Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Van Vianen was born in the Dutch city of Utrecht but spent almost his entire career away from his home country, working as a goldsmith at the courts of Munich, Salzburg, and Prague. In addition to his highly inventive creations in silver and gold, Van Vianen produced a large number of landscape drawings, studied directly from life. According to the inscription at the upper right corner of the sheet, the itinerant artist observed this picturesque scene at the town of Primolano in the southeastern part of the Alps. Combining delicate pen work with translucent washes in gray and pale blue, Van Vianen rendered this Alpine townscape with an almost unprecedented sense of immediacy and ease. While his interest in topography places Van Vianen at the forefront of the move toward greater naturalism in Dutch art, his painterly and highly atmospheric approach to the subject sets him apart from his Dutch contemporaries.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Paulus van Vianen, Dutch (Utrecht 1570 - 1613 Prague)
A Village Street in Primolano
Work Type
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Brown ink and gray-brown and blue wash over traces of black chalk on cream antique laid paper, framing line in brown ink
16.1 x 20 cm (6 5/16 x 7 7/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: upper right, brown ink: Primolan. / 1607
  • inscription: verso, right edge, graphite: 8.
  • inscription: verso, lower right, brown ink: HF [in ligature]
  • collector's mark: verso, lower right, blue ink stamp: L. 3306 (Maida and George Abrams)
E. Spiller, London. Sir Paul Jodrell. LeRoy M. Backus, New York and Seattle; his estate; sold [through Schaeffer Galleries, New York.] J. T. Cremer, New York. [Sotheby Mak van Waay, Amsterdam, 17 November 1980, lot 28], to [C. G. Boerner, Düsseldorf], sold; to [Seiden & DeCuevas, Inc., New York/Vermeer Associates, Brampton, Ontario], 11 June 1981, sold; to Maida and George Abrams, Boston, 1989 (L. 3306, verso, lower right); Gift of Maida and George S. Abrams in memory of Jakob Rosenberg, 1993.246.
Published Text
Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: The Complete Collection Online
Multiple authors
Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2017–)

Entry by William W. Robinson, completed March 07, 2019:

Paulus van Vianen, a brilliant metalsmith, pursued his career at the courts of Munich, Salzburg, and Prague, where he produced ewers, tazze, bowls, chargers, and plaquettes decorated with reliefs of mythological and biblical subjects, many with landscape settings. During his brief tenure (1601–3) in Salzburg as court goldsmith to Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau, he drew naturalistic views of the city and studies in the nearby mountains, including informal sketches of alpine valleys and forest interiors, which are remarkably unconstrained by the conventions of 16th-century landscape art. After he moved to Prague in 1603 to serve at the court of Emperor Rudolf II, Van Vianen focused on detailed studies of city buildings as well as on landscape motifs such as rocky outcroppings and tree groups.1 Van Vianen’s studies of the first decade of the 17th century belong to the earliest naturalistic landscapes by a Dutch artist. Occasionally, he incorporated landscape motifs studied from life into the compositions of reliefs executed in precious metals.2

In her book on Van Vianen’s landscape drawings, Teréz Gerszi compared the technique of this Harvard work, with its fine pen lines and delicate, sparsely applied blue and gray washes, to that of two landscape studies datable to Van Vianen’s Prague years.3 The early inscription at the upper right of the recto dates the Harvard study to 1607 and locates the view in Primolano, a town in the southern Dolomites on the Brenta River east of Trento, near the border between Habsburg South Tyrol and the Venetian Republic. Gerszi stated categorically that the inscription is not in the artist’s hand, but she accepted the identification of the site as reliable.4 She also was skeptical that Van Vianen sketched the view from life, suggesting that it was made after an unidentified print. Yet there is no reason to doubt that the artist drew this scene on the spot during an otherwise undocumented visit in 1607 to South Tyrol.5


1 Teréz Gerszi, Paulus van Vianen Handzeichnungen (Leipzig: E. A. Seemann Verlag, 1982), pp. 13–36; Johannes Rein ter Molen, “Van Vianen een Utrechtse familie van zilversmeden met een internationale faam,” Ph.D. dissertation, Rijksuniversiteit te Leiden, 1984, vol. 1, pp. 26–27.

2 Gerszi, Paulus van Vianen, pp. 17–18; Ter Molen, “Van Vianen een Utrechtse familie,” vol. 1, pp. 26–27.

3 Gerszi, Paulus van Vianen, cats. 54r and 54v, formerly collection of I. Q. van Regteren Altena, Amsterdam, now Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-T-2008-95 (recto) and RP-T-2008-95 (verso), and Gerszi, Paulus van Vianen, cats. 55r and 55v, formerly collection of I. Q. van Regteren Altena, Amsterdam, now Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-T-2008-94 (recto) and RP-T-2008-94 (verso).

4 Gerszi, Paulus van Vianen, cat. 81, pp. 214–15.

5 Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, Drawings from the Holy Roman Empire, 1540–1680: A Selection from North American Collections (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982), cat. 57.

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Maida and George S. Abrams in memory of Jakob Rosenberg
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

Schaeffer Galleries Bulletin, auct. cat. (New York, November 1948), cat. no. 31, n.p. (as Jan Brueghel the Elder)

Aus Unseren Mappen. Zeichnungen des 16. bis 19. Jahrhunderts, auct. cat. (Düsseldorf, Germany, 1981), cat. no. 18

Terez Gerszi, Paulus van Vianen Handzeichnungen, E. A. Seemann (Leipzig, Germany, 1982), cat. no. 81, pl. 106

Johannes Rein ter Molen, "Van Vianen een Utrechtse familie van zilversmeden met een internationale faam" (Ph.D Diss., Rijksuniversiteit te Leiden, 1984), J. R. ter Molen, vol. 2, cat. no. 273

Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, "A Census of Drawings from the Holy Roman Empire, 1540-1680, in North...", Central European History (March 1985), vol. 18, checklist, p. 110

Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, The School of Prague. Painting at the Court of Rudolf II, University of Chicago Press (Chicago and London, 1988), under no. 23, p. 286

William W. Robinson, Seventeenth-Century Dutch Drawings: A Selection from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, exh. cat., H. O. Zimman, Inc. (Lynn, MA, 1991), cat. no. 23, pp. 64-65, repr.

Exhibition History

The Backus Collection, Schaeffer Galleries, New York, 01/01/1948 - 12/31/1948

Drawings fom the Holy Roman Empire, 1540-1680, a Selection from North American Collections, Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, 10/03/1982 - 11/22/1982; National Gallery of Art, Washington, 01/27/1983 - 04/11/1983; Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 04/23/1983 - 06/19/1983

The Art of Drawing in the Early Dutch Golden Age, 1590–1630: Selected Works from the Abrams Collection, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/09/2017 - 01/14/2018

Crossroads: Drawing the Dutch Landscape, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/21/2022 - 08/14/2022

Subjects and Contexts

Dutch, Flemish, & Netherlandish Drawings

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