Grondt & Inleyding



Samuel van Hoogstraten's Inleyding tot de Hooge Schoole der Schilderkonst: Anders de Zichtbaere Werelt ('Introduction to the Academy of the Art of Painting: Otherwise known as the Visible World', hereafter referred to as the Visible World) is neither much read nor much loved. In part that is our fault - we cannot read seventeenth-century Dutch, or if we can, we do not love to read Hoogstraten's book. There has never been a scholarly Dutch edition. The only recent scholarly presentation of the entire text is in French, translated and edited by Jan Blanc.[1] Nevertheless, over the last quarter of a century, there has been an increase in interest in Hoogstraten as a writer, as a painter and as a citizen.[2]

Hoogstraten is one of the so-called Minor Masters whose reputation has benefitted from changes in Dutch art historical scholarship, especially scholarship on the Great Masters. In order to 'fix' Rembrandt's catalogue, the frangible edges of his oeuvre has been distributed among his students.[3] Hoogstraten was a student of Rembrandt. There had in any case been an increased interest in unusual and atypical Dutch painters during the 1980s, when research focussed upon iconographical interpretation. This was a decade during which connoisseurial enquiry, if it did not decline in scholarly prestige, certainly seemed less appealing to many younger scholars. It is fair to say that a generation of art historians has matured during the last thirty-years who do not feel it necessary to work on Great Masters in order to make big statements. Furthermore, Hoogstraten's extraordinary painted objects, his peepshows and trompe l'oeil, speak to a discipline that is also busy seeking to develop a notion of 'visual culture' in history, the relation of sensory perception, cognition and identity. In this context, his emergence is also the result to the general shift in the humanities caused by the rise of cultural studies and theoretical innovation. Celeste Brusati presented the English-speaking world with a characterisation of Hoogstraten the artist which was amenable to a sophisticated reading of baroque 'self-fashioning'. The picture she describes is compelling. Without devaluing one's experience of the sensation of the artwork, one is offered tools (a specific historical context, for example) to demystify and desublimate the work of art by setting Hoogstraten's working life into a precise place in Dordrecht citizen life.

Hoogstraten devoted his last years to writing. In addition to writing the volume we have here, he also wrote a second volume, the 'Invisible World'. Arnold Houbraken's Life of Hoogstraten mentions that he was in possession of the manuscript of the Invisible World - but sadly Houbraken died during the publication of his own three-volume opus, the De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen, and never got around to publishing his master's other work. Since then it has never been seen. So we are left with the one book and its invisible other.

The Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst was beautifully produced by Hoogstraten's brother, Frans, to the highest standards of the very high Dutch standards of those days. It 'sits well in the hand' as the Dutch say. There is a nice copy in the British Museum, which is unfortunately tearing itself apart because the vellum binding has been allowed to warp. You can download a scan of the original edition from two different websites.[4] When you open it you will see that it is divided into nine chapters, each named after one of the Muses. An allegorical 'portrait' of each Muse is placed at the beginning of their respective chapters. The title pages were etched by Hoogstraten. When viewed all together they provide a heroic pictorial treatise on their own. They are supported by explanatory poems. There are also numerous other prints scattered throughout the book, each designed and etched by one or another of Hoogstraten's pupils. As a visible manifestation of the Visible World, the book is an appealing object.

We give to our pupil in the Art of Painting […] nine mistresses who themselves since long ago have been set above all the planets and stars in heaven and their orbits […] One single spirit rules over all the liberal arts, the same spirit which inspires the poet to poetry drives painters to the depiction of visible things; things which by poets are represented only with words

It was a witty piece of thinking on Hoogstraten's part to employ the Muses to structure his book, but it was not an invention. The Histories of Herodotus had traditionally been divided into nine books named after the Muses, albeit in a different order from that which we find here. In classical times there had been no Muse of painting; the Muses (the companions of Apollo on Mount Parnassus) were concerned solely with the verbal, musical and performing arts. By conscripting all the Muses, rather than adapting one to the role of a Muse of painting, or even inventing a new Muse (such as the character 'Pictura', who makes sporadic appearances in several enterprises during the early-modern period[5]), Hoogstraten makes all the other arts work for painting. With the category 'the visible world', all of nature is made subordinate to sight, since nature is defined as the visible. So all of the Muses are subordinated to Painting, which is the art of sight in a system where sight is co-extensive with worldly knowledge, "for everything that in nature is visible, provides the objects of Painting and the Art of Drawing." Thus from the beginning of the book there is an ambition that painting be considered not only an art, but also a science (by this I mean a branch of human knowledge in the broadest sense, along the lines of the German word Wissenschaft). To be worthy of this responsibility, a painter required a comprehensive set of abilities and skills. And the painter also required, or deserved, a certain social prestige. We are told of the status accorded painters in antiquity, as in the widely quoted story from Pliny, known via Van Mander or Junius, that in ancient Rome only citizens (and not slaves) could become painters. We are told that people of the highest social distinction learn how to draw - Fredrik Hendrik, Prince of Orange, takes it for granted that a prince should be able to describe the layout of his troops with pen and paper. We are also told how esteemed painters were, how they came into the circle of the greatest men - Apelles, Alexander's court painter, is mentioned frequently, often as the friend of his world-conquering patron. So the business of painting is as good as, if not better than, any other branch of applied knowledge. At one point a painter at work is compared to a classical description of Archimedes at work, since both appear to produce miracles. So in this organisation, where all the Muses serve painting, Painting becomes the paradigm of worldly knowledge, and the painter becomes a paragon of human skill and understanding, a 'schilderheld' (a 'painter hero', dressed in armour in the prints).[6]

There were nine ancient muses: in alphabetical order, Calliope (Epic Poetry), Clio (History), Erato (Love Poetry), Euterpe (Song and Elegiac Poetry), Melpomene (Tragedy), Polyhymnia (Hymns/Sacred Poetry), Urania (Astronomy), Terpsichore (Dance), and Thalis (Comedy). In Hoogstraten's book they are adapted to the various aspects of artistic knowledge. He calls each chapter a 'classroom' (carrying through the reference in the title of the book to a High School, or as we might say, academy), and distributes the various elements of art between them. The chapters are not abruptly separated according to topic, however. Topics often appear under the tutelage of more than one ruling goddess, and overlap and recur in different contexts according the particular character the Muse. Hoogstraten begins with Euterpe, who (like the others) is a different character from her ancient namesake on Parnassus. He describes her as the charmer who attracts young men to her (and therefore to Painting), and uses the chapter to discuss the necessary qualifications for anyone seeking to become a painter. Here we encounter Hoogstraten's central beliefs (and anxieties) concerning his project. Firstly that painting is a liberal art, or even something like a science. Painting is based on proper rules (regelen) which are organised in a structure. The structure must be learned in correct order, and a description of the correct order of the structure produces a coherent taxonomy of its parts, which reveals a coherent theory. On the other hand, painting requires an innate talent (gheest: spirit). I have usually left occurrences of this word as 'spirit' in the translation, since other meanings can also be implicit; it can mean, among other things, 'wit', 'mind', 'genius' or 'imagination', as well as having a theological or demonological significance, as in the English cognate 'ghost'. The painter also needs a strong ambition or inclination (neiging), or love of painting. Desire and love are active players in Hoogstraten's world; they are one of the means by which providence reveals itself. To those who have the talent painting can be taught, but becoming a painter is not reducible to grasping the theory (becoming a 'painter in the mouth'), for like a craft, ultimately it requires practise (oeffening) which links the mind to the hand (the Dutch word 'handeling', like the Italian word 'maniera', both refer to the hand) producing art. So on the one hand painting is a structured body of knowledge amenable to rational analysis, and on the other it is a mysterious accumulation of intuitions and rule-bound truths perceptible only to those who have judgement (oordeel), honed by experience (ervaring).

Euterpe attracts youth to art. The second Muse, Polyhymnia, considers the rules and measurements for the representation of the beautiful human body which also debates the notion of beauty. This chapter also includes observations on portraiture. As is the case in several other chapters, it closes with a humorous section - here on ugliness, where Hoogstraten draws on the writing of Cervantes and refers to the painting of Adriaen Brouwer. Clio, the Muse of History, is the vehicle for Hoogstraten's analysis of the highest form of art, History Painting. The chapter begins with a general statement of painting as a universal art (art as a natural history), but also describes the different levels of art by subject matter, from still life to history. This hierarchy of subject matter provides a hierarchy of painters, who are likened to the ranks in an army. The principles of composition are broken down: we should consider the persons involved, the moment in the action depicted, and the time and place of the event. Erato, the Poetess of Love, as well as addressing erotic topics, also encompasses the topic of nature - necessary, too, for the depiction of pastoral and landscape. The figure of Erato holds a cornucopia in the illustration, and Hoogstraten urges us to add abundant detail drawn from nature's infinite resources. The discussion of nature covers not only fruitful landscape, but animals too. Thalia, the Farceuse or Comic Muse, contains Hoogstraten's advice on invention and composition (ordineeren). Having urged the painter to imitate nature ('naar 't leven', i.e., after life) Hoogstraten now commends composition from memory or imagination ('uyt den geest'). Here the lessons learned in Polyhymnia and Thalia can be brought together. He commends Rembrandt's invention and composition in a celebrated reference to the Night Watch. The image of Terpsichore takes us directly to the painter's studio, where she sits surrounded by apprentices, masters at work, and visiting patrons. We return here to the notion of handeling, and with that we turn to the topic of paint, to colour itself. Colours, like words for the poet, are the medium of and for painterly representation. Hoogstraten especially commends illusionism, which is the visual equivalent of persuasion, the rhetorical power of words. Just as a rhetorical manual might, he describes the various styles of painting (rough or smooth) both as being suitable for certain purposes and as the index of an individual style. Another famous passage here describes the painting competition between Porcellis, Knippbergen and Van Goyen. In Melpomene, the Tragic Muse, Hoogstraten addresses a subject we might have thought required investigation earlier in the book, given its sub-title - that of sight itself. But this is not a physiological analysis, rather a metaphorical one. The Muse of Tragedy tells her stories though the alternation of light and dark, the play of fate, a succession of visibility and invisibility which is used by Hoogstraten to tell a history of the emergences and disappearances of painting in the world. Calliope is the Muse of Epic, and this offers Hoogstraten the framework for a history of schilderhelden, painting heroes, a history of art which enables him to deal not only with the lives of painters, but also with their careers, both of which are always dictated by circumstances of time and place. Urania is the Muse of Astronomy. Astronomy is profoundly bound up with the notion of fate, already a topic in the chapter on tragedy, and illustrated by the diverse fortunes recounted in the chapter on the schilderhelden. In the final book, Hoogstraten addresses the success and failure of artists in the world thematised through fame ('glory'), profit ('winst en rijkdom') and personal satisfaction ('een groot vermaek'): 'There are three drives which spur one on to learn the arts: Love, profit and in order to be honoured by all' ('Drie driften prikkels zijn, waerom men konsten leert: Uit liefde, om 't loon, en om by elk te zijn geërt').[7] Hoogstraten here cites the Stoic philosopher Seneca on the characteristics of the happy life.[8] It is the task of Urania to choose the best, and we should not fail to appreciate that Hoogstraten himself is one candidate for this honour.

The Visible World is a wonderful and extraordinary book. It is highly literate, even though it is not as learned as its references imply. Hoogstraten relies substantially on materials already circulating in Dutch, and his library, although large by the standards of the time, can be narrowed down to a medium-long shelf of handbooks and compendia. Two centuries of the printing press and translation had created an accessible body of 'classical' wisdom and knowledge, and had found, enabled or produced a class of writers and readers who felt that they needed to communicate through it. In this Hoogstraten is very conventional. But he makes something which is absolutely his own. There is a wittiness in his associative play of concepts and words that is unique. For example, the engineering of the book around the Muses is a wonderful conceit. He finds a way of matching his intellectual project to an uncomplicated set of categories, and then plays in and out of them to produce an object of extraordinary complexity, like a dance or the knotting of embroidery. He is what we now call a lateral thinker, and you need to pay attention if you wish to follow him. His mind is fertile and inventive, just like his paintings. You think you have it, but you may be wrong, and being wrong is as much fun as being right. The shared, standard cultural references of a grammar school education are shot through with the personal - we read of his own experiences, and of stories he has picked up on his travels in Rome, Vienna and London. He is an amusing raconteur and an engaging and lively versifier; the anecdotal and digressive material adds enormously to our pleasure in reading. Although the reader's pleasure is certainly one intended outcome of the book, these anecdotal elements are not a surplus: they are part of his project and draw our attention to the lessons we must learn if we wish to become a painter. But they also mollify the process of learning. When relating some potentially tedious details of the measurement of the human body, and being polite about Dürer's obsessive metrification of beauty, he thinks to turn from the material on a number of occasions and directly address his reader (putatively a young painter) in a lively manner. It is a pity that the writings of Hoogstraten, like those of Van Mander, have not been read as complete wholes. They have been chopped up into exportable bits; and although this means that we obtain from them 'what we need to know', we lose the voice and the sense of an author in a place at a time.

This is not a book by an intellectual, although it is richly informed by the intellectual culture of its time as experienced by an aspiring Dutch citizen. It is not an 'important' book, inasmuch as it does not introduce or inaugurate new directions in its discipline. It is a book like many other books. But it is the only book of its kind, and it offers to the careful reader an object for intellectual engagement, and pleasure.

[1] Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst (Introduction à la haute école de l'art de peinture, Rotterdam, 1678), Librairie Droz, (coll. Travaux du Grand Siècle), Geneva, 2006; see the review by T. Weststein, Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, Vol. 32, No. 2/3 (2006), pp. 218-222. There has been a modern facsimile printing of the original edition of the Inleyding, first published in 1969 by Davaco Publishers, Rotterdam.

[2] I list there just the most significant monographs/books (there have been numerous scholarly articles which will feature in the Bibliography page on this site): M. Roscam Abbing, De schilder en schrijver Samuel van Hoogstraten 1627-1678, Primavera Pers, Leiden 1993; P.G.B. Thissen, Werk, netwerk en letterwerk van de familie Van Hoogstraten in de zeventiende eeuw, APA-Holland Universiteits Pers, Amsterdam 1994; A.C. Brusati, Artifice and illusion: the art and writing of Samuel van Hoogstraten, University Of Chicago Press, Chicago 1995. Hans-Jorg Czech, Im Geleit der Musen. Studien zu Samuel van Hoogstratens Malereitraktat Inleyding tot de Hooge Schoole der Schilderkonst: Anders de Zicht-baere Werelt (Rotterdam 1678), Waxmann, Munster, 2002; T. Weststijn, The Visible World. Samuel van Hoogstraten's Art Theory and the Legitimation of Painting in the Dutch Golden Age , transl. B. Jackson & L. Richards, Amsterdam University Press, distributed by The University of Chicago Press, 2008; J. Blanc, Peindre et penser la peinture au XVIIe siècle. La théorie de l'art de Samuel van Hoogstraten, Peter Lang, Berne, 2008; T. Weststijn, ed., The Universal Art of Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-1678), Painter, Writer, and Courtier, Amsterdam University Press, distributed by The University of Chicago Press, 2013. 

[3] The Rembrandt Research Project, set up in 1968 by an agency of the Dutch government, produced five volumes of the Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings between 1982 and 2011, when the as yet incomplete project was (it seems permanently) abandoned.

[4] See the links on the index page of this website.

[5] See, for example, the figure of The Holland Maid, combined with a type of Charity, but equipped with painting tools and an exemplary perspectival painting used as the frontispiece for Philips Angel's Lof de Schilder-Konst of 1642. The image, and text, can be downloaded at: http://www.dbnl.org/tekst/ange001lofd01_01/

[6] Celeste Brusati gives an excellent brief account of the critical reception to the Visible World (expecially in Dutch art historiography), in Chapter 6 of Artifice & Illusion. Hans-Jorg Czech, Thijs Weststijn and Jan Blanc, both in their books (see note 2, above) and as part of a larger periodical literature, help set the text even more comprehensively into its contemporary (and historiographical) place.

[7] This is also the theme of one of his most famous works, the Perspective Box in the National Gallery London (see http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/samuel-van-hoogstraten-a-pee...) where the exterior faces are devoted to the 'causes' of art. The National Gallery Technical Bulletin, Volume 11, 1987 (by Christopher Brown, David Bomford, Joyce Plesters and John Mills) gives a comprehensive material analysis of the Perspective Box. A PDF of the Technical Bulletin is available for download at: http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/technical-bulletin/brown_bomford_plest....

[8] Seneca, De beneficiis.