Book review: Grove Dictionary from Rembrandt to Vermeer

by Kees Kaldenbach

Review published in Visual Resources, An International Journal of Documentation, Volume XVII, number 3 (fall 2001).



"From Rembrandt to Vermeer, 17th-century Dutch Artists" edited by Jane Turner, published in the The Grove Dictionary of Art series, GroveArt, St Martin's Press, New York City, 2000.

This fifth volume in the Grove Dictionary of Art series focuses on Dutch 17th-century art. It succeeds fairly well in that which it has set out to do - to present to both interested layman as well as the art history professional a portable reference book on the pantheon of 17th century Dutch artists. Authored by more than 80 specialists in their respective fields, the entries begin with Willem van Aelst and end with Joachim Wtewael. This paperback book has been excerpted from the massive encyclopedic body of text in the 34 book series The Grove Dictionary of Art published in 1996. There are currently five titles in the Grove Dictionary of Art series. Two titles are devoted to style and movements and three to artists based on geography and chronology.

The present volume dealing with Dutch 17th century artists obviously belongs to the latter category. The structure for longer entries on artists is as follows:introduction; life; work (- split when applicable into paintings, drawings, prints); critical reception and influence; bibliography. Occasionally, depending upon the nature of the artist and his works there is additional material on character/personality or symbolism. Each artist is identified by all known variants of their name, a happy choice on the part of the editors. The well-known painter Salomon van Ruysdael is thus identified in this precise but slightly bewildering heading: "Ruysdael [de Gooyer; de Goyer; Ruijsdael; Ruyesdael], Salomon [Jacobsz.] van". However, the use of square brackets or parenthesis as in "Goyen, Jan (Josephsz.) van" is not entirely clear. In this review artists are identified by their common names.

Generally speaking, the strength of this volume lies in its expertise in content and its use of the most current literature. Entries on artists provide exact dates of birth and death when known. This is primarily due to the carefully chosen group of more than eighty authors who strike a personal chord in the choice of which major works of art are listed within the framework of recognized periods.

An example is found in Ben Broos, who authored major parts of the Rembrandt section. He presents the necessary overview of the internationally recognized high points in this artist's oeuvre, but does not shrink from bestowing personal praise for the Portrait of Jan Six which he calls one of the finest portraits ever made.

The length of text allotted to each individual artist's entry varies greatly, from only one page for minor artists to long sections for such acclaimed painters as Rembrandt. This obviously reflects the editor's personal view of the pecking order within the pantheon of Dutch artists. The choice of the painters in this volume rests not only on their fame as painters, but also on their influence as authors dealing with the art theory of their era, such as Karel van Mander and Samuel van Hoogstraten.

As can be expected, major artists are generally well presented. Thirty pages of crowning praise are allotted to Rembrandt, while less than half of that is given to the other incomparable prince of painters Johannes Vermeer, with 13 pages.

The following painters are included in intermediate halls of fame: Hendrick Goltzius with 8 pages, and slightly less for Frans Hals, Gerrit Honthorst, Jan Steen, and Samuel van Hoogstraten, each with 7 pages, the latter also due to his qualities as an author. Less space is permitted for: Hendrick ter Brugghen, Aelbert Cuyp, Jacob van Ruisdael, Hercules Seghers, each with 6 pages.

One step further down are Gerard ter Borch, Gerrit Dou, Pieter van Laer, Adriaen van Ostade, Pieter Saenredam, and Karel van Mander, all with 5 pages - the latter for being an influential author as well. A lesser rank is held by Rembrandt's teacher Pieter Lastman, and the classical nude painter Cornelis van Poelenburgh, who both merit 4 pages, as does Barthlomeus Breenbergh. Closing these ranks of fame are Gérard de Lairesse, Adam Pynacker and Frans van Mieris, deserving only 2 1/2 pages, and strangely enough Pieter de Hooch, "one of the most accomplished 17th century Dutch genre painters". Dozens of other painters receive even less text, but each entry is nearly a full page in length.

Although the present volume works well on many levels there are some critical points to be made. Even an expert can be humbled by the myriad of impressive and excellent painters whose names they are not quite familiar with. This is illustrated by my exchanging notes with Washington's National Gallery curator Arthur Wheelock, Jr. as to artists names which were entirely new to us in the exhibition Still Life Painting from the Netherlands 1550-1720 (Cleveland Museum of Art, 1999 and Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam 2000). The Dutch 17th century art world with its thousands of worthy painters, with or without "the elder" or "the younger" attached to their names, is a thickly forested landscape indeed. Why then omit a superior fijnschilder (fine art painter) such as Isaack Koedijk, whose cool grey painting Foot Operation (Exh. cat. Von Frans Hals bis Vermeer, SMPK Berlin 1984, and Prinsenhof, Delft, 1996) made such a striking impression when comparing it to the works of Vermeer's contemporaries. One seriously wonders why space has been given to the likes of Abraham van Calraet, Wybrand de Geest and Willem Schellinks - to name just three of more than twenty very obscure artists.

The painter Michael Sweerts is sorely missed - who well deserves the upcoming monographic survey of his work (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam 2002). Inexplicably gone is the quixotic and eccentric Johannes Torrentius, most of whose works were destroyed by the authorities during his lifetime, leaving us with one glorious work in the same museum. Also absent is the Delft painter Harmen Steenwyck who was deemed worthy of being included in the catalogue of Art in Seventeenth Century Holland (Nat. Gall. London, 1976). Other noted absentees are Adriaan Coorte, Michiel van Musscher, Godfried Schalcken and Hendrick Sorgh.

In some of the entries the lists of the artist's major paintings have not been properly updated. There is a painful omission in the Pieter Saenredam entry; his largest painting (Interior View of the Great or St Lawrence church in Alkmaar, ca. 1661, Municipal Museum Alkmaar, 207 x 276 cm). Recent scientific studies have proven it to have been painted by the master himself.

In the section on Vermeer one should note that the painting St Praxedis is no longer in private hands, but in the Barbara Piasecka Johnson Collection, Princeton, New Jersey. Wheelock's attribution of this painting to Vermeer is not unanimously accepted. Finally - as the list of notable omissions is longer - a large and extremely detailed painting by Jan van der Heyden, formerly in private hands has been recently acquired by the National Gallery, London; it is neither mentioned nor illustrated.

While there may be differences of opinion as to which painters should be listed, and which of their works should be mentioned in a book such as this one, serious defects limit its use as a reference volume. It should be deplored that in the sections at the back of the book a complete alphabetical index listing all persons and towns is missing. Furthermore, in Appendix A the listing of the locations of paintings only notes the city and name of the museum or collection without giving the relevant page numbers. There are spelling errors especially in Dutch references.

It is also curious that a serious book on art published in the year 2000 lacks even minimal references for internet. Surely official web sites for those collections mentioned could have been added. While many are volatile in their urls and some lack annual staying power there are still important and stable prize-winning web sites , such as those juried by the Art History Webmasters Association

Although the title mentions artists and not "painters, engravers, draughtsmen", it is clear that most if not all applied arts have been excluded. This leaves us without the top craftsmen of their era such as the silver and goldsmith Paulus van Vianen and tapestry maker Francois Spiering. This omission is contrary to the grouping within Guilds in which men of many crafts mingled within one professional organization.


In art history books the quality of illustrations is crucial. Some of the reproductions in this volume are poor, such as in the black and white illustration of a Ter Borch on page 42. Some 40 color plates have been bound in the heart of the book, depicting some of the highlights of Dutch art. It is again to be deplored that a number of these color illustrations including the one on the front cover have been badly reproduced. GroveArt's practice of preferring stock art resource material to high quality original illustrations from museums has led to an unfortunate loss of image quality. Museums would have been able to provide them with the very best reproductions available, especially following recent cleanings or restoration. One could even make a case for leaving out these arbitrarily chosen color prints and inserting many more postage stamp-size black and white illustrations. It would for instance have been very informative to have been able to see the study made of the large Fabritius family portrait oil painting, lost over a century ago, but kept for posterity in a water color (in the Rotterdam museum now officially spelled Boijmans not Boymans).

Despite the above shortcomings, this book does have things to recommend it. Its size, price and its level of scholarship are to be commended. If in future editions the problems discussed are solved, then it will truly be a fine resource tool for layman and specialist alike.

Drs. C.J Kaldenbach, Art historian, Amsterdam.



Adriaen Coorte, by Quentin Buvelot, book & exhibition catalogue.
De Grote Rembrandt, door Gary Schwartz, boek.
Geschiedenis van Alkmaar, boek.
Carel Fabritius, Tentoonstellingscatalogus.
Frans van Mieris, Tentoonstellingscatalogus.
From Rembrandt to Vermeer, Grove Art catalogue, book.
Vermeer Studies, Congresbundel.
C. Willemijn Fock: Het Nederlandse interieur in beeld, boek.
Het Huwelijksgeschenk (1934), boek over de egoïstische vrouw, die haar luiheid botviert.
Zandvliet, 250 De Rijksten van de Gouden Eeuw , boek + nieuwe stippenplattegrond!
Ik doe wat ik doe, teksten van Lennaert Nijgh , boek + cd
Het Rotterdam Boek, boek.
Bouwen in Nederland 600 - 2000, boek.
Hollandse Stadsgezichten/ Dutch Cityscape, exhib. cat.

TEFAF 2008 art fair




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This page launched 1 December 2001. Last update April 5, 2002. Update 22 feb. 2013


Research and copyright by Kaldenbach. A full presentation is on view at