377 Three discoveries by Jan de Hond of which I am envious*

My research paths have crossed those of Jan de Hond in various ways for twenty years now. Again and again, he has beaten me to the punch in putting his finger on vital items. A tribute to a gifted colleague.


Jan de Hond has been a curator in the Department of History of the Rijksmuseum since 2007. Before and since he has made it a habit to, as we say in Dutch, mow the grass in front of my feet, steal the show from me. He embarked on this practice in 1999, when ten years after the appearance of the book I and Marten Jan Bok wrote on Pieter Saenredam, Jan added an indispensable drawing to Saenredam’s oeuvre.

Pieter Saenredam, Johannes Junius, 5 July 1632
Chalk and pen and ink, 20.5 x 14.8 cm
Dresden, Kupferstich-Kabinett, nr. 1910-50

Thanks to the dating to the day – a typical Saenredam touch, for which writers on the master cannot be grateful enough – we know that the portrait was drawn during Saenredam’s first work visit outside Haarlem, where he lived and worked. He made it in Den Bosch, where the sitter, who was Saenredam’s cousin, held a Protestant pulpit in a Catholic town. Marten Jan and I devoted many pages – pioneering , if I may say so – to Saenredam’s family connection to Junius. This stunning portrait should have been the key image for our chapter on Junius. Should have been, except that we didn’t know it. It bears all the marks of a Saenredam except for one, the signature. Had it been signed, the Dresden print room would not have put it in the Matthias Jansz van den Bergh box, keeping it out of the literature. As if to taunt us, Jan de Hond piles on argument after argument in defense of giving the drawing to Saenredam, while anyone can see that it is an unquestionable attribution that requires no argumentation at all.

That wasn’t enough for Jan. In all fairness (to me), I may be forgiven for not knowing the contents of the Matthias Jansz van den Bergh box in Dresden. But there is no excuse for not having read before Jan did a rare book of 1657 of which I have owned a copy for twenty-five or thirty years, Klioos kraam (The muse of history gives birth). Had I done so, and had I been paying attention, I would have found and could have published an amazing poem by the painter Willem Schellinks, “Op de schilder-konst der Benjanen” (On the painterly art of the Banias), a unique Dutch tribute to the visual art of the orient.

Klioos kraam, vol verscheiden gedichten, De tweede opening, Leeuwarden (Henrik Rintjus) 1657, pp. 351-53

Transcription and translation, by Steve Green and Michael Blass, of Schellinks’s poem, in Jos Gommans, The unseen world: The Netherlands and India from 1550, Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum) and Nijmegen (Uitgeverij Vantilt) 2018, p. 219

Jan called attention to the poem in November 2009, at a seminar at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study. He was addressing a small “theme group” in which I was participating, studying the dispersal of Dutch art in Asia. My piece of Asia was Persia, but in the seventeenth century Persian culture emanated wherever the Persian language was spoken, from Azerbaijan to the courts of Mughal India. I have referred to the poem in every one of my subsequent writings on Dutch art in Persia, each time swallowing my regret and self-accusation.

Anonymous, Persian miniature or copy after one
Pen in black and brush in black and various colors, 12 x 19.6 cm, mounted
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, GS 62, Scrapbook, fol. 40 recto

And now, once more with information out of a book on my shelves, Jan has one-upped me again. For years I have been looking everywhere I can for evidence concerning the reception of Persian art in the Netherlands, and have turned up little but verbal contumely. (The great exceptions are Rembrandt’s copies after Mughal miniatures and Willem Schellinks’s poem and his painted renditions of Mughal motifs.) As late as 1712, the Dutch artist-traveler Cornelis de Bruyn found Persian painting “poor, flat, stiff and totally lacking in technique, [with] nothing attractive about it, aside from the pleasing colors.” But leave it to Jan de Hond to come up with a Persian image cherished by the wonderful Zwolle artist Gesina ter Borch (1613-90). In her “Konstboek,” an art scrapbook, kept in the Rijksmuseum, Gesina pasted the lovely drawing above.

Unmistakably, the figure was either drawn by or copied after a Persian artist of the early seventeenth century. It was properly described in 1988 by Alison Kettering in her exemplary catalogue of drawings from the estate of the ter Borch family, but it remained unnoticed by me until Jan showed it at a public symposium at the Museum Barberini in Potsdam in June 2019. On this occasion too I was closely involved in things. The symposium dealt with the subject of an exhibition to open at the Barberini on 26 June 2020 of which I am guest curator: Rembrandt’s orient: west meets east in Dutch art of the seventeenth century. Needless to say, Gesina’s scrapbook went immediately onto our loan request list from the Rijksmuseum.

Jan thinks the drawing was copied by a Dutch painter after a miniature by Reza Abbasi (1565-1635), the best Persian artist of his time. In this I find it difficult to follow him. The drawing shows such fargoing understanding of Persian physiognomical, costume and artistic peculiarities that I cannot imagine it to have been made by any European artist of the time. Rembrandt’s and Schellinks’s copies after Mughal miniatures look decidedly Dutch and not a bit Indian. But Jan has his arguments – one detail seems to be the result of a misunderstanding no native artist would make – and he may be right. Perhaps examination of the paper will settle the issue.

In his modesty, Jan de Hond does not publish a newsletter to disseminate his scholarly findings. You have to keep track of him yourself. I will be doing so and I advise all of you to do the same.

References:
Alison McNeil Kettering, Drawings from the Ter Borch studio estate. Two vols., The Hague (Staatsuitgeverij) 1988, vol. 2, pp. 616-18, 632
Jan de Hond, “Een onbekende tekening van Saenredam: het portret van Johannes Petri Junius,” Oud Holland  113, No. 4 (1999), pp. 187-196

© Gary Schwartz 2019. Published on the Schwartzlist on 16 November 2019.

* On 18 November my old friend and critical reader David Kunzle let me know that the original title of the column, “Three discoveries by Jan de Hond of which I am jealous,” did not say what I wanted to say. He is perfectly right, and I have substituted the word “envious” for “jealous.”


In connection with another exhibition of which I am guest curator, Rembrandt seen through Jewish eyes, I paid a memorable visit in September to Moscow and St. Petersburg. The museums where the exhibition is to be held, from October 2021 through spring 2022, are the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. In St. Petersburg I was received, together with Mirjam Knotter of the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, who is also working on the exhibition, by the director of the Hermitage, Mikhail Piotrovsky. In Moscow my contact was not with the director, but with the curators in charge of the exhibition program, Maria Nasimova and Liya Chechik. This has an interesting reason. The director of the Moscow Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center is not an art historian but a chassidic rabbi, Alexander Moiseyevich Boroda, who occupies that post as president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia. The museum is the shared responsibility of that body and the Chabad movement, with its base in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Wisely, Rabbi Boroda leaves art-historical and museological matters up to the very able curators.


Lectures to be delivered in the coming months, to which all are invited:

“A Last Judgment to scare the hell out of you,” Vienna, Akademie der bildenden Künste (on location in the Theatermuseum, Lobkowitzplatz 2), 23 November 2019, in a two-day symposium on Jheronimus Bosch’s Last Judgment in the Gemäldegalerie of the Akademie

“Did Rembrandt read the Bible?” Leiden, Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal, 27 December 2019, during the exhibition Young Rembrandt, rising star (2 November 2019-9 February 2020)

“Devotion and emotion in the Gospel paintings of Rubens and Rembrandt,” Fundación Amigos Museo del Prado, 14 January 2020, in the framework of a lecture series “Because you have seen me, you have believed”: the New Testament in art, and on 15 January 2020 in the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao


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2 thoughts on “377 Three discoveries by Jan de Hond of which I am envious*”

    1. Thanks, Bart. That way of wearing a sword is found in undoubtedly Persian miniatures as well. The detail that Jan de Hond referred to is the ring on the cup through which the man sticks his thumb. Jan says this is a misunderstanding of the object and the action.

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