Gerson Digital : Italy


2.5 Rembrandt's Pupils in Rome

Pieter van Laer’s genius has taken us away from Rome, out of the 17th century and into the regions of Northern Italy, which were to be explored at a later stage. Returning to the question of Rembrandt’s influence in Italy, which Wichmann raised with regard to Bramer/Salvator Rosa, we come across a rare artist by whom there is hitherto only one autograph painting: the portrait of a man in Palazzo Corsini. It reflects the Rembrandt style of the 1640s in the manner of Nicolaes Maes and is inscribed: Moreelse fc Ano 1648. This (self-)portrait of the young Moreelse is probably the work of a ’Signor Benjamin Morellesen, figlio del quondam Paulo Fiamingo’, who died in Rome in 1649 at the age of twenty-one [1].1

The historical evidence on the trips to Rome made by other Rembrandt pupils is very sparse. Samuel van Hoogstraten (1626/7-1678) made his way from Vienna to Rome for a brief visit in 1652. He will hardly have exercised any great influence in so short a time.2 We learn from Houbraken that a painter from Leiden by the name of Drost lived for quite some time in Rome, where he associated with Johann Carl Loth (!) and Johannes van der Meer (1630-1695) [2]. Could he have meant Rembrandt’s pupil, Willem Drost (1633-1659) [3]?3 It is to this Drost, whose paintings in the Rembrandt style are familiar to us from the Louvre and the Bredius Collection, that the genre and historical paintings executed in the southern tenebrist fashion and now in the Dresden and Innsbruck galleries have recently been re-attributed [4-5].4

The poem by Cornelis van Ryssen about the ‘Bent’ painters, which was published by Houbraken, mentions a certain Gladbeck.5 Again the question arises as to whether this might not be Rembrandt’s pupil, Jan van Glabbeeck (1634/5-1686/7). The scanty evidence nips in the bud any illusions about the influence Rembrandt’s style might have had in Rome.

Benjamin Moreelse
Self-portrait of Benjamin Moreelse (before 1629-1649), dated 1648
canvas, oil paint 62 x 46 cm
lower left : Moreels.fe'[ci].t / Ano. 1648
Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica (Rome), inv./ 885 (F.N. 765)

Johannes van der Meer
Man Drinking Wine, dated 1656
canvas, oil paint 93 x 71 cm
: J. van der Meer f.[ecit]
Warsaw, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie

Willem Drost
Self Portrait of Willem Drost (1633-1659) as an ancient philosopher, 1656-1659
canvas, oil paint 72.5 x 65 cm
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, inv./ 1890, no. 1880

Willem Drost
Young boy wit a dove in a window, c. 1656-1659
canvas, oil paint 84.2 x 73 cm
bottom left of the middle : [.] Drost
Innsbruck, Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, inv./ 602

Willem Drost
Mercury lulls Argus into sleep by making music, c. 1655-1659
canvas, oil paint 116.5 x 98.5 cm
Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden - Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, inv./ 1608

Self Portrait, c. 1669
canvas, oil paint 71 x 54.2 cm
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, inv./ 69.232

In 1686 Filippo Baldinucci, who was the first to mention Rembrandt’s works in Italy, was aware of only two paintings by the artist in the country. One of them was in the possession of Prince Pamphili, the existence of which can now no longer be proven, and the other was in Florence [6].6 While we know that other Rembrandt paintings were in Naples and Florence during Baldinucci’s lifetime, virtually no works by the artist were known in Rome.7 Baldinucci wrote extensively about Rembrandt (and about his pupil, Govert Flinck).8 His remarks have a certain value as source material, for he derived his knowledge from Eberhard Keil, whose work we have just examined, albeit without discovering anything of what he learned from his former teacher in Holland. The only conclusion we can draw, therefore, is that Rembrandt’s painting style was virtually unknown in 17th century Rome.

Naturally, his etchings were widely known and Baldinucci was by no means alone in admiring their ‘gusto pittoresco fino all’ultimo segno’ [style, which was painterly down to the last detail].9 The inventory of the estate of Cornelis de Wael (died 1667 in Rome), which has already been mentioned on several occasions, affords us a glimpse of a chamber of art treasures comprising more than 70 etchings by Rembrandt together with etchings by other Northern Europeans such as Lucas van Leyden as well as after Rubens, van Dijck and Callot.10 The influence of Rembrandt on Italian etchers can only mentioned here in passing. Stefano della Bella (1610-1664) must have been an important mediator [7]. He first connected with Jacques Callot during when he was in Florence. During his stay in Paris in 1642, however, he acquired etchings by Rembrandt from François Langlois. Five years later Della Bella was in Amsterdam, where he studied Dutch art at its source [8-9]. In 1651-1654 he worked in Rome.11

Stefano della Bella free after Rembrandt
Startled soldier and man with feathers on his cap (portrait of Rembrandt), c. 1650
paper, etching (printing process) 89 x 118 mm
Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet, inv./ RP-P-OB-34.704

Stefano della Bella published by Israël Henriet
View of Amsterdam, 1647
paper, etching (printing process) 89 x 137 mm
upper left : Veue d'Amsterdam.
Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet, inv./ RP-P-OB-35.076

Stefano della Bella
Study of a woman with a North Holland Headdress, dated 6 May 1647
paper, pen 110 x 157 cm
upper left : Aalckmaer 6 maggio 1647
Private collection


1 [Gerson 1942/1983] De Jonge 1938, p. 56-57, 151. A certain Willem Moreelse (c. 1620-1666), to whom W. Stechow (Thieme/Becker) attributes this work, was the son-in-law of Octaviaen del Ponte (De Jonge 1938, p. 58-59). A certain Johan Moreelse finally painted in the style of Ter Brugghen. [Leeuwen/Sman 2019] In the 1983 edition of Gerson, Bert Meijer erroneously illustrated a work by Paulus Moreelse, dated 1633 RKDimages 142719 (Gerson 1942/1983, fig. 47). On Johan Moreelse, see also § 1.2. For the archival document concerning Benjamin Moreelse’s death: Hoogewerff 1942, p. 201.

2 [Leeuwen/Sman 2019] Van Hoogstraten became a member of the Bentveughels in Rome and received the nickname 'Batavier'; he was in contact with Otto Marseus van Schriek (Roscam Abbing 1993, p. 44).

3 [Leeuwen/Sman 2019] Bikker 2005, p. 37, explains that Houbraken’s statement is plausible, even if no archival documents have been brought to light that prove Drost’s stay in Rome.

4 [Gerson 1942/1983] Houbraken 1718-1721, vol. 3, p. 61; Valentiner 1939. [Leeuwen/Sman 2019] On Drost: Bikker 2005.

5 [Leeuwen/Sman 2019] Houbraken 1718-1721, vol. 2, p. 348-360.

6 [Gerson 1942/1983] Baldinucci 1808-1812, vol. 1 (1808), p. 193, vol. 12 (1812), p. 349. Compare Hofstede de Groot 1901, p. 90. [Leeuwen/Sman 2019] Meijer 1983, p. 16, 54 and Rutgers 2008, p. 16-17. The painting of ‘a head of a man with little beard and a turban’ in the Roman collection of Prince Pamphilj has never been traced, while the work in the ‘room of the painters’ portraits’ in Florence is identical to the Selfportrait in the Gallerie degli Uffizi (inv. 1890, no. 1871), illustrated here as fig. 6.

7 [Leeuwen/Sman 2019] No paintings by Rembrandt are recorded in 17th-century Neapolitan collections. For the early references to Rembrandt’s paintings in the Medici collections see Chiarini 1989, p. 474-490. As to the alleged presence of other paintings by (or attributed to) Rembrandt in Roman collections, see Rutgers 2008, p. 18-19.

8 [Leeuwen/Sman 2019] For Filippo Baldinucci’s biography of Rembrandt: Rutgers 2008, p. 45-97. For Filippo Baldinucci’s biography of Govert Flinck (Baldinucci 1845-1847/1974-1975, vol. 5, p. 322-323): Meijer 1983, p. 25, 55.

9 [Leeuwen/Sman 2019] Meijer 1983, p. 13-14, 52-53; Rutgers 2008, p. 97-124.

10 [Gerson 1942/1983] Vaes 1925, p. 184. [Leeuwen/Sman 2019] Stoesser 2018, p. 86, 328-329. The total number of prints by Rembrandt mentioned in De Wael’s post mortem inventory is 134, including a book of 64 prints ‘large, and small’.

11 [Gerson 1942/1983] Maranini 1933, p. 18; Nasse 1913. [Leeuwen/Sman 2019] Rutgers concluded that Stefano Della Bella’s etchings can be hardly seen as evidence for the popularity of Rembrandt in Italy (Rutgers 2008, p. 43-44). Nevertheless, also in Rome Della Bella was in close contact with editors and dealers of prints, with whom he could have shared his knowledge.

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