In 1589, the two Van Nieulandt brothers, Guilliam II and Adriaen II, both of whom would become respected painters, emigrated as toddlers with their parents from Antwerp to Amsterdam. Adriaen would make his career in Amsterdam, but Guilliam returned as an adult to Antwerp and worked there during the main part of his active life. It is my aim to explore questions posed by the project Artistic Exchange and Cultural Transmission in the Low Countries, 1572–1672 on the level of the careers of those two brothers working on both sides of the border, the one in Antwerp, the other in Amsterdam – questions such as, did transmission and exchange between the Southern Netherlands and the Republic stimulate new developments and innovations? In what respect were similarities and differences in the visual arts in the Southern Netherlands and the Republic determined by different contexts?2 Thus, I will examine whether the career choices of the two brothers, and the results of those choices (as far as these can be gauged from their work and professional positions), were determined by cultural differences between Amsterdam and Antwerp, and/or defined by the shared cultural heritage of the two artistic hubs of the time.

The career of the painter and playwright Guilliam van Nieulandt II in particular proved to be an interesting case in the light of these questions. Among art historians he has always been known as Willem van Nieulandt II.3 By historians of Dutch literature, however, he is consistently – and rightly – called Guilliam van Nieuwelandt, which has had the effect that both historians of literature and art historians do not always seem to be aware that the painter and the playwright are one and the same person.4 Related to this is another remarkable phenomenon: as a painter, Willem van Nieulandt II has always been claimed as a Dutch artist – at the RKD all his work is filed under artists from the Northern Netherlands – though almost all his paintings and prints were made in Antwerp, where he lived and worked during 23 years out of his approximately 30-year career.5 Bob Haak, in his renowned survey of Dutch seventeenth-century art, did not even mention that Willem van Nieulandt worked in Antwerp, while Hans Vlieghe, in his book on Flemish art and architecture wrote that after having been a pupil of Paul Bril in Rome, ‘he lived for a short time in Antwerp, before he settled back in Amsterdam.’6 In contrast, as a poet and playwright – the most successful author of tragedies in Antwerp – Guilliam van Nieuwelandt is always claimed for the Southern Netherlands and discussed in the context of Flemish literature.7

The bare biographical facts8

Father Adriaen van Nieulandt I left Antwerp with his family in 1589.9 He moved to Amsterdam where he took his oath for citizenship, his poorterseed, in 1594, which indicates that he was not poor. This is corroborated by the fact that in 1602 Adriaen invested 300 guilders in the VOC.10 He was recorded as cramer (salesman) specializing in selling quills.11 His eldest son, Guilliam II, was five years old at the time of their move to Amsterdam, while Adriaen II, the second son, was only two years old. The third, Jacob, was born in Amsterdam in 1593 or 1594, and all three of them would become painters. Adriaen I and his family settled in the Pijlsteeg, together with his younger brother Joris, who had moved at the same time; the latter was a cobbler but was also recorded later as merchant of quills (pennevercoper).12 Father Adriaen I had an elder brother Guilliam I, who had gone to Rome, where he worked as a painter and draughtsman; he remained there for the rest of his life and died in Rome in 1626.13

It was to uncle Guilliam I in Rome that our Guilliam II went when he was only 16 or 17 years old, after one or two years of apprenticeship in Amsterdam with Jacques Savery, which had started in 1599.14 For about three years, 1601–1604, Guilliam II lived in Rome with his uncle, in the same house where Abraham Janssens, who was ten years older than Guilliam II, was also living.15 Guilliam II learned his art with his uncle, but he was also for at least one year a disciple of Paul Bril, which was crucial for the rest of his career as a painter, draughtsman and etcher.16 In other words, while in Rome, he was surrounded by artists from Antwerp; we also know, for example, that his uncle collaborated in 1601 with Wenzel Cobergher, Jacob Franckaert and Paul Bril.17 Guilliam II left Rome in 1604 and was back in Amsterdam in the same year.18 He remained in Amsterdam for only two years, moving to Antwerp in 1606, when he was 22 years old and had just married Anna Hustaert (in February 1606), who, like Guilliam himself, had been born in Antwerp but grew up in Amsterdam.19 It was at Anna Hustaert’s request that on 11 April 1606 a merchant, who had known Guilliam van Nieulandt II while in Rome, attested that her husband Guilliam had lived for about three years in Rome and behaved there as a devout Roman Catholic according to the rules of the Holy Church. This man also stated that Guilliam had resided with his uncle and had learned and practiced his art there, and that now, after two years in Amsterdam, he wants to settle with his wife in Antwerp as a Catholic.20 Two days later Guilliam van Nieulandt II received the desired attestation from the Antwerp government.21 In that same year, 1606, he became a member of the Antwerp St. Luke’s guild and immediately took on a pupil.22

Guilliam II not only made a career as a painter in Antwerp, he also became a celebrated author of tragedies in that city, producing a steady stream of very successful dramas.23 In the same year, however, that his last play was (probably) performed in Antwerp, 1629, Guilliam and his wife moved back to Amsterdam.24 In that city he remained active as a painter for another six years.25 Guilliam II died in Amsterdam in 1635.26 Thus, we see him migrating from Antwerp to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Rome, from Rome back to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam to Antwerp, and finally to Amsterdam again; but he made his career in Antwerp. Remarkably, up till now, no art historian nor any historian of literature ever thought about the question of why Guilliam II left in 1606 to settle in Antwerp, and why he returned to Amsterdam in 1629. In the following paragraphs these questions will be of prime importance.

In contrast, his younger brother by three years, Adriaen II, remained in Amsterdam throughout his long career.27 He was a pupil of the two most internationally-oriented painters in Amsterdam, first Pieter Isaacsz (probably in the period between c. 1602 and 1607) and subsequently with Frans Badens in 1607.28 Adriaen II married in 1609 a woman born in Amsterdam also of Antwerp parents.29 He became a spider in the web of the Amsterdam painters’ community.30 He also was active as an art dealer, appraiser and real estate agent.31 He must have become quite prosperous, which might have been due to his dealings as real estate agent (in 1628 he became officially registered as such), especially in the late 1620s and 1630s, the time of the great building boom in Amsterdam.32 From that period we know many fewer dated paintings than before and after; his work in the housing business might have been time-consuming and probably more profitable for him. However, he remained active as a painter throughout a career that spanned more than half a century. When he was already over 50 years old, in the 1640s and the first half of the 1650s, he considerably increased his production, up to his death in 1658, at the age of 71.33

The youngest brother, Jacob, was also a painter, but we know hardly any works by him.34 He probably was mainly active as an art dealer, and we know from a few documents that he bought and sold paintings from and to Antwerp.35 As of 1627 he was also as an innkeeper, taking over the ’t Hof van Hollant, the well-known inn belonging to Barend van Someren, who was also an artist and art dealer and an Antwerp native of an older generation.36 Jacob was the first to die, in 1633.

Both Guilliam II and Adriaen II had the honour of being portrayed in the print series of the Antwerp engraver and publisher Johannes Meyssens, which appeared in 1649 (figs. 1 and 2).37 Guilliam’s portrait is one of the few that was drawn and engraved by Meyssens himself, which must have happened before Guilliam left Antwerp in 1629.38 Under the portrait of Adriaen by the Antwerp engraver Coenraet Waumans (after a lost painting by Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen), Adriaen’s age is given as 59, which means that this print was made around 1646. It seems likely that Meyssens received the amazingly precise information for the texts beneath both prints from Adriaen himself; they must have been in touch.39 Because they had their portraits in Meyssens’ series, they both received in Cornelis de Bie’s Gulden Cabinet of 1661 a full page with their portrait and a full page with a laudatory poem.40 Houbraken would take over the facts described beneath the prints, which contain, for example, information about their teachers, but he managed to muddle these considerably.41 None of the seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century biographers – Meyssens, De Bie, Houbraken – seem to consider moving from Antwerp to Amsterdam or Amsterdam to Antwerp as something upon which to comment. Both are called by De Bie ‘schilder van Antwerpen’; Adriaen too, because he was born there. But De Bie did not feel the need to claim them for the South, nor Houbraken much later, for the North, nor did they emphasize that one of the brothers made his career in the Southern Netherlands and the other in the Republic. They were just Netherlandish painters.

Fig. 1 

Johannes Meyssens, Portrait of Guilliam van Nieulandt II, (from the series Images de divers hommes, published by Johannes Meyssens in1649), engraving15.3×11.9cm, Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet.

Fig. 2 

Coenraet Waumans after Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen, Portrait of Adriaen van Nieulandt II, (from the series Images de divers hommes, published by Johannes Meyssens in1649), engraving15.3×11.9cm, London, British Museum.

A close knit family in Antwerp, Amsterdam and Rome

Religious reasons would have played a decisive role for Adriaen the Elder’s decision to move to Amsterdam in 1589. In that year, he had asked the Antwerp government for an attestation that he was a burgher of good report.42 The year that he left was the ultimate time limit for those of Protestant conviction to convert to Catholicism or to leave Antwerp. (Adriaen I had married before 1584 in the Reformed congregation,43 and Adriaen II certainly was a Protestant too.)44 Of Guilliam II, however, it was, as we have seen, officially testified that he had returned to Roman Catholicism during his Roman sojourn, though there might be some doubts about the sincerity of his conversion because the bans of his intended marriage in Amsterdam, only two months before this attestation in Antwerp, had been published in the Reformed Church. Uncle Guilliam I had remained a Roman Catholic, as had the latter’s (and Adriaen the Elder’s) mother and three sisters who had stayed behind in Antwerp. When grandmother died in 1608, she lived in a house on the Suikerrui that uncle Guilliam I had bought for his mother in 1606 (‘comprata col frutto della sua arte’).45 Grandmother’s inheritance was neatly divided between her children and grandchildren who were living in Antwerp, Amsterdam and Rome.46 From other testaments of family members, for example that of uncle Guilliam I when he died in Rome in 1626, it appears that they all remained in contact and on good terms, and that differences in religious convictions or place of residence were not an issue.47 We can also be certain that the brothers Guilliam II and Adriaen II kept in touch and travelled now and then to Antwerp or Amsterdam. There is one painting by Adriaen signed and dated ‘1612 Antwerp’, and there exists a portrait, dated 1613, that probably represents Adriaen and may have been painted by Guilliam.48 Nine years later, in 1622 Guilliam’s wife, Anna Hustaert, stood witness at the (reformed) baptism of a daughter of Adriaen in Amsterdam.49

Why did Guilliam van Nieulandt II move to Antwerp?

What might have been Guilliam’s motives to move to Antwerp in 1606? In the course of the first decade the economic situation in Antwerp improved considerably and the climate was relatively tolerant because the government feared that even more people, Catholics among them, would leave the city if the rules were too severe.50 When a cease-fire was declared in 1607 quite a few immigrants from the Southern Netherlands moved back to Antwerp; but in 1606 the war was still fierce, though precisely in that year hopes that Antwerp would be recaptured seem to have revived among many immigrants.51 However, not many Antwerp merchant-immigrants in Amsterdam appear to have returned in the period before the Twelve Year’s Truce: Gelderblom traced only eight merchants returning from Amsterdam to Antwerp and receiving poorterschap there between 1590 and 1609.52 But for merchants the economic advantage in Amsterdam must have weighed much heavier than for a painter who, at least ostensibly, had become a Roman Catholic again and had family there,53 and for whom the prospects in Antwerp might have looked more attractive than in Amsterdam, also from an economic perspective. In the first decade of the century there was still remarkably little going on in the field of painting in Amsterdam. The considerable increase in the production by artists working in that city started only in the course of the 1610s. Though quite a number of men calling themselves ‘painter’ were living in town, many of them from the Southern Netherlands, the latter especially were, as far as we know, mostly active as art dealers – probably out of necessity, because the demand for new paintings still seems to have been rather low.54 From 1607 onwards, the year after Guilliam II had left, cheap paintings imported from Antwerp must have flooded the Amsterdam art market. Judging from the reactions of members of the St. Luke’s guild, this obviously frightened the local painters, but it did not have the detrimental effects they had feared. On the contrary, it appears to have been a boost for the local art market, which grew rapidly during the following period of the Twelve Years’ Truce.55 It was the somewhat younger ones of the immigrant children, among them Guilliam’s younger brother Adriaen II, who profited from this.

Moreover, Guilliam II might also have figured that for the speciality that he had developed in Rome, which he would produce during his whole career – landscapes with recognizable Roman ruins, often with a historia (figs. 3 and 4), but just as frequently only with shepherds and travellers (fig. 8) – there would be more customers in Antwerp. Many Antwerp merchants had strong ties with, and memories of Rome, not to speak of the large number of prelates in that city who had visited Rome. Moreover, landscapes with Roman ruins would have already been familiar in Antwerp through the works of Guilliam’s master Paul Bril, whose paintings are found in many Antwerp inventories.56 Thus, there might have been a number of good reasons for Guilliam to decide to move to Antwerp.

Fig. 3 

Guilliam van NieulandtII, The departure of the Israelites from Egypt in a landscape with Roman ruins (including the Arch of Septimus Severus, the Temple of Castor and Pollux and the ‘Opus Praxiteles’), panel69×110cm, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Fig. 4 

Guilliam van NieulandtII, Laban looking for the terafim in a landscape with Roman Ruins (including the Igel Monument, the Colosseum, and the Roman She-Wolf with Romulus and Remus), 1628, panel49.3×76cm, Budapest, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum.

However, it is probable that he did not lose sight of the Amsterdam market. In his Antwerp years Guilliam II proved to be a prolific printmaker and produced several series of etchings of Roman ruins and Italian landscapes that were published in Antwerp under his own supervision. Some of them were after drawings of Matthijs Bril or Paul Bril, a few after Sebastiaen Vrancx, others after his own drawings. Many of them varied upon compositions of Paul Bril (fig. 5), often showing motifs that Guilliam used in his paintings, as well (fig. 4).57 Of the largest series, consisting of 20 small etchings of Roman ruins, copies were made in 1618 by Claes Jansz Visscher in Amsterdam (not in reverse and almost three centimetres wider) (fig. 6).58 We do not know whether Guilliam himself had a hand in Visscher’s marketing of his inventions, but it might have been his brother Adriaen – whose inventions of eight landscapes etched by Pieter Nolpe were also published by Claes Jansz Visscher – who instigated this.59 In any case, it shows that Visscher, a keen businessman, was confident that there was interest for these prints in Amsterdam. It certainly contributed to the spreading of Guilliam’s name, which figured prominently on the title page. Jan van de Velde also copied two of Guilliam’s etchings, while two series, each of four prints, were published by Cornelis Danckert (but probably after Guilliam had returned to Amsterdam).60 We also find a few of his paintings recorded in Amsterdam inventories.61

Fig. 5 

Guilliam van NieulandtII, Landscape with the Flight into Egypt with Roman ruins (partly after Paul Bril, from a series of four plates), etching23.2×32.3cm, Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet.

Fig. 6 

Copy after Guilliam van NieulandtII, published by Claes Janszn Visscher,1618, Landscape with the Temple of Minerva Medica (from a series of26plates), etching9.9×15.7cm.

A playwright in Antwerp

As a playwright, Guilliam van Nieulandt was an active force behind the revival of the Antwerp chambers of rhetoric.62 The Olyftack started its performances again in 1615 with Van Nieulandt’s tragedies Saul and Livia, and it deteriorated as soon as he left the chamber in 1621. In 1623/24 we find him with the Violieren and from that time onwards that chamber became much more active; Van Nieulandt’s Aegyptica was performed there with great success in 1624.63 Guilliam introduced in Antwerp the classical Senecan type of tragedies – dramas that followed the example of Seneca in particular and were imbued with neo-stoic moralism. Such tragedies were full of horror, gruesome murders and bloodcurdling mutilations, the protagonists undergoing violent, continually alternating emotions, performed with a lot of spectacle.64 There was a lively interest in Seneca’s philosophy and tragedies in the Southern Netherlands, and his Latin dramas were printed by Plantin in Antwerp in 1576 and again in 1593–94 with critical comments, while Lipsius’ edition of all his works was published in 1605 by Johannes Moretus.65 It was in Amsterdam, however, that the Dutch language ‘Senecan’ tragedies had already gained popularity with such dramas as Pieter Cornelisz Hooft’s Achilles and Polyxena and Theseus and Ariadne, both from the first years of the century; somewhat later, from 1611, Gerbrand Adriaenszn Bredero’s Rodd’rick en Alphonsus; and the most famous Hooft’s Geraerdt van Velsen of 1613.66 As Keersmaekers pointed out, Guilliam certainly knew the text of the latter, but the examples of the French poet and playwright Robert Garnier (Garnier had been of great importance for Hooft too) and Seneca himself were in particular decisive for him.67 Guilliam himself would write in 1624 that already at a young age he was drawn to poetry, and that he came to it ‘not through the path of any study, but through his innate talent.’68

One wonders about the two years in Amsterdam between 1604 and 1606, when Hooft’s first plays had already been performed and which must have been precisely the time that his brother Adriaen was together with Gerbrand Adriaenszn Bredero a pupil in the studio of Pieter Isaacsz. Would these young men, apart from talking about painting, also have discussed poetry and the tragedies of Seneca and Hooft? In 1611, a few years earlier than Guillliam, Bredero’s first innovative play, the tragedy Rodd’rick and Alphonsus, was performed. Guilliam’s first tragedies Livia and Saul (Livia received ecclesiastical approval in March 1614, and we know that they were both staged at the Olyftack in 1615) were immediately a hit in Antwerp and also the next ones were a great success;69 Porteman even called Guilliam the ‘star author’ of the Antwerp stage.70 The ones that followed were Nero in 1618, Aegyptica in 1624, in 1625 Sophonisba, 1628 Salomon, and finally Ierusalems Verwoestingh in 1629.71

All Guilliam’s tragedies were printed, which remained exceptional in Antwerp, but had become usual in Amsterdam.72 Most of the booklets containing Guilliam’s tragedies were even published with beautiful title prints, a practice that had become fashionable in Amsterdam but was very unusual in Antwerp.73 The last two appeared in Amsterdam as late as 1635 and 1639 (the 1635 edition of Ierusalems verwoestingh even with two other large prints in the book) (fig. 7). This indicates that also in Amsterdam there must have been interest in his plays, though we do not know whether they were ever performed there.74

Fig. 7 

Title page of Ierusalems verwoestingh (the title print probably by Guilliam van NieulandtII), Amsterdam1635, The Hague, Royal Library.

Guilliam van Nieulandt II had quite a few admirers among both the merchant elite and poets, which is underscored by several dedications and laudatory poems.75 His last tragedy, written in 1628–1629 (but published in 1635), was dedicated to the well-known Antwerp merchant, Gaspar Duarte, collector and great lover of art, music and poetry, and correspondent of Constantijn Huygens and Anna Roemers. In 1626 Duarte had presented the Violieren with the costume of Sophonisba for Guilliam’s play of the same name, which shows that he was an enthusiastic supporter.76 The circle of Rubens and his learned friends, however, must have been another world.77 I did not come across any contacts between Rubens and Van Nieulandt, even though both were staunch admirers of Seneca.

The novelty of Guilliam’s tragedies was immediately recognized. Justus de Harduwijn hailed Saul, published in 1615, as a return to classical antiquity. In an ode dedicated to Guilliam he exclaimed that also on the Antwerp stage ‘new green laurels’ had now triumphed over the foolish practices of the rhetoricians.78 The strong relation between Amsterdam’s world of poetics and that of Antwerp, and Amsterdam’s superiority in that field, was also felt. In a laudatory poem on Saul Guilliam’s friend Jan David Heemssen versified that the Amstel proudly spread its poetic fame and maintained the honour and renown where it concerned bloody tragedies (‘Behiel d’eer en den roem in treur-ghesanghen bloedigh’), but now, because of Van Nieulandt, the river Scheldt also diffuses its new treasures and lets its sweet voice resound on its banks.79 It must have been clear to everyone concerned that this was something new that was stimulated by the example of Amsterdam. Much later, in 1631, two years after Van Nieulandt had returned to Amsterdam, François Bruyninck, a great admirer, would write:

You [he is addressing the Northern Netherlands] have Cats, the sweetest of poets, /also Heinsius, Huygens and Hooft, of which you can boast, /and also the fertile Newland [‘’t vruchtbaer’ Nieuwelandt’], who bring you fame, /and many other brave minds …, /whose works are exalted and praised with us [‘Hun wercken zijn bij ons, soo loffelyck verheven’].80

In this poem we notice an explicit feeling of ‘them-there’ and ‘us-here’ (which, as a matter of fact, I never came across where painting is concerned) and there seems to be a clear sense of superiority of the Dutch in matters of poetry. Remarkably, Van Nieulandt is in this case counted among the poets of the Northern Netherlands, because he was, at the moment of writing, 1631, ‘owned’ by these lands.

But why move back to Amsterdam?

Why would Guilliam van Nieulandt II have moved back to Amsterdam in 1629? There are circumstances that might explain this move. In the course of the 1620s the political, religious and literary climate in Antwerp had been changing. For the Spanish rule in the Southern Netherlands 1629 was a year of disaster because of the victories of Frederik Hendrik, who had seized Wesel and ’s Hertogenbosch. This caused great political unrest and even riots of groups of Protestants against the Spanish in Ghent and Antwerp.81 In response, the Hispanicised government strengthened its grip on the Antwerp magistrate with growing intolerance. Lists of suspect persons were compiled by spies and in 1629 a ban against people who spoke ill of the Holy Church and His Majesty was issued. By that time imputations were the order of the day.82 Moreover, the government had been permanently suspicious of the chambers of rhetoric, which had been hotbeds of the Reformation in the past. The government did not encourage membership and in the course of the 1620s the Jesuits, gaining increasingly control of the cultural life of the city, took over the role of the chambers of rhetoric.83 In the same period Guilliam van Nieulandt’s poet friends Justus de Harduwijn and Jan David Heemssen turned to strictly spiritual poetry. De Harduwijn, initially the most important follower of the greatly admired secular Pléiade poetry, vehemently renounced his earlier work, and Heemssen, ordained a priest in 1629, only wrote devout poetry in the service of the Counter-Reformation.84

Guilliam’s last two tragedies had biblical subjects (Salomon and Ierusalems Verwoestingh). He might have chosen these to accommodate this tendency. In the dedication of Salomon of 1628, he informs the reader that he ‘had endeavoured to present something devotional and therefore had wanted to change his pen (with which, in the past, he had written several pagan tragedies), to bring Salomon […] alive on the stage.’ He also writes that he fears that this work will not be understood by some envious and malicious people, but that others encouraged him to publish it, adding that ‘ignorance attracts slander.’85 Complaining about envy, ignorance and slander was, since antiquity, a well-known topos, but the insistence at this moment and in this play – we do not find something similar in his other introductions – seems significant. Does this mean that he was mistrusted or accused of not being enough of a counter-reformist?

It is entirely probable that such a thing occurred and that many people were suspicious of a poet who had many contacts with Amsterdam Protestants – in the first place his own family (and he might even have been a covert Protestant himself) – and who was the key figure of the most successful chambers of rhetoric. At the great 1620 May contest of the revived chambers of rhetoric in Mechelen (which was also attended by a few chambers from Dutch cities), Guilliam van Nieulandt, leading for the Olyftack, had painted its blazon and won most of the prizes.86 As Porteman writes, the texts at this contest still demonstrated a striking ‘solidarity [between North and South] nourished by the Truce’ and generally pleaded for concord and peace.87 A few years later, however, ideals of solidarity and concord were something of the past, and such successes would have placed Guilliam in a questionable position. Also the fact that Guilliam van Nieulandt, like the Amsterdam poets, had always been an advocate of the use of a pure Dutch language might have cost him sympathy within the rapidly changing Antwerp culture. The poet Richard Verstegen, for example, Spanish agent, and staunch supporter of the Counter Reformation, who, in the 1620s, became a ‘leading Antwerp intellectual’, as Porteman called him, not only satirized everything that was Calvinist or Dutch, but also ridiculed the purism of the language of Dutch poets, and stimulated the use of more melodious and international sounding language.88

Probably more important was that precisely around this time, the cultural climate in Amsterdam had been changing in the opposite direction – towards more tolerance and less religious restrictions. The strict Calvinists had lost their grip on the city government; in 1627 the libertine regents obtained a majority once again in the city government and had broken the power of the Counter-Remonstrant preachers, always hostile towards the theatre. This heralded in the late 1620s a period of new élan among everyone involved, which would finally lead to establishment of the Schouwburg in 1637.89

Thus, we can think of several pressing reasons for Guilliam to move. It is possible that he and his wife also felt that they had become more mobile now that their only living child, their daughter Constantia, herself a poetess, had married the successful Antwerp still-life painter Adriaen van Utrecht in 1628.90 Finally, he might have heard about the success in Amsterdam, Utrecht and The Hague of the Italian landscapes with ruins and small-figured histories by Cornelis van Poelenburch and Bartholomeus Breenbergh and surmised that this might also generate interest in his more conventional, and topographically more precise (and undoubtedly lower-priced) works.91

We do not know if Guilliam wrote anything after his return to Amsterdam, nor is it known whether any of his tragedies were ever performed there (the only certainty is that the last two written and performed in Antwerp were beautifully published in Amsterdam). However, there is no doubt that he went on painting. We have dated paintings from his whole career, the earliest dated 1604, and also few dated ones from the 1630s.92 Remarkably, when in Amsterdam he tried his hand at Dutch landscapes with cattle and necking shepherds, obviously trying out something new; one of the two paintings we know with such a subject dates from the year of his death.93

Conservative styles, suitable for both Antwerp and Amsterdam

Apart from those remarkable Dutch pastorals, Guilliam’s oeuvre did not change much during his career. He kept to his specialism of landscapes with (almost always recognizable) Roman ruins, sometimes also contemporary Roman buildings, and often with a small-figured history. His type of paintings was firmly rooted in his training in the studio of Paul Bril and, perhaps even more, in his familiarity with the drawings of the latter’s untimely deceased brother Matthijs Bril, which would have been study material in Paul’s workshop.94 In contrast to Paul Bril, who made much freer use of architectural motifs, most of Guilliam’s paintings are dominated by neatly drawn ruins and other buildings. Some of his paintings with post-classical Roman architecture, all of them dating from the second decade of the century, are even true precursors of the vedute (fig. 8).95 However, in most of his paintings with ruins and later edifices the combinations he devised were grounded in fantasy. During his whole career his landscapes are divided in very pronounced grounds, which would become decidedly old- fashioned in the 1620s and 1630s. They are populated with somewhat wooden versions of Bril-like shepherds with their cattle (and other people wandering through the landscape), but as many landscapes contain biblical, and some even allegorical, subjects.

Fig. 8 

Guilliam van NieulandtII, View of the Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, 1610, panel50×68cm, Groningen, Groninger Museum.

There is no relation whatsoever between the subject matter and character of Guilliam van Nieulandt’s paintings and the themes and nature of tragedies. He did not depict spectacular events – no violent and suddenly changing emotions – nor neo-stoic morals, elements which do, for example, occur in paintings by such artists as Peter Paul Rubens, Pieter Lastman, or the young Rembrandt (and which, in fact, we also see in Guilliam’s designs for the title prints of his plays, see fig. 7 above). Nor are there any traces to be found of the spectacularly new styles developed in Antwerp by Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens, which had such great impact upon the art of painting in and outside that city.96 It would not have made much of a difference whether Guilliam had made his type of paintings in Rome, Antwerp or Amsterdam.

Something similar can be said about the oeuvre of his brother, Adriaen van Nieulandt II. The latter’s paintings shows nothing of the radically new developments in Amsterdam of the 1620s, 30s and 40s, though no other artist appears to have been so deeply embedded in the Amsterdam artistic community. He seems to have had relations with everyone in that world. As Montias wrote: ‘artists such as Van Nieulandt forged links between very wealthy citizens and the middle- and lower-middle classes to which they themselves belonged.’97 We find Adriaen as a young man in Jan Tengnagel’s militia piece of 1613, the company of Geurt Dircksz van Beuningen for the Handboogdoelen (fig. 9). Jan Tengnagel and Adriaen – they are the two officers in the middle, Adriaen bending forward, pointing to the empty chair and Jan sitting to the right of him – grew up close to each other and, at that moment, were almost neighbours on the Breestraat (opposite the house that Rembrandt bought some 20 years later).98 In this civic guard painting Adriaen is shown to be part of a relatively well-to-do social network of the neighbourhood around the Breestraat. In this network both indigenous Amsterdammers, some of them truly powerful men, mixed with men of Southern Netherlandish descent, wealthy merchants as well as prospering craftsmen.99 However, if we look at Adriaen’s extensive network of artist-friends, dealer-friends and acquaintances, for example those who were witnesses at the baptisms of his many children, it is striking that they all had Southern-Netherlandish roots, among them the painters Paul Vredeman de Vries, Abraham Vinck and Paulus van Hillegaert, the art dealer-painters Isaac van Coninxloo, Barend van Someren and Frans de Keersgieter, the engraver Robbert Baudous, and the fencing master Gerard Thibault. Other artists with whom Adriaen the Younger had dealings were the painters Willem van den Bundel, Cornelis van der Voort, Adriaen Brouwer and Francois Venant, the engraver and art dealer Michel le Blon, and the engraver Egbert van Paenderen. In short, the whole immigrant community (mostly second generation).100 About the only indigent artists and dealers he must have had close contacts with were Jan Tengnagel, Pieter Lastman and the Pynas brothers.

Fig. 9 

Jan Tengnagel, The company of captain Geurt Dircksz van Beuningen, 1613, canvas155×264cm, Amsterdam, Amsterdam Museum.

Adriaen had been a pupil of Pieter Isaacsz, born in Denmark from Dutch parents but married to a woman born in Antwerp, and subsequently of Frans Badens, also originally from Antwerp.101 Both his masters had been in Italy for a long time and could teach him about international trends of the late sixteenth century. In his early career Adriaen must have built up a considerable reputation. He received important commissions, among them, in 1618/1619 through Pieter Isaacsz, eleven large copper plates with New Testament subjects for Christian IV (part of the lost series of 23 paintings for the Oratory at Frederiksborg, which must have been a fabulous demonstration of Amsterdam history painting at that moment in time),102 and a large painting for the staircase of Ham House, still in its original location, commissioned by the Earl of Holdernesse in 1615 (fig. 10).103 Balthasar Gerbier mentioned him in his 1618 lament upon the death of Goltzius directly after Frans Badens and Pieter Lastman among the Amsterdam painters who honour the deceased. Gerbier devoted to him several lines as a painter whose name is rising through his art, which makes clear that he was much respected at that time.104

Fig. 10 

Adriaen van NieulandtII, Diana and her nymphs, 1615, canvas158×214.5cm, London (Richmond-upon-Thames), Ham House (owned by the Victoria & Albert Museum).

In his earliest work of 1609, a small-figured Adoration of the Shepherds, Adriaen adapted a style with carefully drawn bodies and smoothly crafted surfaces that recall the manner of his first master, Pieter Isaacsz, while other early paintings, such as the large work in Ham House, demonstrate how he picked up motifs from Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem. Adriaen’s large-figured paintings might have been close to the manner of his second master Frans Badens, but we do not know any paintings by the latter.105 In this period Adriaen van Nieulandt shows considerable ambition as a history painter; and with his spectacular Kitchen Piece of 1616, extensively discussed by Zoran Kwak in this volume, he clearly aspired to position himself among the best artists of the Northern and Southern Netherlands. In the next 35 years, however, he did not contribute to the many new developments that changed the face of Dutch history painting. From the 1620s to the 1650s, be it with small or large figures, he mainly kept to the same figure types (fig. 11). Characteristic are, for example, his slim female nudes with rather hipless bodies, tiny heads, elegantly posed as sixteenth-century goddesses. He often repeated certain attitudes and even recycled throughout his life similar facial types. Another connection with late mannerist painting is that Adriaen was practically the only one in Amsterdam who, throughout the 1620s and 1630s, went on painting mythological subjects with nudes that had been popular in the late sixteenth century and the first two decades of the seventeenth century, among them several works depicting Diana and her nymphs (figs. 11 and 12). Starting in the late 1630s, he sometimes changed the scale of the figures in relation to the landscape in such a way that he could hitch a ride on the popularity of Cornelis van Poelenburch’s novel Italianate idylls populated with many small frolicking nymphs. Adriaen’s figures, however, basically remained the same and have nothing of the latter’s sturdy classically inspired nudes, nor did he adapt Poelenburch’s tight grouping or his atmospheric tonality. Sometimes he integrated figures and other elements that show his familiarity with works by Lastman and Jan Pynas, but even then he made them graceful, slim and stylized. In Adriaen’s later work we often come across paintings with large numbers of small figures that are in many respects related to the Antwerp style of Frans Francken (fig. 13).106

Fig. 11 

Adriaen van NieulandtII, Diana and her nymphs discovering Callisto’s pregnancy, 1654, canvas116×84cm, Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum.

Fig. 12 

Adriaen van NieulandtII, Venus and Adonis, 1627, panel107×160cm, sale London, Sotheby’s,2May2012, lot16.

Fig. 13 

Adriaen van NieulandtII, Triumph of Galatea, 1651, canvas156×200cm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum.

Adriaen was obviously considered a knowledgeable connoisseur who was often called in to estimate or judge paintings, including two times works by Caravaggio: in 1619 he assessed, together with Pieter Lastman, the authenticity of the Crucifixion of St. Andrew, and in 1630, again with Pieter Lastman he testifies that a copy after Caravaggio’s Madonna of the Rosary was by Louis Finson’s hand.107 Nobody would have been better informed about all the new developments in Amsterdam and Antwerp than Adriaen, which makes clear how deliberate it must have been that he kept working in a style that we assess as old-fashioned, but which would also have been considered out of fashion by many an Amsterdam connoisseur. Adriaen lived opposite Rembrandt, owned 102 etchings by the latter as well as many other prints.108 His son-in-law, also from an Antwerp family, was the successful painter Salomon Koninck, who picked up many elements of Rembrandt’s early manner.109 Moreover, Adriaen would surely have known the current trends in Antwerp, where the styles of Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens reigned. Therefore, he was everything but a provincial painter who was unacquainted with the newest artistic trends.

Though we know too few inventories containing his works to draw any conclusion, it might be that his paintings were owned in particular by people who were reasonably well-to-do merchants with Southern Netherlandish roots, and who often also owned paintings by such artists as Roelant Savery, Alexander Keirincx, David Colijns, Paulus Hillegaert, David Vinckboons and Hendrik van Balen, artists with, what we would call, old-fashioned Flemish styles.110 It is not difficult to imagine that among such an audience his rather elegant and carefully finished nudes still found approval, even in the 1640s and 1650s, the more so because the prices must have been far below those of, for example, Cornelis van Poelenburch, (whose work was abundantly present in Amsterdam).111 By then, Adriaen’s manner had very little in common with that of the artists who had become dominant in Amsterdam, with Rembrandt in the lead. Early in his career his style obviously had brought him acclaim as a graceful and stylized alternative to the innovative realism of Pieter Lastman, the Pynas brothers and Claes Cornelisz Moyaert, and he received important commissions. However, also after the lapse in his production of paintings in the late 1620s and 1630s (a period in which he probably was too busy with his dealings in real estate), when he resumed his production of paintings at a steady pace, he did not feel the need to innovate or follow new trends. But he still managed to receive an interesting commission now and then, such as the Allegory on the Peace under WilliamII of 1650 (fig. 14).112

Fig. 14 

Adriaen van NieulandtII, Allegory of the peace under Prince Willem II, 1650, canvas136×105cm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum.

This remarkable allegory made Jonathan Bikker suggest that Adriaen was an Orangist, because of the striking inclusion of his self-portrait.113 The painting, dated 1650, was undoubtedly executed before William II’s death in November 1650. The patron of this work most certainly was an ardent Orangist; many Amsterdammers felt no sympathy towards this stadholder, who devised a coup against Amsterdam and even threatened it with the States General’s troops before its walls on 30 July 1650.114 That Adriaen proudly added his own face addressing the viewer seems significant. Adriaen’s earlier – large – paintings of Prince Maurits and His War Horse of 1624 and of Maurits and Frederik Hendrik with a War Horse on the Beach of Scheveningen, as well as the elaborate design for a print with an Allegory on the Rule of Prince Maurits, may also demonstrate that he was a staunch supporter of the Oranges.115 Traditionally most Calvinist immigrants were Orangists, which might also imply the wish to recapture Antwerp. Especially among those who were of the generation that held memories of being exiled from their homeland, there would have been those, who, even after so many decades, could not reconcile themselves to the fact that next generations accepted the division of the North and South, and who kept their hopes in the stadholders in vain.116

From the hand of his brother Guilliam we know a few interesting allegories on war and peace: the Allegory of the Consequences of War (1610), and as pendants the Triumph of War and the Triumph of Peace (1627) (fig. 15).117 Both brothers would have experienced continually what the war had meant for Antwerp and Brabant, and what it still meant for the many families that lived separated from their kin but tried to keep in touch. It seems almost a matter of course that they were interested in politics that concerned the division of their country and the fate of their hometown. Both would have cherished the notion of a united, common homeland, a notion strongly alive in the first decades of the century. More than half a century after the fall of Antwerp, however, that land existed only as an imaginary place.118

Fig. 15 

Guilliam van NieulandtII, Allegory of the consequences of war, 1610, panel61×86.5cm, Zürich, Collection Bruno Meissner (by1977).


What light do the careers of these two brothers shed on the question posed in the beginning of this essay, whether transmission and exchange between the Southern Netherlands and the Republic stimulated new developments and innovation? Of Guilliam’s tragedies we can indeed say that he renewed the theatre in Antwerp by bringing something new that had relations to earlier developments in Amsterdam. However, this did not result in something excitingly innovating and influential. In contrast to Amsterdam the success of the Senecan tragedy in Antwerp remained a rather isolated and short lived phenomenon.

With regard to the main part of Guilliam’s painted oeuvre we might say that he elaborated on Bril’s new type of Italian landscape with Roman ruins. In contrast to the latter, he focused on precisely drawn, recognizable Roman architecture that has more ties to the drawings of Matthijs Bril. In the spatial construction and colouring of his landscapes he kept to late sixteenth century methods. We may conclude that, unlike the atmospheric Italian landscapes with ruins of the younger stars Cornelis van Poelenburch and Bartholomeus Breenbergh, Guilliam’s work does not represent a truly innovative development originating in the Roman oeuvre of the brothers Bril; only in his focus on accurately drawn architecture was he exceptional. Guilliam’s work might be considered an updating (and his prints were a certainly a direct follow-up) of a sixteenth century tradition that was originally popularized by prints of Roman ruins after Maarten van Heemskerck and Hieronymus Cock.119 In other words, he engaged in an updating of a shared Netherlandish heritage. The same can be said of his type of figures, which are always remarkably similar to those of his brother Adriaen, especially when the scale is a bit larger in biblical or allegorical subjects: we see the same elongated, slim bodies with small heads and stereotypical faces, as well as many of the same postures, all firmly rooted in late mannerist models. In this his brother must have been an important example – the main difference being that Adriaen’s figures are livelier in movement, more supple in construction and somewhat more loosely painted.

Adriaen van Nieulandt’s work too was rooted in a common Netherlandish, but simultaneously internationally-oriented, heritage. He would have found his customers among a rather conservative audience that for the major part might have consisted of merchants with roots in the Southern Netherlands. Thus, in the case of these two brothers the interactions between Antwerp and Amsterdam did not lead to innovations, but, on the contrary, to conservatism based on Netherlandish traditions with a strong international flavour. True innovations by artists of the same generation with a Southern Netherlandish background took place in other cities, Haarlem in particular, and came mostly from slightly younger artists who began their careers during the Twelve Years’ Truce.120 For that matter, Adriaen’s Amsterdam colleagues of Southern Netherlandish descent all seem to have been rather conservative in style and types of paintings.121 Why and how that happened cannot be examined here.

What did the war and the division of the Netherlands mean to these two brothers? Starting a new life elsewhere, leaving behind social and economic networks, as their father and others of the first generation of immigrants had done, was not a decision one took lightly.122 For Guilliam II and Adriaen II, who had networks of family and acquaintances in both Antwerp and Amsterdam, the situation was entirely different. As we have seen, Guilliam II would have had several good reasons to return to the city where he was born and make a career in Antwerp, as well as for moving back to Amsterdam 23 years later. Adriaen II too had as decisive grounds to remain in Amsterdam and to make his career there. Different religious convictions were not an obstacle for the relations between the brothers and their family, but the changes in religious culture and politics in Antwerp and Amsterdam left their marks on the career decisions they took. Through their training still heavily indebted to the shared cultural heritage of the late sixteenth century, they held on to the types and styles with which they began their careers, producing works of art that could have been made in both cities and must have catered to rather conservative tastes. Both brothers were fairly successful, even though they ignored the radical innovations of the dominant artists in Antwerp and Amsterdam, which, between c. 1610 and 1640, made the most vital part of the art production in those cities move into significantly different directions.