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Jan Both

An Italianate River Landscape with Cattle and Travellers

Jan Both

Signed lower right: JBoth
On panel, 30¼ x 39¾ ins. (76.8 x 101 cm)



Sir Hickman Bacon (1855-1945), Gainsborough & London by 1890
By descent to Sir Edmund Bacon (1903-1982), London
Anon sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 25 January 2001, lot 128
Galleria Luigi Caretto, Turin
Private Collection, Austria
Private Collection, the Netherlands, 2014


C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, 1907-1928, vol. IX (1926), p. 485, no 255 (erroneously as on canvas, 101.5 x 76.3 cm)
B. Eclercy (ed.), Nah un Fern: Landschaftsmalerei von Brueghel bis Corinth, exh. cat., Landesmuseum, Hanover, 2001, cat. no. 30


London, Guildhall, 1890, no. 56
Nah un Fern: Landschaftsmalerei von Brueghel bis Corinth, Landesmuseum, Hanover, 2001, cat. no. 30


Italianate landscapes form a distinct strand of Dutch seventeenth-century landscape painting.  Perhaps more than any other artist, the work of Jan Both epitomises this genre.  Born in Utrecht around 1615, Both studied with Abraham Bloemaert (1566-1651) before making a trip to Rome in the mid-1630s.  Whereas earlier painters visited the city to study the work of Caravaggio (1571-1610), and the remains of classical antiquity, Both was  inspired chiefly by the beauty of the countryside around Rome.  He returned to Utrecht in 1642, where he devoted himself to painting landscapes based on his recollections and drawings of Italy.

While in Rome, Both produced a few urban genre scenes which are close in style to those of his brother Andries (c. 1612-1642).  His work as a landscapist, however, must have attracted attention, for in 1639, along with Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), Herman van Swanevelt (c. 1600-1655), Gaspard Dughet (1615-1675) and Claude Lorrain (1600-1682), he was invited to participate in a project to paint a suite of landscapes for Philip IV of Spain’s Buen Retiro Palace, near Madrid.  Both’s paintings from this series, which are now in the Prado, Madrid, already display a pervasive golden light and a taste for tall, stately trees and detailed foreground vegetation that are characteristic of his entire output.  After his return to Utrecht, Both’s talents unfolded fully, and in the decade remaining to him, he produced his best work.  Almost without exception the paintings from this period depict idyllic Italian landscapes, bathed in rich, golden sunlight.  Identifiable locations are seldom represented and the staffage, though occasionally by other figure specialists, is for the most painted by Both himself.  

Establishing a chronology for Both’s oeuvre is, however, problematic: apart from a small number of paintings that can be reliably assigned to his time in Italy, and two dated paintings from his late career (i), none of his works is dated.  A shift from a somewhat monochromatic yellowish palette in his early Roman works to a richer, more varied colouring in his mature paintings can nevertheless be detected.  Also, his larger, more complexly designed paintings are generally thought to be the product of his late career.  In view of the present painting’s mature and fully developed style, a date somewhere in the late 1640s therefore seems likely.  Furthermore, the view of the river here recalls Both’s etching, View on the Tiber, which he made in the second half of the 1640s as part of a six-part series depicting landscapes in the environs of Rome.   

This harmonious painting, Both’s largest work on panel, is characteristic of his work in both subject matter and style.  Although powerfully evocative of the southern landscape, it probably depicts an imaginary scene.  A rocky escarpment rises on the left and a clump of trees stands tall on the right, framing a vista of a river valley and a distant mountain range.  The foreground is cast in deep shadow, while the scene beyond basks in the glow of the setting sun.  Although the sun is hidden from view, its radiance suffuses the sky and clouds and gilds the outlines of everything upon which it falls.  In the left foreground, a muleteer drives his animals along a track that descends diagonally towards the valley floor, while on the right, two oxen approach slowly on a rising track that meets the viewer head-on.  Their owner, a peasant, wearing a floppy hat and holding a staff, stands in the shade talking to a figure seated by the roadside.  The composition is cleverly conceived: the two diverging tracks unite the shaded foreground with the middle distance, where the bright illumination draws the eye further into the scene.  There, it dwells upon the languid curve of river, reflected in the sun’s rays, a boat drawn up on the far bank and a building on the hill behind.  

The influence of Both’s sun-drenched landscape was wide-ranging.  Not only can it be detected in the work of his pupils, Hendrick Verschuuring (1627-1690) and Willem de Heusch (c. 1625-1692), and in that of other second-generation Dutch Italianates like Adam Pynacker (c. 1620-1673) and Jan Asselyn (c. 1615-1652), but also in the paintings of artists who never set foot in Italy, including Aelbert Cuyp (1620-1691) and Paulus Potter (1625-1654).   


Jan Both was born in Utrecht around 1615, the son of the glass painter Dirck Joriaensz. Both (or Boot).  According to Joachim von Sandrart (1606-1688), both Jan and his older brother Andries became pupils of Abraham Bloemaert, and then travelled to Italy.  Andries is documented in Rome from 1635 onward, but Jan is only mentioned there for the first time in 1638.  By Easter 1639 the brothers were living together on the Via Vittoria.  In the same year, Jan was commissioned, along with Nicolas Poussin, Herman van Swanevelt, Gaspard Dughet and Claude Lorrain, to paint a suite of landscapes (now in the Prado) for Philip IV of Spain’s Buen Retiro Palace on the outskirts of Madrid.  In 1641, Jan and Andries began their journey home to Holland, but Andries was drowned in a canal in Venice, and Jan returned home alone.  In Utrecht, Jan joined the Guild of Saint Luke, and in 1649, he was elected as an officer of the guild, together with Cornelis van Poelenburgh (c. 1586-1667) and Jan Baptist Weenix (1621-1660).  He remained in Utrecht, where he died, unmarried, in July 1652 and was buried in the Buurkerk.  


i  Jan Both, Southern Landscape, 1649, on copper, 42 x 54.5 cm, private collection: Jan Both (figures attributed to Nicolaus Knüpfer), Mercury piping Argus to Sleep, 1650, on canvas, 169 x 128 cm, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, inv. no. 140.

Jan Both

c. 1615 – Utrecht – 1652

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