In this scene, Nicolaes Pietersz Berchem captures both the beauty of the Italian landscape and the cool, crystalline light that imbues it with its distinctive atmospheric quality. Towering cliffs, surmounted by a round bastion and a sturdy tower, form the dramatic backdrop for the arrival of a Dutch merchant ship in a calm harbor. The galley with the furled sail lies tilted to one side, indicating that it is low tide. Two lighters—small wide-bottom barges used to ferry goods to ships anchored in deeper water—seem to await the Dutch ship’s arrival. A hunting party joins several cattlemen and goatherds at the water’s edge. The elegant couple on horseback is focused on the falcon airing its wings on the woman’s arm. The man with the staff standing next to the pair is likely the master of the hunt, the individual in charge of the dogs.
Berchem was one of the most popular and successful of the Dutch seventeenth-century Italianate landscape painters. A native of Haarlem, he probably visited Italy sometime between 1653 and 1656. Berchem’s extensive oeuvre of paintings, drawings, and etchings consists of imagined views of the Italian countryside, depictions of the hunt, as well as biblical and mythological scenes. The large number of prints made after his paintings in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is indicative of Berchem’s fame.
In this idyllic scene, Berchem captures both the beauty of the Italian landscape and the cool, crystalline light that imbues it with its distinctive atmospheric quality.
I would like to thank Yonna Yapou for sharing with me the research she did on this painting while it was in the possession of Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
Although no documentary evidence exists that proves that Berchem actually visited Italy, it seems probable that he traveled there sometime between 1653 and 1656,
Despite the fact that Italianate-style paintings exist in Berchem’s oeuvre as early as the late 1640s, it seems unlikely that Berchem had actually visited Italy by this date. It is more probable, as recent scholars have postulated for stylistic reasons, that Berchem traveled there between 1653 and 1656. In any case, by the late 1650s he had become one of the most sensitive interpreters of both the pastoral and the exotic character qualities of Italy.
As with most of his Italianate paintings, Berchem executed View of an Italian Port in the Netherlands, probably in the early 1660s.
This date is also suggested by Eckhard Schaar, Studien zu Nicholaes Berchem (Cologne, 1958), 86.
Copies and versions include: Collection of the Duke of Devonshire, Chatsworth; sale, Christie’s, New York, June 15, 1977, no. 117 (in 1996 with Daphne Alazraki Old Master Paintings, New York); sale, Galerie Le Brun by Bonnefons de Lavialle and George, Paris, June 7, 1853, no. 4; sale, Artaria and others, Vienna, January 12, 1886, no. 8; and possibly sale, P. van den Bogaerde, Amsterdam, March 16, 1778, no. 3.
For a discussion of the print, see F. W. H. Hollstein, Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings, and Woodcuts, ca. 1450–1700, 72 vols. (Amsterdam, 1949), 1:271, no. 111. It is described as a “Harbour, on the right nobleman and lady on horseback. oblong format.”
“On admire dans ce tableau . . . tout le goût, tout l'esprit du célèbre Berchem. La composition en est bien ordonnée, les groupes en sont disposés et variés avec beaucoup d’intelligence; l’air circule partout, la dégradation des plans est parfaite. L’exécution, la conservation ne laissent rien à désirer.” Catalogue des tableaux italiens flamands, hollandais et franç̧ais: Des anciennes écoles, qui composent la magnifique galerie de M. le Chevalier Érard (Paris, 1831), 83. The collection was sold the following year, in 1832, and the sale catalog was based on this one.
The classicism of this painting, with its strong horizontal and vertical accents in the landscape and the clear, crystalline light, compellingly places the work in the 1660s. The fluidity of Berchem’s brushwork and the elegance of the couple on horseback are also consistent with this date. A comparison of View of an Italian Port to another harbor scene by Berchem, Coastal Scene with Crab Catchers
See Albert Blankert, Nederlandse 17e eeuwse Italianiserende Landschapschilders (Utrecht, 1965), 158–159, cat. 81; and the expanded, English edition Albert Blankert, Dutch 17th-Century Italianate Landscape Painters (Soest, 1978), 158–159, cat. 81.
The same white horse appears in Berchem’s A Hawking Party Halting at a Farrier’s Shop, formerly in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin, reproduced in Staatliche Museen, Berlin, 1932, cat. 896 (see John Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters, 9 vols. [London, 1829–1842], 5:99, cat. 310), and in a related drawing in the British Museum, London (see Arthur Mayger Hind, Catalogue of Drawings by Dutch and Flemish Artists Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, 5 vols. [London, 1915–1932], 3:33–34, no. 34, pl. xviii).
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
lower right: Berchem
Johan van Lanschot, Leiden, by 1753; by inheritance to his son-in-law, Pieter Cornelis, baron van Leyden [1717-1788, known during his lifetime as the Heer van Leyden van Vlaardingen], Leiden; by inheritance with the paintings in his collection to his son, Diederik van Leyden, [1744-1810/1811], Leiden and Amsterdam; sold, with the rest of his father's painting collection, for 100,000 florins to a consortium formed by L.B. Coclers, Alexander Joseph Paillet, and A. de Lespinasse de Langeac; (sale of the van Leyden painting collection, A. Paillet and H. Delaroche, Paris, 5-8 November 1804, 1st day, no. 8); H. Delaroche. John Parke, Esq., London; (his sale, Peter Coxe, London, 8-9 May 1812, no. 37). (John Smith, London); sold to John Webb, Esq., London. Chevalier Sébastien Érard [1752-1831], Château de la Muette, near the Bois de Boulogne, Paris; (his estate sale, at his residence by Lacoste and Coutelier, 7-14 August 1832 [originally scheduled for 23 April and days following], no. 62); purchased by Alexis-Nicolas Pérignon, Paris, for Jonkheer Johan Steengracht van Oostcapelle [1782-1846], The Hague; by inheritance to his son, Hendrik Steengracht van Oosterland [1808-1875], The Hague; by inheritance to his nephew, Hendricus Adolphus Steengracht van Duivenvoorde [1836-1912], The Hague; (his estate sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 9 June 1913, no. 4); Mr. Boyer. by inheritance from the collector’s grandfather to private collection; (sale, Adar Picard Tajan, Paris, 9 April 1990, no. 82); Robert H. and Clarice Smith, Washington; gift 1990 to NGA.
- Art for the Nation: Gifts in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1991, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- Smith, John. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters. 9 vols. London, 1829-1842: 5(1934):47, no. 137.
- Catalogue des tableaux italiens, flamands, hollandais et français: des anciennes écoles, qui composent la magnifique galerie de M. le Chevalier Érard. Paris, 1831: 82-83, no. 62.
- Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Treasures of Art in Great Britain: Being an Account of the Chief Collections of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, Illuminated Mss.. 3 vols. Translated by Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake. London, 1854: 2:95.
- Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. 8 vols. Translated by Edward G. Hawke. London, 1907-1927: 9(1926):80, no. 107.
- Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907-1928: 9(1926):80, no. 107.
- Schaar, Eckhard. Studien zu Nicolaes Berchem. Cologne, 1958: 86.
- National Gallery of Art. Art for the Nation: Gifts in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1991: 74-75, color repro.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 23-24, color repro. 25.
- Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Treasures of Art in Great Britain. Translated by Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake. Facsimile edition of London 1854. London, 2003: 2:95.
- Vries, Annette de, Quentin Buvelot, and Femke Foppema. Passie voor schilderijen: de verzameling Steengracht van Duivenvoorde. Exh. cat. Kasteel Duivenvoorde, Voorschoten. Leiden, 2012: 42, 84-85, color repros. 5 and 35.
The support, a medium-weight, plain-weave fabric, is loosely woven of irregularly spun threads. Part of the original tacking margins were retained at the time of lining and incorporated into the picture plane, slightly expanding the dimensions on all four sides. Lining has reinforced the weave texture.
Paint is applied over an off-white ground in thin opaque layers worked wet over dry. Minor losses are confined to the edges. The upper right corner of the sky is abraded, as are the edges. No treatment has been undertaken at the National Gallery.
Related IconClass Terms
- landscape +Italianate
- rocky coast
- landscape with water
- landscape +picturesque
- fashion and clothing +aristocracy
- clothing +Oriental
- communal life
- the poor
- the rich
- patron +aristocracy