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Essay – Johannes Lingelbach – Peasants Dancing the Tarantella

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Essay - Johannes Lingelbach - Peasants Dancing the Tarantella

In most minds, seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painting is still associated with views of meadows and scenes on or near the water. But there was also a large group of Dutch artists who painted sun-drenched hills, inspired by Italian vistas. Travelling was already very common in the seventeenth century. Jacob van Ruisdael crossed the German border to visit Bentheim, Allart van Everdingen went further afield to Sweden and Norway, and Frans Post actually sailed to Brazil to record the landscape there. Numerous painters from the Northern Netherlands crossed the Alps in search of the remains of antique civilisation. They were also curious to see the work of Italian artists, not just those of the Renaissance but also their own contemporaries. Once they were in Italy, the ‘warm’ light soon seeped into their work, becoming an enduring influence. In the Northern Netherlands, these Italianate paintings would be highly successful. This painting by Johannes Lingelbach, Landscape with Peasants Dancing the Tarantella, is a superb example. The mountainous landscape is bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun.

The painting’s motifs are characteristic of Lingelbach’s numerous scenes of everyday life in Italy. Depicted on the left, in front of the inn, are ten figures beneath an improvised canvas shelter between the wall and the posts and the large tree in the middle. To the right of the tree we see a man and a woman dancing together, to the music being made by the bagpipe-player under the shelter and the man behind him, who is playing the flute and the drum at the same time. The dancing couple, watched by the figures under the shelter, among them a small boy and an old woman, are holding hands. In his other hand the man holds a hat, while the woman has one hand at her waist. They are dancing the tarantella, a popular, traditional Italian dance that apparently originates from Taranto in southern Italy. The dance involves rapid turns: the dancers move in a circle, with frequent changes of direction.1 In the right foreground, we see a man with a stick, resting from his walk, and a few figures around a cart with some livestock. Behind the dancing couple we glimpse some figures on a country road. The hilly landscape is elaborated magnificently with a splendid suggestion of depth: the inn with the canvas shelter and the tree as well as the mountains on the right serve as repoussoirs. We are given a fine view into the distance, and at the end of the horizon, above the country road, we see the small silhouettes of two more figures. The painting shows that besides possessing great skill in depicting figures, Lingelbach was also an outstanding landscape painter.

Such scenes inevitably recall Flemish paintings of peasants making merry, such as those introduced a hundred years earlier by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1526/30-1569) and popularised in the seventeenth century by David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690). But the primary source of inspiration for scenes of this kind depicting Italian village life was undoubtedly Pieter van Laer (1599-after 1642), who had travelled to Italy around 1625 together with his elder brother and fellow painter Roelant (1598-c.1635­). Van Laer had settled in Rome, where he joined the Bentveughels, a society largely made up of Dutch and Flemish painters. Van Laer rapidly evolved into one of the most original and most influential Dutch artists in Italy: in his Roman street scenes featuring hawkers and beggars, craftsmen and gamblers, he created a new kind of painting, dubbed bambocciade, after Van Laer’s nickname ‘Bamboccio’ (rag doll, on account of his hunchback). These scenes derive a special liveliness from the use of strong light contrasts. In this painting, with its peasants, labourers and travellers, we see the influence of the country folk depicted by Van Laer, especially around the inn. One is still sleeping off his intoxicated fuddle, while another is flirting with the innkeeper’s wife, apparently against her will. She is having difficulty keeping the glass of wine steady in her hands. Her husband is filling glasses again; it is clear that the company has been drinking heavily for some time.2

The painter, Johannes Lingelbach, was born in 1622 in Frankfurt am Main but came to Amsterdam as a youth. In 1642 he went to France and Italy, where his stay in Rome in the years 1647-1650 is documented. In May 1650 he left Rome to return to the Low Countries, and in 1653 his marriage took place in Amsterdam. This landscape by Lingelbach is a perfect example of ‘dreaming of Italy’, since it was painted in Amsterdam. In other words, it bears witness to the impressions that had embedded themselves in the artist’s mind on the other side of the Alps. Dancing figures are quite common in Lingelbach’s oeuvre, such as in a painting (probably dated 1651) in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (fig. 1), a beginner’s work that appears to have been made many years earlier than the scene described here.3 The composition of the painting in New York, with on the left an inn cut off by the edge of the image and in the middle a large tree, has been largely followed here – in this work too we see two figures making music outside an inn. The design and execution of the painting described here are so much more convincing, however, that it can be dated to a later period, roughly 1660-1662.4

The works of these Italianate painters were very popular for years. Landscape with Peasants Dancing the Tarantella belonged to the celebrated collection of paintings of Baron Johan Gijsbert Verstolk van Soelen (1776-1845) of The Hague, who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs under King William I.5 In The Hague the baron lived in his palace on Lange Voorhout, which would later be used by the royal family. After Verstolk van Soelen’s death, the painting by Lingelbach was acquired privately in June 1846, along with 42 other Old Masters, by the well-known English banker Sir Thomas Baring (1772-1848),6 whose father had founded Barings Bank. In 1854, by which time the painting had passed by inheritance to Sir Francis Baring (1796-1866), 1st Baron Northbrook, the son of Sir Thomas Baring, it was praised by the famous art historian Gustav Waagen (1794-1868), who described it in justifiably glowing terms: ‘A landscape with country people; a couple dancing; of rare delicacy of tone for this master, and very careful execution’.7 The painting would remain in the possession of this banking family, which was elevated to the English nobility, until it was sold in the twentieth century.8 By then, the star of the Italianate painters had long since faded. The late nineteenth century had seen a reversal in the public perception of their work, after the formation of national states had heightened interest in the unique characteristics of different countries. As a result, the seventeenth-century Dutch Italianate painters were classified as ‘un-Dutch’ because of their style and subject-matter, and most of their paintings in museums were banished to storage facilities. After the Second World War – when the work of the Dutch Caravaggists too would be rediscovered – Italianate landscapes from the seventeenth century enjoyed a revival of interest. Exhibitions played a major role in this reversal. The first of these was Nederlandse 17e eeuwse italianiserende landschapschilders (‘Dutch seventeenth-century Italianate Landscape Painters’) in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht in 1965, organised by Albert Blankert. The earlier publications of G.J. Hoogewerff on Dutch artists in Rome also greatly boosted this revaluation. As time went on, the new climate produced changes in the acquisitions policies of museums as well as private collectors. Another example of an Italian landscape painted by an artist from the Northern Netherlands, Figures and Livestock among Ruins from 1656 by Jan Baptist Weenix (cat. no. 63), was added to the collection of George and Ilone Kremer in 2003.9 In 2012 a third Italianate landscape was acquired for the collection, painted by Nicolaes Berchem (cat. no. 3).