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Work Landscape with Elkana and his Wives Anna and Pennina

Department of Paintings: Dutch painting

Landscape with Elkana and his Wives Anna and Pennina

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing

Paintings
Dutch painting

Author(s):
Collange Adeline

One of Berchem's first major history paintings with a pastoral landscape setting. The figures are influenced by Jan Baptist Weenix, who had just returned from Italy.

A biblical episode?

The work may depict an episode from the Old Testament involving Elkana and his two wives, Anna and Pennina. The children playing in the foreground are probably Pennina's, as the gentle Anna remained infertile for a long time before God finally answered her prayers (Book of Samuel). It was once thought that the principal figures, very different to the brown figures of the shepherds in the background, may have been painted by Jan Baptist Weenix. Their style is indeed very similar to his, with rich, bright colors and above all a marked taste for anecdotal Orientalism (sumptuous garments, veils, plumed turban). Yet one can nonetheless recognize the touch of Berchem, whose imitation verges on pastiche (the hands are far too big and clumsy to be by Weenix).

An Italianate landscape

Berchem, who painted relatively few biblical pictures, devoted himself primarily to a genre whose popularity he helped bring about: the pastoral landscape. Here the history enables him to depict a harmonious, gently rolling landscape, a refuge for shepherds and their flocks. A winding path invites the eye to meander off between the curved hills and cool woods. Historians are still divided as to whether the painter ever went to Italy, which would explain this "Arcadian" idealization and the soft golden light bathing the scene. Berchem was in any case greatly influenced by the time he spent working in the studios of painters who had traveled to Italy, notably his father-in-law, Wils. He also greatly admired the highly Italianate work of Jan Both, echoes of whose work are frequent in Berchem's pictures, for example the tall trees that provide the composition's vertical structure.

A famous and influential artist

Nicolaes Berchem was held in high esteem by his contemporaries. His prolific output (over 800 paintings) was widely acclaimed and had considerable influence on the art of the time. Among his pupils were the famous painters Pieter de Hooch and Karel Dujardin. His fanciful and decorative pastoral scenes would also inspire the rococo painter François Boucher in the next century.

Bibliography

Exposition, Washington, National Gallery of Art, 1980 - 1981 ; Detroit, Detroit institute of arts, 1981 ; Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, 1981, Gods, Saints & Heroes : Dutch painting in the age of Rembrandt, Washington, 1980, pp. 198-200.

Technical description

  • Nicolaes BerchemHaarlem, 1620 - Amsterdam, 1683

    Landscape with Elkana and his Wives Anna and Pennina

    1647

  • Oil on canvas

    H. 1.66 m; W. 1.38 m

  • Purchased from Mme Rivière de Lisle, Paris, 1816

    INV. 1046

  • Paintings

    Richelieu wing
    2nd floor
    Holland, first half of the 17th century
    Room 30

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Additional information about the work

Signed and dated: C. BERGHEM 164(7)?