Skip to main content

Northern Nocturnes Exhibition

– Herdsmen by a fire by Leonard Bramer
– Village Fire by Adam Colonia

will be shown in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.
FAA had an interview with Adriaan Waiboer, Curator of Northern European Art at the National Gallery of Ireland and organizer of the exhibition.

1. What is the exhibition about?
Northern Nocturnes shows Dutch and Flemish seventeenth-century nightscapes, i.e. landscapes, cityscapes and scenes in which nature plays a dominant role. Although most of the works in the exhibition are by night, I decided to include some by evening, because the challenge in both moon- and twilight landscapes were the same, namely to depict nature and figures in the dark. As a result, those artists interested in nights also painted evenings.

2. What are you most excited about in this exhibition?
The starting point of the whole project was to attempt to unite Rembrandt’s Rest on the Flight into Egypt (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin) with Adam Elsheimer’s Flight into Egypt (Alte Pinakothek, Munich). The latter work, the most influential nocturne of the seventeenth-century, inspired Rembrandt to paint his masterpiece. Both pictures have been illustrated side by side in numerous books on Rembrandt, but have never been exhibited in the same room. I am very much excited that this is finally happening during Northern Nocturnes. Moreover, Peter Paul Rubens, a friend and great admirer of Elsheimer, also made his variation of Flight into Egypt. I am very pleased that Rubens’ painting (Staatliche Museen Kassel) is part of the exhibition as well.

3. The exhibition consists of paintings only?
Initially, I planned to include paintings only, but when I saw Jan van de Velde the Younger’s stunning night prints, I realised that a survey of Dutch and Flemish nightscapes absolutely had to include some of his engravings. Soon after, I found a drawing by Pieter de With in our own collection, which, for a long time, had been attributed to Elsheimer, and had been lent to several shows under this name. It is a beautiful rendering of a hilly forest after sunset inspired by Elsheimer’s Aurora, or more accurately, Hendrick Goudt’s print after it. When looking at it for the first time, I immediately decided to include it as well. After that, there was no reason not to request remarkable works on paper, such as Hendrick Avercamp’s Fishermen by Moonlight (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). Moreover, I realised that Barent Fabritius made the only contemporary variation on Rembrandt’s Rest on the Flight into Egypt, a drawing showing shepherds by a fire at night time (Hamburger Kunsthalle). I could not resist requesting that as well.

4. How is Northern Nocturnes different from other exhibitions on this subject, such as Die Nacht (The Night), held in 1998/99 in the Haus der Kunst in Munich?
Die Nacht was a huge show with more than three hundred-and-fifty works, mostly paintings. Works of art from various countries, times, schools and styles were shown side by side. The exhibition highlighted many different aspects of the night, ranging from pure nightscapes to representations of the personification of the night. In my view, the weakness of Die Nacht was its diversity, which was obviously intended to overwhelm the viewer, but in the end led to incoherence. Paul Klee’s Luna der Barbaren has little in common with Gerrit van Honthorst’s Christ’s Youth, except for the fact that the night plays a role in both works. Northern Nocturnes is much smaller and concentrates on how seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish artist painted the outdoors at night. Because of its focus, it is able to spotlight the relevant developments much better.

5. Most thematic exhibitions in your field either show works of art by Dutch or Flemish artists. Why does Northern Nocturnes include pictures from the northern and the southern Netherlands?
As I mentioned before, Rembrandt was not the only northern European artist to make a variation on Elsheimer’s painting. Rubens did so as well. Studying Rubens’s nocturnes, I realised that Flemish night and evening landscapes, produced during the second half of the 1630s, must have played a role in the rise of the Dutch nocturne from in the early 1640s. It cannot be a coincidence that the Amsterdam painter Aert van der Neer, the most accomplished specialist in nightscapes, started painting evenings and nights around 1643, just a few years after Rubens, Adriaen Brouwer and Jan Lievens had made some of the most stunning nocturnes of the century. As a result, I found it absolutely necessary to exhibit both aspects in this survey. Furthermore, in my opinion, the differences between the northern and southern Netherlands are often overemphasized. The exchanges of artistic ideas were more frequent than we realise.

6. Can you tell us about the history of Dutch and Flemish night scenes?
Unfortunately, this cannot be explained in a few words. The origins of nocturnes are to be found in biblical imagery, specifically in fifteenth-century book illumination. Subjects such as the Arrest of Christ and the Agony in the Garden featured night skies and a moon in the background. However, at that time, the biblical story was the focal point, and artists were not that interested in painting the night realistically. Light sources had a symbolic function, while figures, although represented under a moon, were lit as if by daylight. Gradually, artists had more eye for the way objects are shaped by light sources, and how different types create different glows and reflections. Moreover, in their pursuit to depict their own surrounding with increasing naturalism, artists preferred to omit the biblical stories and concentrate on depicting light effects in the dark. This became paramount around the middle of the seventeenth century, when the nocturne reached its apex in the northern and southern Netherlands.

7. How do these works relate to Caravaggism and in particular to Northern Netherlandish Caravaggism?
Just like the Utrecht painters Gerrit van Honthorst, Hendrick ter Brugghen and Dirck van Baburen, who followed the powerful chiaroscuro effects of Caravaggio, painters of nightscapes were primarily interested in how to shape objects, figures and space by means of light. However, the nightscapes in Northern Nocturnes are outdoor scenes and are lit by the moon, stars, and torch light. The paintings by the Caravaggisti are predominantly interiors lit by candles. These scenes are all about the drama created by the interaction of the figures and the lighting. Nightscapes are much more serene and show how the world around us changes when the sun has set. Another important distinction is that Adam Elsheimer’s night scenes, which played such a crucial role in the development of the nocturnes in northern Europe, had not been influenced by Caravaggio’s work, but by Jacopo Bassano’s and Albrecht Altdorfer’s paintings.

8. What about a catalogue accompanying the exhibition?
The catalogue includes two essays and short entries on all the works of the exhibition. The first essay (written by me) is an introduction surveying the Dutch and Flemish seventeenth-century nocturne. Michiel Franken (Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague) wrote a superb essay on Rembrandt’s Rest on the Flight into Egypt and the way it relates to Elsheimer’s Flight into Egypt. Rather than emphasizing the similarities between the two masterpieces, which has been done many times before, Franken explains how Rembrandt, by using even more ingenious pictorial means, was able to surpass his example.

“Northern Nocturnes: Nightscapes in the Age of Rembrandt”
1 October – 11 December 2005
National Gallery of Ireland. Millennium Wing.
Tickets: full price Euros 7, Concessions Euros 4.
Audio tour included in ticket admission.
Ticket line: +353 (0) 1 663 3513

How to Find Us:
National Gallery of Ireland
Merrion Square & Clare Street, Dublin 2.
Telephone + 353 (0) 1 661 5133
Website www.nationalgallery.ie

Gallery Opening Hours:
Monday to Saturday 9.30am-5.30pm; Thursday 9.30am-8.30pm; Sunday 12.00pm-5.30pm
Please note, last admission to exhibitions in the Millennium Wing is 4.10pm, Monday to Saturday and 7.10pm on Thursdays.