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Essay – Philips Koninck – Panorama with travellers and herdsmen in the foreground

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Essay - Philips Koninck - Panorama with travellers and herdsmen in the foreground

In the foreground of this sweeping landscape a small group of travellers make their way down a winding country road. A mounted woman drives her horse with one hand, with the other holding a tiny dog seated behind her. She is accompanied by a donkey packed with her belongings and a man with a rifle – although the peaceful landscape seems to pose no threat. Figures rest here and there along the way; shepherds with their flocks and spinning shepherdesses populate the hills. The path leads down into a broad and fertile plain, with meadows, trees and a meandering river. Mountains rise up on the horizon. It is late afternoon; coming in from the left, the rays of the setting sun bathe the scene in a warm light.

This unsigned painting is unmistakably the work of Philips Koninck, an artist associated as no other with the panoramic landscape genre.1 According to the eighteenth-century artists’ biographer Houbraken, Koninck was a pupil of Rembrandt, although conclusive evidence for this has yet to be found.2 Nonetheless, it is not impossible that following his apprenticeship with his brother Jacob in Rotterdam, Koninck did indeed work with Rembrandt in Amsterdam for a time, beginning in 1641. Whatever the case, he certainly had contact with Rembrandt and was undoubtedly influenced by him. His portraits, history paintings and genre scenes are rather mediocre, but the landscapes he began painting in around 1650 are among the most impressive works of seventeenth-century Dutch art. These are mainly panoramic views over broad river valleys, logically built up of horizontal bands. Rembrandt’s influence is most evident in the artist’s rather loose brushwork and thick application of paint.

This painting, however, differs in several respects from Koninck’s other panoramic landscapes. In general, the artist did not employ vertical accents such as buildings or vegetation; here, though, our view is blocked by a clump of tall trees in the foreground. We find both this device and the unusual southerly atmosphere summoned up by the mountains, the herdsmen and the golden sunlight most often in the artist’s later oeuvre. Here, Koninck was obviously inspired by the Italianate landscapes of Jan Asselijn (fig. 1) and Nicolaes Berchem.3 His late work consists of a group of about seven paintings, one of which is dated 1676.4 This is Koninck’s last dated panorama and he appears to have stopped painting in the 1680s. For this reason, the entire series is usually dated to the late 1670s.5 The Rembrandt-like brushwork has disappeared from these late works and they are much more thinly painted. The emphasis in our painting appears instead to be on the reflections created by the warm sunshine and such colourful accents as the bright violet of the river, which reappears again and again, far into the grey-green landscape.