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Neeffs the Elder, Peeter
Flemish, 1578/1590 - 1656/1661
Neefs the Elder, Peeter , Nefs the Elder, Peeter , Neeffs the Elder, Pieter
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No records document Peeter Neeffs the Elder's birth or apprenticeship, but both presumably occurred in Antwerp, where his father, Aart Neeffs, worked both as a silk merchant and an innkeeper.[1] Although scholars have traditionally believed that Neeffs was born about 1578, the more probable date is around 1590.[2] A clear source of influence on the young artist was Hendrik van Steenwijck the Elder (c. 1550-c. 1603), an early specialist in architectural painting, as well as his son, Hendrik van Steenwijck II (c. 1580-1649). Neeffs painted several copies of Steenwijck the Younger's compositions, including his earliest dated church interior of 1605 (Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, inv. 1183).[3] All three of these artists worked within a tradition of architectural painting established by Hans Vredeman de Vries (1527-c. 1606).

Neeffs became a master in the Antwerp Saint Luke's Guild in 1609. In 1612 he married Maria Lauterbeens, who bore him five children between 1614 and 1623. When she died in 1655 or 1656, Neeffs was still alive, but he was apparently dead by 1661, when De Bie referred to him in the past tense.[4]

Neeffs had only one documented pupil, Laureys de Cater, about whom nothing is known.[5] However, his style of architectural painting was perpetuated by two of his sons: Lodewijck (b. 1617) and Peeter the Younger (1620-after 1675), both of whom must have worked in their father's studio. Although only a few paintings by Lodewijck are known, Peeter was a prolific artist who specialized in small-scale repetitions of his father's compositions until 1675. Indeed, the works of the elder and younger Neeffs are remarkably similar and often difficult to attribute with certainty.

Peeter Neeffs the Elder painted exclusively architectural scenes, most of which were executed on copper, a smooth surface appropriate for the linear character of his style. Although he based a number of his church interiors on existing structures, such as the Antwerp Cathedral, all of his scenes are, to a certain degree, fanciful.[6] His style is characterized by deeply receding spaces, created through the use of linear perspective and contrasting areas of light and dark. Although Neeffs occasionally painted his own staffage figures, he often collaborated with other painters, including Frans Francken the Younger, Frans Francken III (1607-1667), and Bonaventura Peeters the Elder (1614-1652).

[This is the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

[1] Franz Joseph van den Branden, Geschiedenis der Antwerpsche Schilderschool, Antwerp, 1883: 609.

[2] Basic biographical information derives from Van den Branden 1883: 608-614. The 1578 date proposed by Van den Branden is based on the assumption that Neeffs was born shortly after his elder brothers, who were born in 1576 and 1577. However, Jeroen Giltaij and Guido Jansen in Perspectives: Saenredam and the Architectural Painters of the 17th Century (Trans. Yvette Rosenberg, Exh. cat. Museum Boymans-van-Beuningen, Rotterdam 1991: 77), propose a birth date closer to 1590 on the basis of the birth date of Neeffs' eldest son, Lodewijck, who was born in 1617. A birth date of around 1590 would mean that Neeffs was born to his father's second wife, Margaretha van Stavoort, whom Aart Neeffs married in 1589 (his first wife, Margaretha Verspreet, died in 1582).

[3] Van den Branden 1883: 610, and Alfred von Wurzbach (Niederländisches Künstler-Lexicon, 3 vols., Vienna and Leipzig, 1906-1911: 2(1910):219), believe that Neeffs was a student of the Leiden artist Hendrik van Steenwijck the Elder, even though Steenwijck's presence in Antwerp in the 1590s cannot be documented. Hans Jantzen (Das niederländische Architekturbild, Leipzig, 1910: 41-43), who believes that both Neeffs and Hendrik van Steenwijck the Younger studied under Steenwijck's father, notes the similarity in a number of compositions by the two artists.

[4] Van den Branden 1883: 613-614, records that on 26 February Neeffs' brother-in-law, Antoon Lauterbeens, named him heir to a house in Turnhout. See also Cornelis de Bie, Het Gulden Cabinet van de edele vry schilderconst, Antwerp, 1661: 155 (reprint Soest, 1971).

[5] Van den Branden 1883: 612, notes that Laureys de Cater was Neeffs' pupil in 1612. Marjorie Wieseman (in Peter C. Sutton and Marjorie E. Wieseman, et al., The Age of Rubens, exh. cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art; Boston, 1993: 447), wrongly states that Neeffs entered the Antwerp St. Luke's Guild in 1609 as a pupil of De Cater.

[6] The only exception is a drawing by Neeffs, signed and dated 1618, which faithfully depicts the Collegiate Church at Bonn (Paris, Institut Néerlandais). See Flemish Drawings of the Seventeenth Century from the Collection of Frits Lugt, Institut Néerlandais, Paris, exh. cat. Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Institute Néederlandais, Paris; Kunstmuseum, Bern; Royal Library of Belgium, Brussels; Paris, 1972: 76, cat. 57, repro.

Branden, Franz Joseph van den. Geschiedenis der Antwerpsche Schilderschool. Antwerp, 1883: 608-614.
Jantzen, Hans. Das niederländische Architekturbild. Leipzig, 1910: 40-47, 165-167.
Bie, Cornelis de. Het gulden cabinet van de edel vry schilderconst. Edited by Gerard Lemmens. Reprint of Antwerp, 1661/1662. Soest, 1971: 155.
Giltaij, Jeroen, and Guido Jansen. Perspectives: Saenredam and the Architectural Painters of the 17th Century. Trans. Yvette Rosenberg. Exh. cat. Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1991: 77.
Sutton, Peter C., and Marjorie E. Wieseman, et al. The Age of Rubens. Exh. cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art. Boston, 1993: 447.
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Flemish Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2005: 133-134.

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