Born and trained in The Hague, Christoffel Pierson was one of the first artists to specialize in illusory images of hunting gear. Hunting was a popular activity for Dutch nobility throughout the seventeenth century. The Hague, where the Princes of Orange had their courtly residence and where the States General convened, became the center of a growing culture of hunting that spawned this new genre of painting around mid-century. Pierson, who painted a number of trompe l'oeil hunting pieces with falconry elements, emphasized three-dimensional effects with illusionistically painted frames and niches.
In Niche with Falconry Gear, Pierson has arranged various pieces of hunting equipment in and around a wooden-framed niche set into a white stucco wall. In the arched niche he has placed a hunting horn, a net, a bow and arrow, and a small birdcage surmounted by a falcon's hood with a red plume. Two different types of whistles hang from the cage. A powder bag and powder horn are suspended to the left of the niche, and a shoulder bag hangs to the right. His strong contrasts of light and shade enliven the image and strengthen the sense that bright daylight floods the scene.
In this striking painting, Christoffel Pierson has created the vivid illusion of hunting equipment placed in and around an arched, light-filled niche set into a white stucco wall. The red-plumed falcon’s hood resting atop the wooden birdcage is the visual focus of the painting. Two different types of whistles hang from the birdcage, while other types of hunting equipment, including a hunting horn, a net, and a bow and arrow, lie near it. Flanking the niche are trompe l’oeil nails from which hang, on the left, a powder bag and powder horn, and, on the right, a shoulder bag for carrying game.
The equipment shown here was appropriate for a variety of types of hunting, including riflery, archery, trapping with nets and decoy, and falconry. Falcons were used mainly to catch small birds living near rivers and swamps. Round leather hoods or bonnets were placed over the falcons’ heads, covering their eyes, to keep the birds calm during transport to and from the hunt. As in this painting, falconry hoods were often decorated with colored leather, gold braids, or plumes. Small birds could also be caught using snap nets. After the hunter arranged his nets on the ground he would attract game birds with small decoy whistles or with live song birds in wooden cages.
See Scott A. Sullivan, The Dutch Gamepiece (Montclair, NJ, 1984), 37, for a discussion of decoy whistles. For nets, see Joost van den Vondel, Vorstelijcke Warande der Dieren (Amsterdam, 1682), no. 66.
Hunting, and falconry in particular, was a popular pastime reserved for Dutch aristocrats, notably those at the Dutch court in The Hague.
Scott A. Sullivan, The Dutch Gamepiece (Montclair, NJ, 1984), 36, notes that Prince Maurits restricted the use of falcons, hawks, and other birds of prey to the nobility and that these restrictions continued throughout the seventeenth century.
For information about Anthonie and Johannes Leemans, see Fred G. Meijer in Edwin Buijsen, Haagse Schilders in de Gouden Eeuw: Het Hoogsteder Lexicon van alle Schilders Werkzaam in Den Haag 1600–1700 (The Hague, 1998), 180–184.
Arnold Houbraken, De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen, 3 vols. (The Hague, 1753; reprint, Amsterdam, 1976), 2:261. “Ziende ook dat het Jachttuig, Vogelkouwen, en Schietgeweer geschildert door Leemans toen in byzondere agting was en wel betaald werd, begon hy deze wyze van schilderen meê ter hand te nemen, ’t geen hem zoo toeviel, dat nooit iemant hem daar in gelyk geweest is, als by de stukken in handen van vele Konstkenners blykt, die zoo natuurlyk geschildert zyn dat yder ding in ’t byzonder schynt van den wand af te hangen, waar door menigte van menschen bedrogen zyn geworden.”
See Abraham Bredius, “Het schildersregister van Jan Sysmus,” Oud-Holland 8 (1890): 298, for the notation from 1664 in the painting register of the Amsterdam doctor Jan Sysmus that a Leendert Leman in “Ter Gouw” (Gouda) “floreerde in ‘vogelkoytjes etc. met schaduwen te schilderen.’” No paintings by Leendert Leman are known, so stylistic connections to Pierson cannot be confirmed.
Houbraken was enthusiastic about Pierson’s ability to trick the eye in his trompe l’oeil paintings of hunting implements. He remarked that no one had ever been able to match the naturalism of Pierson’s works, in which every object appears to hang on the wall so convincingly that most people are fooled by the deception.
See Arnold Houbraken, De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen, 3 vols. (The Hague, 1753; reprint, Amsterdam, 1976), 2:261. See note 4 for the transcription of this text.
The use of a niche motif for the depiction of hunting implements is unique in Pierson’s oeuvre, and is rarely, if ever, found elsewhere, though a number of still-life specialists active in The Hague—such as Cornelis Lelienbergh (1626–1676),
Fewer than ten illusionistic hunting pieces by Pierson are known, and none of these are dated, so the chronology of his still lifes cannot be established with any certainty.
For two of these, see J. Bokhoven, Leven en werk van Christoffel Pierson (1631–1714): "Den Kloeken rijmer en Konstrijken Schilder" (Schiedam, 1986), nos. 9 and 12.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
lower right: Chr.Pierson.f
Capitain Page. Temple Hargrove, Sr.; his estate; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, New York, 3 October 2001, no. 61); (Berenberg Fine Art, Lugano); purchased 12 March 2003 through (Rob Smeets, Milan) by NGA.
- Deceptions and Illusions: Five Centuries of Trompe l'Oeil Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2002-2003, no. 62, repro.
- The Deluded Eye. Five Centuries of Deception, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 2008-2009, no. 33, repro.
- Visual Deception, II: into the Future, The Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo; Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, Kobe; Nagoya City Art Museum, 2014-2015.
The painting was executed on a medium-weight, plain-weave fabric. It has been lined and the tacking margins are no longer extant. Cusping indicates that the painting has not been cropped, but the current stretcher is slightly larger than the painting’s original dimensions and the edges have been filled and inpainted to incorporate them into the picture, expanding the painting slightly. A dark brown underlayer is visible in the craquelure. It is unclear if this is the ground layer or an underpainting. The paint layer is applied with smoothly blended, tight brushstrokes and multiple layers of glazing. The X-radiographs and examination with infrared reflectography at 1.5 to 1.7 microns revealed that the large horn on the left was originally reversed, so that the wide side of the horn was closest to the edge of the painting.
The painting is in fairly good condition, though the X-radiographs reveal a complex tear at the top of the arch, just to the right of center, and an irregular, vertical damage on the left side, extending through the horn. The paint is slightly cupped along the moderate craquelure pattern, and many small losses have occurred in the intersections of the cracks. Inpainting exists around the perimeter of the painting, where it masks abrasion, as well as in a series of small damages in the bottom right corner. The painting has been partially cleaned in the past, with remnants of an earlier varnish remaining in the netting and the shadowed areas around it. The varnish is only very slightly yellow, and it remains clear and evenly glossy. The painting has not been treated since acquisition.
 Infrared reflectography was performed using a FLIR Indigo / Alpha VisGaAs camera fitted with an H astronomy filter.
- Ebert-Schifferer, Sybille. Deceptions and Illusions: Five Centuries of Trompe l'Oeil painting. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2002:250, no. 62, 380, repro.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "Christoffel Pierson: Niche with Falconry Gear." National Gallery of Art Bulletin 30 (Fall 2003): 18, color repro.
- Sidén, Karin. Lura Ögat: Fem sekelrs bländverk. Stockholm, 2008: 125, repro., 201, no. 33.
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