The Interior of a Cathedral
Dirck van Delen
Signed and dated (lower left, on the base of the column): D. v. Delen. f. 1641
Oil on panel, 18½ x 25⅛ ins. (47.1 x 63.7 cm)
(Probably) John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1782)
John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute (1744-1814), Luton Hoo, where recorded in the inventories of 1797, in the North Green Dressing Room, as “Van Delen & Gonzales, a fine representation of the inside of a Cathedral – beautiful figures”, and 1800, no. 187, North Green Dressing Room, as “Van Delen and Gonzales, Inside of a Cathedral”, and by descent to his son,
John, 2nd Marquess of Bute
Sale, Christie’s, London, 8 June 1822, lot 31, as “a Church Piece”, sold for 26½ gns. to the following
Du Pré Alexander, 2nd Earl of Caledon (1777-1839), and by descent to
James, 4th Earl of Caledon, K.P. (1846-1884), 5 Carlton House Terrace, London
With Mortimer Brandt Gallery, New York, 1940, where acquired by the previous owner
Private collection, Switzerland, until 2017
G. F. Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, Supplement: Galleries and cabinets of art in Great Britain, Letter III, Lord Caledon’s Collection, London, 1854, IV, p. 149.
F. Russell, John, 3rd Earl of Bute, Patron and Collector, London, 2004, p. 196.
The staffage is painted by Anthonie Palamedesz. (1601-1673)
In this imaginary church interior, van Delen has taken a view from a slightly elevated vantage point, looking down the nave towards the choir. Daylight flooding in through windows creates a remarkable sense of spaciousness and luminosity, drawing the eye deep into the furthest recesses of the building and illuminating its intricate architectural features. The great Gothic structure is embellished with an ornate organ loft, sculpted monuments, an heraldic coat of arms and other ecclesiastical furnishings in the Baroque style. The scene is enlivened by small groups of strolling and conversing figures, painted by the figure specialist Anthonie Palamedesz. (1601-1673), adding accents of colour, human interest and a sense of scale.
This impeccably preserved panel is a particularly fine example of the work of Dirck van Delen, one of the first generation of Dutch painters to specialise in architecture. Van Delen spent virtually all his working life in Arnemuiden, a small port situated about an hour’s walk from the prosperous city of Middelburg, where he was a member of the painters’ guild from 1639-1665. He devoted almost his entire career to painting the interiors and courtyards of imaginary churches and palaces. His style, however, has more in common with the Antwerp tradition of architectural painting that descended from Hans Vredeman de Vries (1527-c. 1606) to the Pieter Neeffs and Hendrick van Steenwyck families of painters, than to the Dutch tradition of depicting real church interiors that developed in Delft and other cities after the middle of the seventeenth century.
That van Delen looked towards Antwerp for his artistic inspiration is hardly surprising when one considers that Middelburg, capital of the south-western province of Zeeland, is closer to Antwerp than to the major artistic centres of the Dutch Republic. After Antwerp fell to the Spanish in 1585, Middelburg became a haven for Flemish artists and craftsmen fleeing religious persecution and the dislocation of war. A flourishing school of painting developed there in the first decades of the seventeenth century, which was especially renowned for its flower and landscape painters, many of whom, including Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573-1621) and Adriaen van de Venne (1589-1662), were of Flemish origin. However, by the time van Delen reached his maturity around 1626-27, most of the prominent artists of the earlier generation had either died or moved away, and for much of his career van Delen was one of the only artists of note working in the region.
Although van Delen worked mainly in the relative isolation of Middelburg, he was apparently able to access a wealthy and sophisticated clientele. He was a socially prominent figure – he married the daughter of a burgomaster of Middelburg and himself served repeatedly as burgomaster of Arnemuiden – and, like van de Venne, he maintained connections with patrons in courtly circles in The Hague, among whom there were collectors for refined cabinet paintings, of the type presented here. Indeed, architectural subjects, or ‘perspectives’ as they were often called in the seventeenth century, were highly prized in their day, and seem to have held a particular appeal for the wealthy and intellectual elite. Among van Delen’s prestigious patrons was Floris II van Pallandt, Count of Culemborg, for whom in the early 1630s he painted a series of five large canvases, now in the Rijksmuseum (i), for his residence on the Lange Vijverberg, in The Hague. Further evidence that van Delen’s reputation extended beyond his local area is provided by the fact that much later in his life he accepted a commission from the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke to paint a large allegory in collaboration with Theodore Boeyermans (1620-1678).
Bernard Vermet maintained that van Delen always painted the figures in his own paintings (ii), but the existence of co-signed examples with figures by the Delft genre painter Anthonie Palamedesz.(iii) contradict this view. Although he probably painted most of the figures in his paintings, the stylistic evidence points to occasional, if not regular, collaboration with other figure specialists. Here, the style of the lively little figures is characteristic of Anthonie Palamedesz., who appears to have been van Delen’s most frequent collaborator.
Although first recorded in the possession of John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute (1744-1814), this picture was probably acquired by his father, John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1792), who formed an outstanding collection of Dutch pictures, which was housed at his country estate, Luton Hoo, in Bedfordshire. In the late eighteenth century, along with most of the other Dutch and Flemish cabinet paintings in the collection, the picture was displayed on the bedroom floor of the house. Described in the 1797 inventory as “Van Delen and Gonzales, a fine representation of the inside of a Cathedral – beautiful figures”, it hung in the North Green Dressing Room.
According to the biographer Cornelis de Bie, in his Het Gulden Cabinet, of 1662, Dirck van Delen was born in Heusden, northeast of ‘s Hertogenbosch, around 1605. Shortly after his birth, his parents moved to Breda, but it is not known how long he lived there. Nothing is known for certain about his training as an artist. Jantzen thought that he may have been a pupil of Hendrick Aertsz. (iv), an enigmatic painter of architectural fantasies, but this has been doubted. A more plausible suggestion is that he studied under Pieter van Bronckhorst (1588-1661) and/or Bartholomeus van Bassen (c. 1590-1652) in Delft (v).
In 1625, van Delen married Maria van der Gracht, daughter of the burgomaster of Middelburg, in nearby Arnemuiden. The couple had settled there by 1626, the year their first child was baptised. Van Delen became a citizen of Arnemuiden on 31 March 1628 and later became the receiver of tolls and licences, a member of the town and church councils, and served repeatedly as burgomaster. He joined the Middelburg painters’ guild in 1639 and remained a member until 1665. Van Delen’s first wife, who was seventeen years his senior, died on 30 August 1650. The artist subsequently married Catharina de Hane, who died on 24 December 1652, and then on 8 December 1658 he married for the third time Johanna van Baelen, who passed away on 6 December 1668.
In 1666, van Delen visited Antwerp to collaborate with Theodore Boeyermans on a large allegory commissioned by the Antwerp painters’ guild. He was in Antwerp again in 1668 and 1669, where he joined the Olyftak chamber of rhetoric. According to an inscription added to an epitaph that van Delen erected in memory of his three wives, which still hangs in the town hall at Arnemuiden, the artist died in Arnemuiden on 16 May 1671, aged sixty-six. Although he had at least one son, no children survived him. The inventory of his estate testifies that he was well-to-do.
i Dirck van Delen, Members of the House of Orange and other Noble Figures in an idealized architectural setting, c. 1630-32, set of five, oil on canvas, various sizes, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. On loan to the Paleis Het Loo, Apeldoorn).
ii Bernard Vermet, “Tableaux de Dirck van Delen (v. 1604/1605-1671) dans les Musées Français", in Revue de Louvre, 3 – 1995, Etudes, pp.35-36.
iii According to Van der Willigen and Marijke de Kinkelder (typescript 1993/1998) in the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History, in The Hague, e.g. sale Paris, Drouot, 21 March 1960; ill. Connaissance des Arts, July 1960, p. 60).
iv H. Jantzen, Das Niederländische Architekturbild, Leipzig, 1910/Brunswick, 1979.
v Van de Willigen/Kinkelder, op. cit.
Dirck van Delen
Heusden 1604/5 – 1671 Arnemuiden
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