“ La Superba ”


Andries van Eertvelt, Entrance of the Port of Genoa
Entrance of the Port of Genoa

400 Years ago on the Spot

Andries van Eertvelt
1590 Antwerp 1652

“The Eldest of the Flemish Sea Painters
of the 17th Century”

With Antwerp Brand Identifiers before 1617
signifying a Guild-warranted Panel Quality

Cristoforo Grassi, Genoa at the Time of Christopher Columbus
Cristoforo Grassi, Genoa at the Time of Christopher Columbus
(1597 copied from an old perspective view).
Ill. after Giovanni Monleone & Guiseppe Pessagno (ed.), Christopher Colvmbvs.

La Superba — The Proud

was the name the amazed period gave (to the city) … The diadem by which the rocks adorned her head … She is still today what she has been three centuries ago – La Superba!

The sight Genoa offers when one comes from the sea towards the harbor eludes any description, for the gulf by which it is situated not represents a gentle curve, but a deep, many-toothed cut into the rugged land on which now the sky-high houses and palaces rise in terraces,

upwards to the steep mountains

which rise gigantically in the back of the city …

Karl Stieler/Eduard Paulus/Woldemar Kaden
Italien. Eine Wanderung von den Alpen bis zum Aetna
With wood engravings after … by/for Adolf Closs, ibid.
Stuttgart, Engelhorn, 1876, pp. 105 f.

Andries van Eertvelt
1590 Antwerp 1652

Entrance of the Port of Genoa

Front left tip of land with the artistically free (?) tower of Capo di Faro (guard of the same 1449 Antonio Colombo, Christopher’s uncle) projecting into the picture in close distance to the obliquely offset, now ruined second tower with shipyard or even just salvage works at its foot. Towards center right the heavy battery with here dominating round tower protecting the entrance, further to right correctly joined by a second one. On the leftside opposite bank two galleys and city skyline silhouetted against the abruptly slanted Ligurian Apennines, joined backwards to the right by a less rugged range. Including, however,

marine scenario in all its color around papal galleon

alive in vibrant colorfulness by

painting technically precious plenty of omnipresent small figures

on water and land. Oil on oak wood panel of the Antwerp panelmaker Lambrecht Steens I (active since 1608, † there 1638). After 1627. 15¾ × 27⅛-27¼ × ¼ in (40 × 68.8-69.2 × 0.8 cm). Old scarfed construction frame with superimposed carved gilt ornamented profile ledges.

Thieme-Becker X (1914), 316 f.; Bernt, 3rd ed., I & III (1969/70); Jørgen Wadum, The Antwerp Brand on Paintings on Panel, in Erma Hermens (ed.), Looking through Paintings (1998), 179-198; Anna Koopstra (ed.), Seitenwechsel – Gemälderückseiten und ihre Geheimnisse (Change of Ends – Backs of Paintings and their Secrets; 2006/07), generally and in particular 62 f. & 66 ff.

“ E. is the eldest of the Flemish sea painters of the 17th century

… He is less the precursor of the known family Peeters flourishing about 1650 than the laggard of Bruegel’s sea painting, particularly in the exaggerations of the wash of the waves. Especially in the early works of the 20s the endeavor shows to make the horror of tempests and shipwrecks as vivid as possible … A dull sage with greatly darkened parts is the prevailing color from which the little figures set off in (Flemish) colorfulness. – Later however, apparently after the Italian journey (1627/30), he prefers more quiet views of southern harbors with their rich vivid activity,

they are considerably softer and more uniformly

in a grey hue than the early works; at a prominent spot in the middle distance

Andries van Eertvelt, Papal Galeon (detail)
Papal galeon (detail)

he frequently presents the imposing silhouette of a great three-decker

with view of the stern ”

(Fred C. Willis in Th.-B., established by Die Niederländische Marinemalerei, 1911, as the “pivotal work of the pioneer in this field, the father of the scientific history of sea painting” [Laurens J. Bol, Die Holländ. Marinemalerei des 17. Jhdts., 1973, p. XI]).

The characteristics of the late period are the essential ones here, too, hand in hand nonetheless with the sage hues and greatly darkened foreground of the earlier. And if this

“ excellent colorist ”

reminds Wurzbach (1906) of Hendrik Vroom (1566 Haarlem 1640; pioneer of Dutch marine painting), then this certainly not least in regard of indeed his deep green foregrounds with nevertheless frequently far higher skyline, which spontaneously stepped before the mental eye and thematically strongly reminded, particularly with regard to the likewise sage mountain scenery, of his 1614 Merchant Ships in the East of the Palmer Collection in Greenwich or for instance the Naval Battle in Innsbruck.

But also Bernt draws this parallel albeit he nonetheless – what must surprise, indeed, downright irritate with this markedly independent lateral entrant – sums up

“ A. van Antum and A. van Eertvelt painted in (Vroom’s) quaint and naïf representational manner … the rough sea is depicted by a dull green, schematic wash of waves. The great merchant ships and frigates are rather drawn than painted; calculated for contrast only, the lights and the incidentally treated light blue sky yield no atmosphere … ”

To which vote the contemporary Bol, longstanding director of the museums at Dordrecht and among his ilk so refreshingly trenchant, holds out:

“ Art history of the 20th century still considers and judges the work (the early Dutch marine painters) accomplished with abandon with too much prejudice, culminating in the well-meaning praise of their draughtsmanship. However, rating scale and hierarchic ranking of artists, apparently set once and for all by recognized art historians, are not sacrosanct until doomsday. Since esteem is based on subjective assessment, it cannot apply everywhere and forever.

The underratement of these early marine painters origins … from a period

when impressionism was overrated … Such a cultural optimism looks from the heights of achievement … back to the early beginnings and classifies it as naïf, childish and of little artistic value. Looking back then turns into a rather pitying or well-meaning looking down.

Such a prejudice

for instance applies to the ship painters of the early 17th century …

They produced ship portraits it is said – a designation which can hardly be mistaken for the contempt. Portrait painting was ranked greatly indeed as long humans were portrayed. Yet why should the animal or ship portrait be inferior to the portrait of humans? – With satisfaction I observed

that in our time these depictions of ships

(quite as in the time of their creation) are highly esteemed again.

The early marine painter had

an admiration bordering to love for the proud three-masters

with their … drawn rigging, their … sails … just as the movable gaudy flags at the topmasts of the masts. He had more eye for the habitus of ‘his’ ships

he knew through and through

than for sky and water … In 1906 an authority like Bredius could talk still disparagingly about ‘all the childish ado (of the Dutch) of Vroom, Van Wieringen and others’ for they ‘rather made the ships than the sea the main subject of their paintings’ …

These pictures from the early 17th century have qualities of a different kind …: strong, gay colors; tight, masterly and faithful graphic composition;

a festive, decorative style; an expression of youthfully bold vigor … ”

(Laurens J. Bol, op. cit., pp. 8 ff.).

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, describing his The Return to Amsterdam of the Second Expedition to the East Indies on 19 July 1599 (NMMBHC0748), by the way considers the Fleming Eertvelt a pupil of the Dutchman Vroom, while for Bol the latter’s “marine paintings have south Netherlandic treats by color and accessories”. What for Eertvelt would not even require a relationship as pupil.

While for the creation of present painting the combination of already later and still earlier stylistic elements suggests a limited time frame of the late 20s/early 30s, the knowledge of the locality is ascertained by his Italian journey started 1627 after the decease of his first wife, in which he seems to never have got beyond Genoa, where according to Mariette his compatriot and guildsman “Cornelis de Wael accommodated him and obtained orders for him”. And certainly acquainted him with local history. So that the locally indeed true, yet further representation of the lighthouse as the city’s famous landmark – so for instance the local derby of the two Genoese soccer clubs Sampdoria and Genoa CFC bears the name of Derby della Lanterna – should prove less artistic license, see at the beginning, than in connection with the papal three-master mentally

dedicated to that historical event

when Andrea Doria (1468-1560; “the most famous of his stock and one of the greatest statesmen and heroes of his century”)

“ 1527 (was given) the supreme command of the united papal, French and Venetian fleet to operate against the imperial fleet, (and) sailed for Genoa occupied by the Spaniards and relieved her of the same ”

(Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, 4th ed., V [1889], 77 f.).

And just about that time the tower was in a badly damaged state .

Built on this spot about 1128 and since 1326 fitted with an oil lantern, it was badly damaged 1506 in the fight of the Genoese against French troops and rebuilt only 1543. And as Bol states with regard to Vroom, too,

“ almost all representations of historical events

came into being considerably later . ”

In its deep brown and of quite similar appearance, yet as a whole, the tower is found the same place in Eertvelt’s A Dutch Ship at Anchor off Genoa in Greenwich (NMM BHC0757), but without the neighboring second tower here as already found in Cristoforo Grassi’s plan of 1597, just as in Seutter’s plan from the 1730s. The battery tower, however, more faithful in BHC0757. However, when it is stated there on the latter that the buildings of the harbor were so carefully detailed that it seems possible the artist worked from a print, this should hardly be the case with the lighthouse restored already since long.

Of exemplary preservation & significance the back

imparting to the splendid pictoriality of the front superb as all get-out

a radiance sui generis

Lambert Steen's Markdocumenting both the origin of the panel and its and the painting’s quality control by the Antwerp guild of St. Luke! The former here by the punched monogram mark of the ligated letters “L” and “S” of panelmaker Lambrecht Steens I (cf. Koopstra, op. cit., p. 69 with illustration of the mark corresponding with the one here, p. 66).

By what the matter nonetheless does not rest. For just the plain wood of the Antwerp panelmakers was the best of the best and

“ The mastery of the Antwerp panel makers was that great

that they simply provided the panels of the highest quality …

“ The most apparent information which can be disclosed from the backs of paintings frequently are also those which excite the imagination the most … In addition sometimes – if they have not been lost in the course of time – various kinds of brands can be detected on the backs of picture panels, including such which were applied as hallmark by a guild.

“ The guilds in which all urban craftsmen of an occupational group – artists, too – were organized created in the late 15th century (documented since 1470) mechanisms of quality control

to assure clients and buyers of the good quality …

in so doing the guild tried to prevent that for the shipped pieces for instance inferior wood was used

or the painting was executed precipitately and technically badly …

“ A hand attested (for the altar retables of the early period) the quality of the wood and the carvings, a castle (both from the Antwerp city arms) the quality of the polychromy if such was applied. These marks were burnt in with a branding iron and are well recognizable due to their black color and their deepening in the wood …

“ About the middle of the 16th century the request for altar retables decreased, while panel pictures were more and more in vogue … Subsequently the brands were adjusted to the new practice. When a panelmaker had done a number of panels he asked the quality inspector of the guild to come by to examine

Antwerp Brand: CastleAntwerp Brand: Hands

and brand them with castle and hands

“ 1617 the Antwerp guild of St. Luke, in tightening the (partially rather laxly handled) old quality controls (as now compulsory for picture panels, too), decreed that it should be illegal to produce or use picture panels without guild brand and without personal brand of the respective panelmaker … Contrary to the burnt-in older Antwerp brands of castle and hands the new marks, which are derived from the initials of the panelmakers … frequently are punched (cold, as here) or even nicked in. Also, panelmaker marks are known which were applied with chalk … ”

(Koopstra, op. cit., pp. 81 & 62 f., spacing & bold type not in the original).

According to Wadum’s researches, the arrangement of hands, castle and the panelmaker’s mark indicates that present panel “may be from the transition period before the new guild rules of 1617” (Wadum p. 183) and therefore was produced well about a decade before the painting as not unusual, but noteworthy. “This could, however, be explained … by the fact that this particular panel stayed in the painter’s studio for a considerable period before it was actually used” (p. 192). And with Eertvelt as a painter “well-respected by his contemporaries” – still nine years after his decease “Cornelis de Brie glorified him in his ‘Gulden Cabinet’ (p. 105) with a pompous panegyric” (Th.-B.) – this need not have been the exception in regard of the economical aspect. Just as vice versa the himself successful Steens might have kept a stock.

Having been worked on moderately only “to make the rough wood smoother and more even” (Koopstra, op. cit., p. 66), the edges of the panel were leveled or chamfered:

“ Such boards with the chamfered sides

remain perfectly plain , even with great fluctuation of temperature

(what should not be misunderstood as license for carelessness and particularly neglect of relative humidity; not in the original). From ascertained tradition it is also known that for the painting boards choice heartwood was used, and this was dried moreover in a special method (which took years) ”

(Doerner, Malmaterial und seine Verwendung im Bilde, 14th ed. [1976], p. 260).

“ That such a slanting edge is encountered on all four sides of the panel, is besides an indication

that the picture panel has preserved its original dimensions

(and was not cut later for instance) (Koopstra, op. cit., pp. 66 f. with 3 illustrations).

Adequately parade-like then present back :

With the chamfer on all four sides and in contrast to the “only faint traces” of the burnt-in hands elsewhere as lamented in the catalog

the brands here show at their very best and ( castle ) fine .

The 2¾ in (7 cm) wide frame stylistically close to the Louis XIV/Régence frame (2nd h. of 17th till middle of 18th cent.), observing particularly variants PR 223 & 236 with their illustrations, too. Cut to miter and attached, the carved gilt décor in the outer part (ogee) dominated by acanthus tendrils and their flowers with broad, only moderately protruding corner and center cartouches. In the pendentives of the former two flowers above each other on top of a thus smaller fan of leaves. The inner profile with scrollwork and interspersed flowers. However, here all without filling cross gravures and flutings as adequate for the frame of a rough male world.

The preservation including the frame all in all very fine. The panel absolutely level, although for whatever reason on the right side and at top the incline, and only this, of the ⅝ in (1.5 cm) wide chamfer on the back, see above, is cut off of old. Apparently this caused top left a crack of 7⅞ in (20 cm), visible from front, but fully covered by the frame, which was nailed. And right into this crack an even ledge was applied to match the thickness of the board. On the right, however, the cut-off remained as is. Since the original chamfer of both these two sides is still rudimentarily visible/palpable, the cutting thus just makes up the ⅝ in chamfer, therefore a shortening of the panel is out of the question as otherwise the tower of Capo di Faro, just projecting – from front on the left side – might suggest. Eertvelt has utilized this classic stylistic element for instance in both the marine in the Prado and at the same place in The Return of a Spanish Expedition in Greenwich.

Reiteratingly important however, that the planarity of the panel has been unaffected by the unresolved edge treatment on two sides.

And so in conclusion no other résumé can be drawn but to encounter here and now a marine which beyond an ageless pictoriality

discloses to the curious its 400 years old secrets.

Stories, for the gourmets among the connoisseurs more enthralling than a thriller, more lasting anyway. And as rare as a find the wind has missed to cover, see above.

Offer no. 29,025 / price on application

Comprehensive 16-page documentation
with 10 (detail) illustrations on request

  1. Color ill. in the Hamburg exhibition catalog Segeln, was das Zeug hält of 2010, p. 89.
  2. Color ill. in Bol, op. cit., p. 13.
  3. op. cit., p. 11.
  4. op. cit., p. 19.
  5. Cf. (Giovanni Monleone & Guiseppe Pessagno [ed.]). Christopher Colvmbvs / Documents and Proofs of his Genoese origin. Genoa 1932. Color plate following p. 178.
  6. Cf. Schmitz, Lexikon der europäischen Bilderrahmen, vol. I (2003), pp. 106/09, 114 f. & 117.

„ die Sendung ist unversehrt … angekommen, vielen Dank. Alle Blätter finden unsere Zustimmung, wir möchten alle erwerben. Ich habe die Rechnung bereits auf den Verwaltungsweg gegeben … “

(Herr R. G., 21. Dezember 2011)