The Harvard Art Museums hold one of the most comprehensive U.S. collections of Netherlandish, Dutch, and Flemish drawings from the 15th to 18th century. This exhibition will present about 40 of those drawings, covering five salient themes in the art history of the Netherlands during the 16th and 17th centuries. Works by the period’s outstanding draftsmen will be on view, including Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Lambert Doomer, Jacques de Gheyn II, Hendrick Goltzius, Jan van Goyen, Maarten van Heemskerck, Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, and Cornelis Vroom. The first section, comprised of drawings from the 1500s, highlights the stylistic innovations precipitated by contact with Italian Renaissance models. A second group evokes the imagery propagated by a resurgent Catholic church in the southern Netherlands after the division of the Low Countries into an independent and officially Protestant North (the Dutch Republic) and a Catholic South ruled by regents of the Spanish monarchy. A third group shows the range of subjects and techniques explored in the drawings of Rembrandt and the adaptation of his draftsmanship by some of his pupils and close followers. The emergence of landscape as an autonomous artistic genre is the focus of the fourth section, which includes works by 16th-century precursors of the naturalistic landscape and illustrates several of the types of views depicted by Dutch 17th-century masters. Dutch draftsmen of the 17th century also helped turn portraits and scenes from everyday life into autonomous artistic genres of remarkable variety and sophistication. Drawings in the final section range from poignant studies taken from life to complete compositions rife with humor and layers of meaning that would have delighted and challenged viewers of the period.
This exhibition corresponds to the publication of Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt, which catalogues 100 of the most significant 16th- to 18th-century works from the Netherlandish, Dutch, and Flemish schools in the museums’ collections. The catalogue presents the results of extensive research conducted by William W. Robinson, curator emeritus of drawings; Susan Anderson, curatorial research associate for Dutch and Flemish drawings; and Penley Knipe, the Philip and Lynn Straus Conservator of Works of Art on Paper in the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. It focuses on the media, supports, techniques, attribution, function, provenance, and iconographic interpretation of these works.
The Harvard Art Museums’ collection of drawings from the Low Countries has grown in recent decades, thanks to the generosity of donors such as Melvin R. Seiden (Harvard College ’52; Harvard Law ’55) and, especially, Maida and George Abrams (Harvard College ’54, Harvard Law ’57), whose 1999 gift of 110 works transformed the collection into one of the most comprehensive in any U.S. museum.
Curated by William W. Robinson, the Maida and George Abrams Curator of Drawings, emeritus, at the Harvard Art Museums.
Funded by the Melvin R. Seiden and Janine Luke Fund for Publications and Exhibitions, the José Soriano Fund, and George Abrams.
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Information about events related to the exhibition, including a lecture, seminar, and gallery talks, can be found in our calendar.
The Digital Tools section of the museums’ website provides expanded online content about works of art with a range of perspectives from curators, conservators, faculty, and students. An Art + Science tool related to the exhibition provides insight into recent technical examination by curatorial and conservation staff of drawings by Jacques Jordaens and Peter Paul Rubens.
In 2019 the Harvard Art Museums launched Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: The Complete Collection Online, a browsable Special Collection dedicated to the museums’ holdings of drawings by Netherlandish, Dutch, and Flemish artists dating from the 15th century to around 1800. The resource expands upon the 2016 printed catalogue and functions as an evolving online collections catalogue, providing updated information about more than 850 related drawings.