In the sixteenth century, Rome was the cradle and capital of Western civilization. It attracted painters, engravers, and sculptors from throughout Europe, especially the Netherlands and northern France. Rome’s principal attractions were its classical ruins, works by contemporary masters like Raphael and Michelangelo, and patronage from local aristocracy and the Roman Catholic Church. Important painters from the Netherlands who made the journey and stayed in the city (often for years, sometimes decades) were: Jan Gossart, Jan van Scorel, Pieter Coecke van Aelst, Maarten van Heemskerck, Bartholomeus Spranger, Denijs Calvaert, and Paul Bril. They were accompanied by sculptors, including Niccolò Pippi from Arras, Gillis van den Vliete, Jacques Du Broeucq, and his pupil Giambologna. Among the engravers were Cornelis Cort, Aegidius Sadeler, and Hendrick Goltzius. Eagerly absorbing the available Roman culture, these artists also had an intensive interaction with, and left an imprint of their own, on the cultural scene of the Italian metropolis.
Rome as a Source of Knowledge of Antiquity
Throughout the sixteenth century the whole of Rome was a “studio.” No other location offered such an abundance of classical remains. The ruins, sculptures, and frescos were eagerly observed, measured, drawn, excavated, reconstructed, and collected. Artists like Jan Gossart, Maarten van Heemskerck, and Hendrick Goltzius drew many classical sculptures and architectural monuments. These drawings were brought home and used in further artworks, or they were brought out in print, such as the Museum’s engraving of the Farnese Hercules (17.37.59) by Goltzius. Apart from depicting classical remains, Northerners also drew the city itself, from small representations of individual buildings to large panoramas, such as Anthonis van den Wijngaerde’s view of Rome (52.124.1).
In the early 1510s, Raphael and Michelangelo completed their famous frescos in the Vatican, including the Stanze and the Sistine ceiling. These works and several others, like Michelangelo’s Last Judgment of 1536–41, exerted an enormous influence on foreign and native artists alike. Maarten van Heemskerck’s strong, monumental style emphasizing anatomical detail, as seen in his drawing Man Protected by the Shield of Faith (2000.150), clearly demonstrates Michelangelo’s impact. Through the hundreds of prints executed after his drawings, Michelangelo was an important figure in the dissemination of late Mannerism in Northern Europe. Hans Speckaert was another leading master of the Northern late Mannerists in Rome; his art developed mainly under the influence of Raphael and Parmigianino. His depiction of the Crucifixion (1999.85) is a clear example of his debt to contemporary Italian art. Bartholomeus Spranger—who at one time collaborated with Federico Zuccaro—superbly combined the Netherlandish tradition and Roman Mannerism, achieving a style of his own that had a lasting influence on other artists in Prague and later on Dutch artists in Haarlem. The figures in his drawing Peter and John Heal a Cripple at the Gate of the Temple (2001.107b) have a definite Raphaelesque stature.
Work in Rome
Some Northern artists found influential patrons in Rome. They also frequently collaborated with important Roman artists. Jan van Scorel, who served the Dutch pope, Adrian VI, in the early 1520s, was curator of the Vatican collection in the Belvedere (succeeding Raphael in this job). Bartholomeus Spranger worked for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and lived for a few years in the Cancelleria. Hendrick van den Broeck was one of Giorgio Vasari’s collaborators in the Sala Regia in the Vatican. His most prominent work is the fresco of the Resurrection on the east wall of the Sistine Chapel, opposite Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. Paul Bril, who was famous for his landscape frescoes in churches (Santa Cecilia in Trastevere), palaces, and the Vatican, began to paint small landscapes in oil, like the Landscape with the Temple of the Sibyl (Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne); fifteen years later, he abandoned his fantastic hilly landscapes in favor of more realistic scenes. Bril strongly influenced the development of classical landscape in Rome, and in particular the landscape styles of Claude Lorrain and Agostino Tassi.
In the field of sculpture, the influence of Northerners must also have been quite obvious. For decades, Niccolò Pippi from Arras and Gillis van den Vliete from Mechelen made funerary monuments for cardinals and other important persons. Both artists also worked for popes Sixtus V and Clement VIII. In 1550, Jean Boulogne (Giambologna), from Douai, visited Rome. Trained by Jacques Du Broeucq—who himself had been in Rome fifteen years earlier, and from whose workshop the Museum owns the Charity, (65.110)—Giambologna would eventually graft an understanding of the formal aspect of Michelangelo’s statuary onto a thorough reappraisal of Greco-Roman sculpture. By around 1570, when Giambologna was living in Florence, he had become the most influential sculptor in Europe. The Museum’s Triton (14.40.689), with its supple modeling and vigorous chasing, should be dated to the 1560s, shortly after he left Rome for Florence.
Plomp, Michiel C. “Dutch and Flemish Artists in Rome, 1500–1600.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/noro/hd_noro.htm (October 2002)
Borchert, Till-Holger. The Age of Van Eyck: The Mediterranean World and Early Netherlandish Painting, 1430–1530. Exhibition catalogue. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2002.
Liedekerke, Anne-Claire de, ed. Fiamminghi a Roma, 1508–1608: Artistes des Pays–Bas et de la principaute de Liége á Rome á la Renaissance. Exhibition catalogue. Ghent: Snoeck-Ducaju & Zoon, 1995.
Plomp, Michiel C. “Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) and Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641): Works on Paper.” (October 2003)