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Flemish landscape paintings on view at Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau
With 160 artworks, the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) in Dresden possesses one of the world’s most important collections of Flemish landscape paintings.

DRESDEN.- Dizzying vistas of river valleys and mountain peaks, the impenetrable thicket of a forest bustling with countless animals, the idyllic quiet of a lake in the evening light. What we now call landscapes weren’t always seen that way – and they certainly weren’t depicted that way either. In the special exhibition ‘Paradise on Earth: Flemish Landscape Painting from Bruegel to Rubens’, which opened on 1 October in the Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau, nature takes over the surfaces of the paintings on display. Initially appearing as backgrounds and vistas, nature gradually spread over the panels and canvases, eventually taking centre stage in such a convincing manner that, for the first time, nature became a natural part of the artistic canon.

Flanders, with its important trading ports in Antwerp and Brussels, is both the centre and the turning point of this dynamic, which began in the sixteenth century. It is the era of great discoveries, of the increasing cartographic measurement of the world, and of the establishment of trade routes that would bring wealth and prosperity to the Flemish regions. Nature came to be viewed in this period from the perspective both of the scientific, detached explorer, and of the astonished believers who had been unsettled by denominational conflicts. The desire for paradise – a place of unity between humans and creation – is expressed in this emerging genre of art, as are spiritual abysses that individuals might encounter in the course of their lives.

In this sense, the artists featured in this presentation did not paint landscape portraits but rather ideal representations they composed in their workshops. They drew on the repertoire of forms found in nature for the paradises they devised in their heads. Incredibly multifaceted images of natural space unfold before the viewer – spaces that are, for the most part, artistic inventions.

With 160 artworks, the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) in Dresden possesses one of the world’s most important collections of Flemish landscape paintings. Only a small part of this collection has previously been on display in the permanent exhibition. With this special exhibition, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden reveals the findings of a three-year research project in which scholars investigated the entire collection of Flemish paintings.

In an exhibition space of more than 500 square metres, visitors are led through an earthly paradise. The show is divided into various thematic areas that illustrate the emergence of the new genre through an exceptionally high-calibre selection of artworks. One section is comprised of early landscape backgrounds – both in miniature paintings from the late Middle Ages, and in altarpieces and devotional paintings. The development of this artistic lineage led landscape genres to emerge that continuously distinguished themselves from one another. They include the postcard-sized cabinet paintings of country and forest landscapes and lake scenes by Hans Bol (1534–1593), and the large-scale animal landscapes of Roelant Savery (1576–1639). The video installation ‘Travel, 1996–2013’ by the contemporary artist David Claerbout (born 1969 in Kortrijk, Belgium), bridges the gap between the show’s older works and the twenty-first century, taking visitors on a pictorial voyage. The exhibition also includes documentary videos that show the technical and restoration work done on two important paintings in the show.

In an interdisciplinary collaboration, art historians, conservators, and scientists carried out extensive investigations for this exhibition. These included material analyses and various diagnostic procedures using radiation, like infrared reflectography and digital x-radiography. Such procedures yielded insights that, in many cases, amount to a rediscovery of the works studied. Images that had been painted over were made visible, and new attributions of the artists behind the works could be made.

The exhibition brings together 141 works, including prized items on loan from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam, and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. In addition to paintings, there are drawings and prints from the Kupferstich-Kabinett (Cabinet of Prints, Drawings and Photographs), and a precious globe from the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon (Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments).

In cooperation with the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, part of this exhibition will be displayed in adapted form in the Museum Rockoxhuis in Antwerp from March to June, 2017. This staging of the exhibition will bring the Dresden artworks back to their place of origin.

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