The ‘lover of art’, or liefhebber, was a well-recognized figure in the artistic culture of the seventeenth-century Netherlands, functioning as a patron, collector, connoisseur, and an amateur practitioner of the arts. The liefhebber’s representation in the artist’s studio developed from the Flemish pictorial tradition of the art lover in the konstkamer, or collector’s cabinet, where his elite social status, intellectual values, and knowledge of art were put on display.2 In the privileged space of the studio, however, artists shifted the focus and meaning of the liefhebber’s interests to the making of art.3 In these works, knowledge passed between the artist and the art lover, gained through the direct familiarity with the artist’s working methods and practice, and through the contents of the studio itself. The subject reflected the value placed in artistic practice, but as this article argues, it also intersected with developments in the liefhebber’s own practice of art, which became increasingly relevant and attainable in the middle decades of the seventeenth century. The rise of drawing academies, pedagogical drawing manuals, and art theoretical treatises allowed liefhebbers to acquire firsthand knowledge of artistic practice that expanded their role in and outside of the artist’s space. This article examines how painters ‘pictured’ the relationship between artists and art lovers, and in doing so confronted a larger cultural discourse of connoisseurship, amateurship, and artistic practice in the early modern Netherlands.
The nature of this relationship derived meaning from images of the collector’s cabinet. Flemish paintings of the konstkamer amassed knowledge of the world through the display of objects, including naturalia and artificilia, and above all, paintings and sculpture. The emergence of the genre in Antwerp at the turn of the seventeenth century reflected the city’s economic and cultural wealth, embodied in its burgeoning mercantile classes and collecting habits.4 Works such as Hieronymus Francken II and Jan Brueghel the Elder’s The Archdukes Albert and Isabella Visiting the Collection of Pierre Roose show the artistic and scientific variety of objects germane to these scenes and the expansion of that tradition into Brussels (fig. 1). The artists depict the Archdukes Albert and Isabella seated prominently in the foreground of an expansive room surrounded by a near encyclopedic array of objects, natural and manmade, as well as elegantly dressed art lovers who converse and admire the luxuries before them. The figures’ interaction with the objects depicted – and each other – elevated the social status and virtue of the art collector himself, in turn creating an environment of intellectualism and inspiring conversation among virtuosi.5
The liefhebber in the studio reshaped this iconographic tradition by situating the art lover in the artist’s place of creation.6 The focus of value thus shifted from object to practice, or from knowledge embodied to knowledge performed. Dutch representations of this subject by Pieter Codde (1599–1678) and Frans van Mieris the Elder (1635–1681), in which art lovers examine painters’ works on their easels, demonstrate these changing ideas. The artist’s presence in the studio informs the art lover’s engagement with the object of his attention – the artist’s painting – but the artist’s passive role is often secondary to the work and contents of the studio. The Flemish artist Michael Sweerts (1618–1664), who executed a number of paintings of artist’s studios and academies in Rome and Brussels in the late 1640s and 1650s, further transformed the representation of the liefhebber from a learned observer to a participant. Sweerts’ liefhebbers, still informed by the intellectual virtues of the konstkamer, demonstrate their knowledge of the practice and learning of art by assuming a more active presence in artist’s space.
Although certain differences arise between Dutch and Flemish depictions of this subject from their respective iconographic traditions – images of the collector’s cabinet, for instance, simply did not thrive outside of Antwerp – this article investigates the representation of the liefhebber from the konstkamer to the studio, and ultimately, the academy, as part of a larger and inclusive Netherlandish context.7 It seeks to demonstrate the ways in which contemporary attitudes towards the art lover informed these images, and how his knowledge of art and connoisseurship could be enhanced by becoming an active practitioner of art.8 By relocating the values associated with the collector’s cabinet to these new pictorial spaces, artists modernized an iconographic tradition. The liefhebber’s image coalesced with these changes, giving him a more significant role alongside the artist, and in turn elevating the status of artist and art lover alike.
The liefhebber in Antwerp: real and ideal
In the late sixteenth century, the liefhebber was defined alternatively as a ‘lover, favorer, maintainer, patron, or amateur’ of art.9 He was not usually involved in the trade of pictures – though he could be – so much as one who displayed a keen interest in art and its collecting.10 By the early decades of the seventeenth century, contemporaries used the term in a more specialized way, designating themselves as ‘liefhebbers der schilderijen’ (lovers of painting). The phrase signified the ability to make judgments about pictures as a connoisseur, to discern among artists’ hands, and to engage in intellectual exchange among peers.11 The ‘lover of painting’, as Zirka Filipczak has pointed out, could be considered a worshipper of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and the arts.12
Such ‘liefhebbers der schilderijen’ converse in the foreground of Cognoscenti in a Room hung with Pictures executed in Antwerp around 1620 (fig. 2). Iconographically consistent with the work by Hieronymus Francken II and Jan Brueghel the Elder, the artist of this painting depicted a palatial room decorated from floor to ceiling with paintings, and tables covered with sculpture, prints, scientific instruments, and a globe. As the men discuss an Allegory of the Elements perched on the chair before them, they show their connoisseurial skills and high social rank through gesture, gaze, and elegant dress.13 The image evokes idealized forms of universal knowledge as well as Antwerp’s local artistic culture, elements that would have been recognizable to contemporary viewers. As Elizabeth Honig has expressed, the relationship between viewer and viewed is mutual: ‘the eye not only judges value [in these works], but it brings valuable status to the one who has the “eye”’.14
A new category of membership in Antwerp’s Guild of St. Luke reflected the importance of the liefhebber in the seventeenth century. By the end of 1610, five people had registered in the guild as liefhebbers der schilderijen, a term which, until that point, had never before existed in the official guild registers.15 The number of registrants continued into the middle decades of the century.16 Among those who joined were the well-known Antwerp art collectors Philips van Valckenisse and Cornelis van der Geest. Anthony van Dyck portrayed the latter figure as a kunstliefhebber in the Icongraphy, the print series of famous men he produced in the mid-1630s.17 Van der Geest’s portrait, along with those of two other ‘art lovers’ portrayed in the first edition of the series, Antoon Cornelissen and Jacomo de Cachopin, gave further definition to their esteemed role in the mid-seventeenth century by placing them on the same level as rulers, diplomats, humanists – and artists.18
The inscription of liefhebbers in the Dutch guilds came several decades later in Haarlem and The Hague, making their official status a phenomenon across the Netherlands.19 The reasons for liefhebbers’ registration in the guild were likely varied; it may have allowed them to purchase and sell paintings more easily, or to make contacts in the art world. The use of the term in the guild demonstrated that collectors and lovers of paintings sought formal recognition within the artistic community.20 The situation, however, was not widespread: the guilds in Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels did not denote this separate category. This evidence does not rule out the presence of a liefhebber culture in these cities (as discussed below in Brussels), but it indicates the inconsistencies and difficulties in assigning meaning to a so-called official status.
The liefhebber in the studio
The visit to the artist’s studio by an art lover or patron was a well-established topos in the seventeenth century. It had a venerable antique precedent in Alexander the Great’s visit to the studio of his court painter, Apelles, and studio visits occurred with regularity in the Netherlands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.21 Notable examples include Otto Speerling’s visit to Peter Paul Rubens’ studio in 1621 and Constantijn Huygens’ visit to Rembrandt van Rijn and Jan Lievens’ studio in Leiden in 1628. In his Essay des merveilles de nature, et des plus nobles artifices written in 1621, the French author Etienne Binet explained the importance of visiting the studio for the gentleman:22
When you speak of painting […], one of the most noble arts of the world […] [to do so] you must have visited the studio and disputed with the masters, have seen the magic marks of the pencil, and the unerring judgment with which the details are worked out.23
While the studio visit thus had a real-life counterpart, its representation reflected the ideal values associated with paintings of collector’s cabinets by displaying the knowledge, interests, and taste of the liefhebber.24 And while indicative of the art lover’s intellectual and discerning character, these images partook in a different kind of performance: the artist at work. The liefhebber became privy to the process of making, and ultimately, the artist’s finished product. Moreover, once inside the painter’s studio, the liefhebber affirmed the esteemed status of the artist himself.25
The representation of the art lover in the artist’s studio has been typically associated with the Northern Netherlands, yet a previously unpublished anonymous Flemish drawing from a private collection, dated to around 1600, suggests that this theme also originated in Antwerp (fig. 3).26 The finely executed drawing depicts a working studio: the artist paints at his easel, while an assistant grinds pigments at a table in the background. Plaster fragments of heads, arms, and feet hang on the wall near an open window. A monkey behind the painter examines his reflection in a mirror, an action paralleled by the woman and child across the room who gaze into a mirror held by a young man. He peers over the woman’s shoulder, his leg placed atop a chest and his hand confidently on his thigh. His belted robe bears some similarities to the painter’s dress, but his fanciful hat, ornamented and topped by a long feather, suggests that he is instead a visitor to the studio. His presence and participation in the activities here give added value to the artist’s practice – the studio is worthy of his visit – but they also demonstrate the visitor’s interest in the act of art’s making and the value of looking (sight).
Pieter Codde’s Art Lovers in a Painter’s Studio reflects another stage in an art lover’s engagement with the artist and his studio (fig. 4). Inside Codde’s modest space, three liefhebbers carefully examine the painter’s finished works, including one still stretched on the easel. The men are absorbed in the act of looking and judging the painter’s works, and through gaze and gesture they exhibit different degrees of discernment. The painter stands in the middle of the room holding his palette and brushes with an expression of concern. Although the art lovers have come to the studio to see the artist ‘at work’, their presence produces the opposite effect: the artist has stopped painting in order to accommodate his visitors. The studio has become a site of connoisseurship, but one mediated by the materiality of painting(s) and the role of the artist himself in that process.
Similarly to Codde, Frans van Mieris represented a studio scene defined by the silent exchange between artist and visitor (fig. 5). In a cavernous interior, illuminated only by light from arched windows, a painter leans against the easel with his palette, brushes, and mahlstick in hand. His practice, too, has been interrupted. A visitor, whose identity as an art lover is signaled by his fine dress and hat perched atop his knee, sits before a nearly finished painting of a Resting Traveler. Yet rather than looking at the canvas, he gazes toward a table arranged with various objects. The large musical instrument, sculpture of Hercules Wrestling with a Serpent, as well as the globe tucked into the lower left corner of the room, inform the liefhebber of the nobility of the artist and his art.27 In a work attributed to Job Adriaensz. Berckheyde (1630–1693) from 1659, the artist closely followed this iconographic model (fig. 6).28 Two visitors are present in this studio, with one man seated before the easel examining the painting as his companion and the artist look out at the viewer. Their direct engagement with us, as well as the illusionistic curtain pulled to the side, emphasizes the immediacy of the moment, but this carefully constructed scene is a fictive reality. Like Van Mieris’ painting, the display of objects on the table to the right reinforces the painter’s learned status, visually joining the iconographic traditions of the konstkamer and the studio to create a site of intellectual and manual practice.
As these paintings demonstrate, the visit to the studio allowed the artist to exhibit his work in more than one way (through the painting in the painting), and it served as a display of his artistic values. In portraying the exchange between artists and art lovers, however, Codde, Van Mieris, and Berckheyde also emphasized the important role of the studio for the making of art and for the judgment of the art lover. While related to earlier modes of connoisseurship, the dynamic pictured between artist and liefhebber conveyed the value of the finished object and the artist’s process. In the mid-seventeenth century, this judgment gained added meaning as the art lover became increasingly interested and involved in artistic practice himself.
The amateur, the academy, and Michael Sweerts
The value bestowed upon a gentleman’s knowledge of drawing had been addressed by authors and theorists since the Renaissance. Codified in Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier in the sixteenth century, seventeenth-century authors continued to rehearse the benefits of drawing for the elite, as well as its usefulness for judging pictures.29 In his Het Schilder-boeck of 1604, which was dedicated to artists and art lovers alike, Karel van Mander expressed the usefulness of drawing for all, especially when speaking about art.30 The English author Henry Peacham devoted a chapter of his popular treatise from 1622, The Compleat Gentleman, to drawing, describing it as ‘a quality most commendable, so many ways useful to a Gentleman.’31 And Constantijn Huygens, secretary to the Prince of Orange, recounted in his diaries from around 1630 that he had learned how to draw as a boy because his father viewed it as an essential part of his education.32
By the middle decades of the seventeenth century, pedagogical drawing manuals and informal academies for drawing naer het leven in the Northern and Southern Netherlands shifted the landscape of artistic practice and learning by making options for drawing available in different and readily accessible forms. While many of these efforts were naturally devoted to artists, both young and experienced, they similarly allowed the art lover to learn and develop the skill of draftsmanship alongside the artist himself.33 One of the earliest examples of this phenomenon in the Netherlands appeared in Amsterdam in 1636. The little-known Cornelis Pietersz. Biens published a small treatise intended for beginners and liefhebbers as a practical guide to drawing, De Teecken-Const: ofte Een korte ende klaere aen-leydinghe tot die lofelijcke Const van Teeckenen tot Dienst ende behulp van de eerstbeghinnende Jeucht ende liefhebbers, in Elf Capittelen vervat. Much of the treatise described well-known advice based on Biens’ familiarity with Karel van Mander’s HetSchilder-boeck, but Biens’ modest manual suggested a broader audience interested in the learning and making of art.34
Less than a decade later, Crispijn van de Passe published his substantial drawing book, ’t Light der teken en schilder konst, in Amsterdam in 1643 (fig. 7). The manual included studies of anatomy, proportion and perspective, academic studies of male and female nudes, and the works of established masters.35 Artists were expected to copy these models in a gradual process and learn from the ideal example. Van de Passe did not specify his intended audience, but the comprehensive and accessible nature of the manual indicates that it was intended for young artists and amateurs alike.36 With this progressive and detailed course of study, the liefhebber intersected with the world of the artist. The drawing book codified artistic knowledge for the amateur, while allowing him to join that knowledge with the practice and refinement of connoisseurship.
Michael Sweerts’ images of the studio engaged this changing discourse in a way unlike his contemporaries.37 In A Painter’s Studio, executed while the artist was in Rome, students draw after plaster casts of antique sculpture and an artist paints from a nude model posed beside his easel (fig. 8). Two gentlemen tucked into the shadows at the left respond to the activities taking place around them. Their contemporary dress, which includes black hats and doublets with fashionably slashed sleeves, distinguishes them from the rest of the studio. One man points towards the painter and the nude model, directing the viewer’s gaze from the early stages of artistic practice, embodied in the fragmented forms of antique sculpture in the foreground, to its more mature execution by the master painter. The other visitor looks either towards the boy in the foreground drawing an écorché model, which was used to teach students how to render human anatomy, or perhaps more tellingly, directly at the viewer. The ambiguity of his gaze draws attention to the relationship between viewer and viewed, recalling Honig’s point that the exchange of value in such works was mutual.38
Sweerts’ visitors have no clear reason to be in this working studio, yet their presence fundamentally changes its dynamic. Unlike the art lovers in Codde or Van Mieris’ images, the men in A Painter’s Studio do not readily observe finished works or contemplate a potential purchase of a work of art. Even if they have come to see Sweerts’ Roman Wrestlers, which hangs on the back wall of the studio, their interest lays in the artistic practice taking place around them. Sweerts’ figures look intensely and gesture directly, following the patterns of informed and sophisticated discourse depicted in the collector’s cabinet. The focus of their attention, however, has shifted from object to practice. They demonstrate that they are capable of discussing art and its production in the immediate and tangible space of the studio, and in the presence of the artist. Sweerts’ representation gives value to this new relationship, and at the same time reflects – in its emphasis on the progressive training in the artist’s studio – an awareness of the drawing method presented in De Passe’s manual.
Sweerts’ Artist’s Studio with a Woman Sewing heightens the prominence of the liefhebber in this context (fig. 9). Gathered near the artist at his easel are a group of well-dressed men, each absorbed in the activities of the studio or those of their music-making companions. Another painter and visitor are visible through a doorway in the background, where a liefhebber closely watches the artist at work. Paintings line the back wall and plaster casts of antique sculpture lie in a carefully constructed pile between the artist and model, recalling the display of objects in works by Sweerts’ Dutch and Flemish predecessors. Most interestingly in our context, however, is the man in the yellow jacket in the foreground. He conspicuously lacks the painter’s cap that identifies a working artist, yet he holds a pen in his left hand and leans over to pick up a piece of paper resting near his feet. No longer just a ‘lover of painting’, he is about to draw, and in this way becomes a participant in the artist’s studio. He gains – and shows – his knowledge through eye and hand.
These ideas coalesce in Sweerts’ painting of TheDrawing School, which he produced following his return to Brussels in the mid-1650s (fig. 10). During this decade, Sweerts established an academy for life drawing, which was the first of its kind in the Southern Netherlands and intended to serve young artists, tapestry designers, and likely amateurs.39TheDrawing School is related to Sweerts’ academic endeavors in Brussels, as well as one informed by his close associations with the academy in Rome. More broadly, the painting demonstrates the value that Sweerts placed in the fundamental practice of life drawing. Here, the young men have gathered to draw from a nude male model, so deep in concentration that they are unaware of the arrival of a visitor. Only the young boy in the foreground, who conspicuously points toward him, has noticed his presence – and is keen to point him out to his fellow artists. The master of the academy turns to welcome the gentleman and echoes the gesture of the boy by pointing to the model. The man, dressed in a white blouse and a black doublet and cloak, has entered the academy through the doorway in the back corner. As he removes his glove, he pauses to observe the model. The directness of gazes and gestures in this scene creates a dynamic performance around life drawing. The academy has replaced the studio, and by depicting the art lover in this space, Sweerts indicates the significance of drawing, learning, and working from life, which deserve equal admiration alongside the artist and his finished work.
But has this art lover come to join the drawing session instead? Such a possibility would reflect the art lover’s increasing interest in drawing in this period, and in turn, the artist’s interest in its representation. The scope and nature of Sweerts’ academic activities may make this scenario even more likely.40 In 1656 Sweerts published a series of didactic prints entitled Diversae facies in vsvm iuvenvm et aliorvm delineatae (Diverse faces for the use of the young and others), which consists of twelve etchings of half-length figures in various forms of dress and expression (fig. 11).41 While Sweerts must have intended the etchings to be used by the students who attended his academy, especially as they offered young artists exercises in the handling of light and shadow, the prints possess an accessibility in format, subject, and style that made them equally suitable for a broader audience. Knowledgeable art lovers could benefit from the practice of copying the prints as well as enjoy collecting them.42
The men depicted in The Drawing School reflect these varied intentions. A number of them are dressed in simple, working costume, but others are more elegantly clothed to distinguish them from the group. This distinction is evident in the youth depicted in the left foreground who wears a yellow vest and sits atop a gold-trimmed, red cloak. Sweerts executed several portraits of fashionably dressed men in Brussels during this same period, which indicate his familiarity with figures of elevated status in Brussels’ cultural milieu.43 In The Drawing School, the man entering the room bears a strong resemblance to Portrait of a Man, particularly in the facial features, hair, and costume, suggesting that this art lover may have served as the model for this work (fig. 12). Even if this possibility remains speculative, Sweerts clearly sought to ‘picture’ the art lover in the space of the academy, reflecting his own awareness of, and response to, a cultural discourse around the art lover.
Changing tastes: the liefhebber in Brussels and Antwerp
Unfortunately, we know relatively little – in comparison to Antwerp – about the standing of the liefhebber in Brussels during this period, but as the work of scholars like Veerle De Laet have shown, art played an important role in the life of the city’s residents, both within and outside of the court.44 In the seventeenth century, nearly every household in Brussels owned at least one painting, if not more, and the interest in art collecting for the urban class continued to grow after mid-century.45 Group portraits in private interiors by Sweerts’ younger Brussels contemporary Gillis van Tilborgh (1625–1678) demonstrate a class of patrons concerned with exhibiting their status as collectors – as a sign of their nobilité and civilité as described by De Laet – but also their knowledge of art reconfigured in the domestic space.46
In Tilborgh’s painting of A Picture Gallery, the room serves as konstkamer and studio, a site of display, practice, and the exchange of knowledge between the artist and his visitors (fig. 13).47 The artist, paused from painting, holds his palette and brushes as he turns away from the easel. The other figures, as elegantly dressed as the artist himself, gesture and gaze around the room. The man on the left looks out at the viewer directly. As a group, they engage painting(s) and practice, knowledge embodied and performed through the objects displayed in the room and the activity taking place around them. This informed judgment takes on another meaning in Tilborgh’s interior: the painting serves as a representation of local artistic culture, comparable to the Antwerp konstkamers that preceded it. The paintings in this room closely resemble the work of Brussels painters, including the landscape artists Lodewijck de Vadder (1605–1655) and Jacques d’Arthois (1613–1686), and the battle painter, Pieter Snayers (1592–1666).48 The representation of these works shows a sophisticated knowledge of artistic tradition in a Brussels context, one that met an interest in the practice of art.49
Less than a decade later, the liefhebber’s role in the academy was institutionalized in the Southern Netherlands. In 1663 liefhebbers were admitted as members of the recently founded Antwerp Academy of Art, the first state-sponsored academy to exist in the Netherlands.50 Their inclusion may be seen as a further formalization of the process that had begun in the guild earlier in the century.51 In place of the relative informality of Sweerts’ Brussels school, the institutionalized nature of the Antwerp academy (though slow to implement its comprehensive aims of instruction)52 marked a significant shift in how the liefhebber’s pastime of drawing found new expression in a defined pedagogical context.53 Life drawing was the only course offered in the academy’s first thirty years of existence, which must have been desirable for the city’s art lovers. Records in the Guild of St. Luke, conceived as an extension of the academy, indicate that liefhebbers did register for drawing lessons. In the last few decades of the century, a Jacobus Engels Vercouter registered to ‘leert teeckenen’ in 1674, as did a Jacobus Martens in 1695 (under the guidance of Abraham Genoels II), and Fransus-Xaverius Cras, Jan-Carel van Bugem, and Jan-Frans Herreberti in 1697.54
By the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the amateur art lover increasingly attended drawing schools to showcase his cultivation and refined education and manners, including in those recently established academies in The Hague and Amsterdam.55 Treatises published in this period, such as Willem Goeree’s drawing book of 1678, Inleydinge tot de Al-ghemeene Teycken-Konst, as well as Gerard de Lairesse’s Grondlegginge ter Teekenkonst (1701), paralleled these developments, as they, too, were directed toward an audience of artists and liefhebbers within a classically oriented artistic culture. As Goeree explained in the second printing of his manual, his rules were not only for beginners, but also for ‘alle die lust hebben’ to be proficient in drawing and painting.56
Joining the Dutch and Flemish liefhebber
Paintings of the liefhebber in the studio and academy reveal certain patterns: dress, gesture, and gaze serve as markers of sophistication, informed judgment, and virtuosity. To maintain these iconographic elements, artists depicted the ideal: the art lover who expresses a ‘love’ for art, an interest in the object, and a desired exchange with the artist. These images were tied to the genre of the collector’s cabinet, but they also offered a profound response to the cultural moment that produced them. In the middle of the seventeenth century, the connoisseur merged with the amateur practitioner of art. The publication of drawing manuals and the discourse that arose around drawing, artistic practice, and the academy established a framework under which the art lover could adapt and grow his role and relationship to the artist and his art. The representation of the liefhebber was part of a larger tradition that codified his artistic knowledge. The value placed in the art lover’s ability to practice art resulted in a modern image of connoisseurship and the mutual affirmation of the art lover and artist’s significance.
This discourse resonated in a Dutch and Flemish context. It reveals the continuity, adaptability, and circulation of these cultural ideals and practices, and the ways in which artists and art lovers responded to them in meaningful ways. The display of one of Sweerts’ artist’s studios in Amsterdam in the last quarter of the seventeenth century demonstrates, in closing, how these ideas could take shape in an actual collector’s cabinet. In a large, classically designed home on the Herengracht canal, Joseph Deutz, a member of a prominent merchant family and one of the Flemish artist’s most important patrons, displayed Sweerts’ Schilders-academetje in his grand purple salon.57 The now unidentified work hung in the showroom of Joseph’s collection alongside paintings by Rembrandt and Jacob Jordaens, among others, and pieces of antique sculpture.58 Knowledgeable about art and antiquities in a way consistent with the values of a Flemish tradition, and possibly practiced in the art of drawing himself, a figure like Joseph Deutz may be seen as a new kind of seventeenth-century liefhebber. His ownership of Sweerts’ academy painting demonstrates an interest in art that developed along the lines of its making and learning in a classicizing context, rather than just its display as a form of knowledge. Within this grand purple salon – Deutz’s own ‘Dutch konstkamer’ – we can imagine the informed discourse that would have taken place before Sweerts’ painting, where Deutz embraced his role as a modern art lover.