost in thought while his wife carefully stirs her tea...this is the kind of mindfulness in the subjects that makes us, the viewer, envision ourselves in this scene. Casas paints the far wall of the house