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Alexandra Libby, Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Jan van der Heyden/An Architectural Fantasy/c. 1670,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed March 04, 2024).

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To his contemporaries, Jan van der Heyden was famous not only as a painter but also as an inventor and entrepreneur whose activities had a major impact on daily life in Amsterdam. In 1669 he devised a systematic plan for lighting the city’s quays and streets using more efficient oil lamps in pole-mounted lanterns. In 1672 Jan and his brother Nicolaes developed a vastly improved fire pump with leather hoses that produced a constant jet of water, and soon after he established a manufacturing plant for the production of fire engines, which made him a wealthy man.

As a painter Van der Heyden specialized in cityscapes and country mansions. His images of refined elegance and prosperity convey the importance that the status-conscious urban elite of the Dutch Republic attached to owning a country estate. Van der Heyden’s technique was so meticulous that it seems he delineated every course of brickwork on his buildings. Despite such a devotion to detail, many of his architectural scenes, including this work, are pure inventions. Van der Heyden did paint numerous country estates in Holland, but this marble mansion appears to be a product of the artist’s imagination. While the classical structure echoes the buildings of Palladio and the decorative sculptural elements also reveal Italian influences, the figures, which were probably painted by Adriaen van de Velde (1636–1672), are unmistakably Dutch. The great house with its sunlit formal gardens may evoke an idealized world, but at the elaborate gateway of the brick walls surrounding the gardens, an elegant gentleman encounters a beggar with her baby. Much of the painting’s appeal arises from the contrast between the easy informality of the figures and the restrained formality of the architectural setting.


This painting evokes the pleasures of elegant country life. Gentle sunlight illuminates the façade of a handsome Palladian villa situated on a small rise in a park. Passing through the magnificent classical gateway, a master and his servant approach a waiting beggar woman with a child on her back. In front of the gate a man seated on a fragment of antique sculpture adjusts the collars of two sleek hunting dogs. The casual poses of the other figures—the two men who in eager discussion lean against the garden balustrade, the servant who lounges in the doorway of the villa, and the various dogs who sniff, urinate, or curl up and doze—contribute to the liveliness of the scene. Much of the painting’s appeal arises from the contrast between the easy informality of the figures and the restrained formality of the setting. Although the painting is not signed, its attribution to Jan van der Heyden is not in doubt; the broad areas of light and shadow, the minute detail, and especially the brick walls are hallmarks of his style.

While best known for his cityscapes, Van der Heyden was also the foremost Dutch painter of country houses.[1] His depictions of these houses and their surrounding gardens reflect the importance of country estates in Dutch culture after mid-century. By then many, if not most, wealthy city dwellers owned land in the country.[2] A number of Amsterdam burghers owned estates near the river Vecht, some of which Van der Heyden painted in the 1660s and 1670s. He also painted views of country estates in other areas, for example, Elswout outside of Haarlem, one of the grandest nonaristocratic properties in Holland [fig. 1]. Elswout was unusual not only for its elegance and its architectural design, but also because it was built on a high dune.[3] In the late 1660s, Van der Heyden painted the Huis ten Bosch, a small palace outside The Hague built for Amalia van Solms, the Princess of Orange.[4]

The identification of the country estate in the National Gallery’s painting has long been a matter of discussion. Smith and Hofstede de Groot both considered the subject to be the Castle of Rozendaal near Arnhem, but the villa bears no resemblance to the building represented in numerous views of Rozendaal.[5] Recent scholars have rightly concluded that the scene, as is so often the case with Van der Heyden, is a fanciful construct, imaginatively created from motifs he had seen in real life and from printed architectural sources.[6]

This assessment is supported by an analysis of the building’s architectural elements. The Palladian-style villa is striking for the apparent classicism of the building and the abundance of architectural and freestanding sculpture.[7] While many features of the building are consistent with Dutch classical architecture after mid-century,[8] the extensive sculptural elements are not. These, particularly the sculptured panels on the basement level of the façade, derive from decorative architecture such as tombs, designs for triumphal arches, and, above all, fantastic architectural compositions in book frontispieces.[9]

The combination of paired pilasters and a triangular pediment enclosing an arched opening, used on the villa’s façade and repeated in the gateway, may also have been drawn from decorative architecture. A similar combination of elements is seen in an engraving depicting one of the stages erected in Amsterdam in 1642 at the time of the visit of Queen Henrietta Maria of England.[10] This stage setting, with minor alterations, was used again in 1648 on the Dam, the city square, for the celebration of the Peace of Münster [fig. 2].[11] Finally, the concept for the gateway may well be derived from one of Serlio’s designs.[12]

Whatever the source, Van der Heyden sought to render the building and its surrounding features with such extraordinary precision that he took the innovative step of using a printmaking technique to evoke their different textures. For the brick walls, a reddish-brown color was applied on top of the ground, and then the outlines of the bricks seem to have been printed onto the underlying paint, carefully registered in order to ensure that the outlines would match up correctly. The grass sprouting at the edge of the trench in the foreground was printed with a softer material, perhaps with sponge or lichen. Pinholes can also be found at the center of the arched gate, the building entrance, and the central window, indicating the use of a compass to create precise arcs.[13] Like most of Van der Heyden’s works, this painting is difficult to date precisely. The architectural character of the scene compares closely with his depictions of the Huis ten Bosch, one of which bears the date 1668.[14] Huis ten Bosch is a similarly classical building with a projecting central block situated in the midst of an elegant garden decorated with marble statues. The general compositional arrangement—a sunlit villa in the background, a gateway in the middle ground, and figures in the foreground—resembles Van der Heyden’s Harteveld on the Vecht from about 1670 [fig. 3]. Finally, the setting for Elswout could have been the source of Van der Heyden’s idea to site the house on elevated ground. The staffage figures have been traditionally, and probably rightly, attributed to Adriaen van de Velde (Dutch, 1636 - 1672), an artist with whom Van der Heyden frequently collaborated. It should be noted, however, that they do resemble figures Van der Heyden drew for his book on his invention of water pumps, Beschrijving der nieuwlijks uitgevonden en geoctrojeerde Slangbrandspuiten, published in 1690, eighteen years after Van de Velde’s death, so it is not inconceivable that they were painted by Van der Heyden himself.[15]The figures, in any event, were painted after the landscape was completed. This is particularly evident in the figures of the beggar woman and the man with his hounds as traces of the architecture have begun to show through their fading forms. Another interesting issue is whether the beggar woman and other staffage figures have thematic implications. Schama has proposed that the beggar woman near the archway provided commentary on the social responsibility of the rich to the poor.[16] The architectural fragments upon which is seated the man tending the dogs may allude to the mutability of earthly possessions.

Original entry by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., April 24, 2014.

Revised by Alexandra Libby to incorporate information from a new technical examination.

December 9, 2019


Woltgraft family, Kampen.[1] Catellan family, Freiburg im Breisgau, before 1816; (sale, by Laneuville and Chariot, Paris, 16 January 1816, no. 6);[2] Maurice Rubichon for Charles-Ferdinand de Bourbon, duc de Berry [1778-1820], Paris;[3] by inheritance to his wife, Marie-Caroline-Ferdinande-Louise de Naples, duchesse de Berry [1798-1870], Paris; (De Berry exhibition and sale, Christie & Manson, London, April-June 1834, no. 112, apparently bought in);[4] (De Berry sale, by Bataillard and Charles Pillet, Paris, 4-6 April 1837, no. 72); Hazard.[5] Charles Heusch [c. 1775-1848], London, probably by 1838;[6] by inheritance to his son, Frederick Heusch [1809-1870], London; acquired 1855 with the entire Heusch collection by Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild [1808-1879], London;[7] by inheritance to his son, Alfred Charles de Rothschild [1842-1918], London and Halton House, near Wendover, Buckinghamshire; by inheritance to his nephew, Lionel Nathan de Rothschild [1882-1942], Exbury, Hampshire; by inheritance to his son, Edmund Leopold de Rothschild [1916-2009], Exbury; sold 1968 to (Thos. Agnew and Sons, Ltd., London); purchased 12 June 1968 by NGA.

Exhibition History

Possibly British Institution, 1838, no. 91.
Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1886, no. 83, as View of a Château.
Dutch Pictures, 1450-1750, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1952-1953, no. 469, as The Gate of a Palace.
In the Light of Vermeer, Mauritshuis, The Hague, 1966, no. 31, as Chateau in a Park.
In Memoriam, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1969, unnumbered checklist.
Jan van der Heyden (1637-1712), Bruce Museum of Arts and Science, Greenwich, Connecticut; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2006 -2007, no. 24, repro.
Thomas Jefferson Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principles, and the Conflict of Ideals, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, 2019-2020.

Technical Summary

The support consists of a single piece of oak with a horizontal grain.[1] The back of the panel bears the inscription Van der Heyden, undoubtedly by another hand at a later date. The wood is covered with a thin white ground, which is presumed to correspond with broadly applied brushstrokes that are only visible with infrared reflectography (IRR).[2] A precise underdrawing composed of ruled lines that often extend past the architectural elements they demarcate is also visible in IRR. Small pinholes have been found in the center of arches throughout the composition, including below the gate and in the door and central window of the building. These holes indicate that a compass was used to create the arcs. In addition, some of the arches are incised. On top of the ground, a brown imprimatura was applied over much, if not all, of the surface

The paint was applied fairly smoothly. It appears Van der Heyden blocked in the colors and then applied the details wet-into-wet on top of the dry layer below. He used a printmaking technique to create the brickwork; the paint does not bear any brushstrokes, nor do the lines taper, as strokes made with a brush typically do. For the brick walls, a reddish-brown color was applied on top of the ground, and then the outlines of the bricks were applied in at least two different colors, first the shadow color and then the highlight. These outlines seem to have been printed onto the underlying paint, carefully registered in order to ensure that the outlines would match up correctly. In addition, the very fine lines in the architectural elements, such as the tiled roofs, appear as though they were made with a ruling pen. The grass in the foreground of the composition was printed with a softer material, such as a sponge or lichen, while the leaves in the trees were created by stippling paint. Finally, the figures were painted last, as evidenced by the fact that the brickwork and other compositional elements extend under the figures.

In general, the painting is in good condition. Over time, the panel has developed a moderate concave warp both along and across the grain. There are a number of fairly small cracks in the wood, the edges of the panel have suffered minor damages, and the extreme top left corner is missing. There are small losses of ground and paint associated with these damages to the support. The painting was treated in 2014–2015, and grime and discolored nonoriginal varnish and overpaint were removed from the surface. The heavy and opaque overpaint was discolored and covered many areas of original paint, especially in the sky. An isolating varnish layer was applied and losses were inpainted with stable and reversible materials. A final layer of a stable, non-yellowing varnish was applied.

Dina Anchin, based on treatment notes by Adele Wright and examination reports by Joanna Dunn and Jane E. Tillinghast.

December 9, 2019


Smith, John. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters. 9 vols. London, 1829-1842: 5(1834):396, no. 87.
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: 2:256.
Blanc, Charles. Le trésor de la curiosité. 2 vols. Paris, 1857–1858: 2(1858):135.
Davis, Charles. A Description of the Works of Art Forming the Collection of Alfred de Rotchschild. 2 vols. London, 1884: 1: no. 34, repro.
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: 8(1923): 397, no. 227.
"Recent Accessions." Apollo 89 (February 1969): 155, repro.
Wagner, Helga. Jan van der Heyden 1637-1712. Amsterdam, 1971: 39, 61, 101, no. 151, repro.
National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 174, repro.
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "Perspective and Its Role in the Evolution of Dutch Realism." In Perception and Pictorial Representation. Edited by Calvin F. Nodine and Dennis F. Fisher. New York, 1979: 113.
Agnew, Geoffrey. A Dealer's Record. Agnew's 1967-1981. London, 1981: 9, 97, repro.
Vries, Lyckle de. Jan van der Heyden. Amsterdam, 1984: 33-35, repro.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 295, no. 387, color repro.
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1984: 40-41, color repro.
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 201, repro.
Schama, Simon. The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. New York, 1987: 573, repro.
National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 139, repro.
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 107-112, color repro. 109.
Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Treasures of Art in Great Britain. Translated by Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake. Facsimile edition of London 1854. London, 2003: 2:256.
Sutton, Peter C. Jan van der Heyden: (1637-1712). Exh. cat. Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. New Haven and London, 2006: 164-166, no. 24.

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country house
the poor
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artist +Andrea Palladio + influence of
historical person +Amalia van Solms
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