This autumn the Frans Hals Museum
is devoting an exhibition to Cornelis van Haarlem (1562-1638). Inspired by international Mannerism and Italian masters like Michelangelo, Cornelis van Haarlem worked in a Mannerist style. Figures are made more graceful by elongating them and portraying them in elegant, twisted and complex poses. The composition of the painting and the rendition of the nude bodies seem to be more important than the story. Cornelis van Haarlem had total mastery of this style and is regarded as one of the most explicitly Mannerist painters in the Northern Netherlands.
The exhibition brings together some forty-five of Van Haarlems works for the first time. The paintings come from prestigious museums, among them the National Gallery in London and the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, and from various private collections. The Dutch Michelangelo runs from 29 September 2012 to 20 January 2013.
Cornelis van Haarlem (Haarlem 1562 1638) spent his apprenticeship in his home town, in the workshop of the versatile painter Pieter Pietersz. Around 1579-80 he continued his training with Gillis Coignet in Antwerp. When he was twenty-one he returned to Haarlem, where he set himself up as an independent artist; he was successful from the outset. In Haarlem, he, the engraver Hendrick Goltzius and the art theoretician Karel van Mander were an influential trio who essentially founded a ground-breaking movement, Dutch Mannerism, which played a key role in the development of Northern Netherlandish art.
Van Haarlem made many paintings of scenes from the Bible and from Greek and Roman mythology. The figures are often based on classical statues as represented in Van Haarlems large collection of plaster casts. He also had access to one of the sketchbooks of Maarten van Heemskerck (14981574), which contained many drawings he had made of ancient statues while he was in Rome.
Drama on a Grand Scale
In his paintings, which were usually very large, Cornelis van Haarlem rendered drama on a grand scale to sublime effect. Restless compositions, pronounced colour effects, expressive gestures, violent emotions and muscular nudes in contorted poses astound the viewer. His paintings are conclusive proof of his unbridled artistic curiosity. They represent Dutch Mannerism in its most daring and experimental form.
Cornelis van Haarlem also made lifelike portraits and large works featuring militia companies. As early as 1583, he painted a large civic guard banquet into which he injected hitherto unprecedented vitality through composition and gesture. In that painting, with its lively composition and naturalistic portraits, he clearly anticipated the militia works that Frans Hals would paint in the seventeenth century.
The turn of the century saw the emergence of a new generation of artists who no longer took their subjects from mythological tales or the Bible. They rejected this artificial court style and pompous religious art, which was destined primarily for important patrons, choosing instead secular, everyday subjects that appealed to a broad middle class the new buying public. New specialities developed still life, landscape, townscape, portraiture and genre subjects that everyone could recognize and understand. Cornelis van Haarlem experienced these innovations at very close hand and was not unresponsive to them. In the 1630s he painted touching genre works like Children Playing Marbles (1636) and Children Eating Porridge (1637), which were small enough for the home.