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Monday, March 28, 2016

Adriaen van de Venne

Fishing for Souls, 1614, Adriaen van de Venne
It doesn't take a genius to realize that when times are good, art thrives, as do the artists who make it. When times turn bad, as in times of economic turmoil, political upheavals, war, even the periods leading up to wars and the years after a war, until things return to normal, hardships range from difficult to catastrophic for art and artists. I experienced this personally in 2008 as the U.S. economy took a nosedive into what's since come to be called the "Great Recession." A year or so earlier I'd finally been able to line up gallery representation through a high-end shopping mall establishment in Columbus, Ohio. They were doing relatively well for me. I was painting OSU football players in action, which were selling for reasonably good prices, even after the gallery took their cut. Then the recession hit. Art sales were the first casualty. They didn't just dry up; they blew away. The gallery went broke; I even lost a couple paintings in the ensuing melee. Of course, that was a minor bump in the road as compared to an outbreak of war such as happened in the Netherlands from about 1568 to 1648 (since come to be known as the Eighty Years War). During this time, the Dutch fought for their independence from the Spanish branch of the Hapsburg royal family of Austria (heirs to the Holy Roman Empire during the Middle Ages). The artist, Adriaen van de Venne, was born in the midst of this awful period, during the year 1589.
Summer, 1614, Adriaen van de Venne
Adriaen van Venne,
Wenceslas Hollar
Though born in Delft (south Holland), the young boy grew up and attended school in nearby Leiden. He learned to paint, as did many young would-be artists of that time as an apprentice to a goldsmith before moving on at the age of twenty-five to the city of Middleburg where he was influenced, if not actually taught, by Jan Brueghel the Elder and his father, Pieter Brueghel the Elder. He apparently began his career as an artist/illustrator/engraver around 1614 in that few of his works bear dates before that year. Van de Venne's Summer (above) and Winter (below) both date from 1614 and are typical, though not exceptional insofar as Dutch landscapes of the 17th-century "Golden Age" are concerned. Van de Venne's most famous painting dates from this era, an allegory on the religious struggles between Dutch Protestants and Spanish Catholics during his time. It's titled Fishing for Souls (top) as both groups work to rescue "drowning" souls during the Dutch Revolt.

Winter, 1614, Adriaen van de Venne
Adriaen van de Venne was fortunate to have been born when he was and thus to have come of age as a painter in the midst of what historians have come to call the Twelve-Year's Truce. Maurice, Prince of Orange succeeded his father William the Silent as the Protestant ruler of Zeeland in 1585, adding the cities of Utrecht, Guelders and Overijssel in 1590, and Groningen in 1620. As Captain-General and Admiral of the Union, Maurice organized the Dutch rebellion against Spain into a successful revolt which won him fame as a military strategist. Under his leadership, and in cooperation with Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, the ruler of Holland, the Dutch army was able to drive the Spanish out of the north and east of the Republic. As a result, there began the Twelve Years' Truce, though there was nearly as much conflict between the two Dutch rulers as there had been between the Dutch and the Spanish. It ended with Van Oldenbarnevelt's decapitation. After the Truce, Maurice failed to achieve any more military victories. He died at The Hague in 1625. Adriaen van de Venne painted his portrait (below) as Maurice lay in state shortly before his funeral.

Maurice, Prince of Orange, Lying in State, 1625, Adriaen van de Venne
The truce ended in 1621 with renewed hostilities which also involved the French and English in various complicated alliances for another seventeen years, finally ending in the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 when the Dutch Republic was recognized as a fully independent nation. Adriaen van de Venne lived though all this and despite such conflicts the era continued to be known as the Dutch Golden Age. Two of his allegorical paintings, Allegory of the Truce of 1609 between the Netherlands and Spain, (below, left) from 1616, and Allegory of Poverty (below, right) from 1630, can be seen as social comments on the current events of his day.

Van de Venne was a sharp visual commentator on the events of his day.
Adriaen van de Venne's monochromatic grisaille paintings (below) reflect what he saw as the foolish irony of this tortured period. I'm especially fascinated by his titles, Altogether too Stupid, Fools Have the Most Fun, and his cynical Where There Are People, Money Is to Be Made. His Death Dance (below, left) is a devastating comment on the horror and insanity of war, despite the fact that this one led to Dutch independence.

Death, foolishness, stupidity, and greed were all valid content for van de Venne's art.
Adriaen van de Venne survived until 1662. During the latter years of his life he turned to depicting religious works such as his The Marriage at Cana (below), from around 1660. However, what I like most about van de Venne's work is his dry sense of humor, not unlike that of a political cartoonist today, or as seen not quite so dryly in his Tumbling Skaters (bottom), from around 1620-26. Here is a man who, despite difficult times, had fun with his art.

The Marriage at Cana, 1620-26, Adriaen van de Venne.
Jesus appears to have been eating a bit much at the wedding feast.
Tumbling Skaters, 1620-26, Adriaen van de Venne


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