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Work The Sermon of St. John the Baptist

Department of Prints and Drawings: 16th century

Prédication de saint Jean-Baptiste

Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photo M. Beck-Coppola

Prints and Drawings
16th century

Author(s):
Gardon Michèle

This Sermon of John the Baptist, dated 1589, is a superb example of Hans Bol's work at this stage of his life. He was then famed for his miniatures representing lively landscape scenes drawn from antiquity or the Bible. His painstaking execution, careful attention to detail, and love of landscape painting are worthy of praise. Note the landscape in this work, which, although in the background, is nonetheless grandiose.

From scenes to landscapes

In the foreground on the left is the seated saint. The crowd clustering to hear him preach is depicted in great detail, indicating the artist's love of precise, meticulous description. This scene fills the entire foreground with a multitude of figures. The precise, colorful drawing is the heart of the composition. However, it does not entirely draw our attention away from the superb landscape in the background, which is equally elaborate. The importance given to this landscape, despite being in the background, is a sign of Bol's interest in depicting nature and also indicates the influence of the grandiose, panoramic alpine paintings of Pieter Breugel. The immensity of nature is figured by the river, which winds across the paper to the edge of the drawing. The trees, plentifully if irregularly dotting the foreground, reach to the top of the sheet, pulling the viewer's gaze to the background where a town lies in the distance, then on to the very low, almost infinitely distant horizon where lines and outlines blur and meld. Hans Bol also engraved a very different version of the same theme as part of a series of twelve circular landscapes.

An acknowledged master of the landscape

Hans Bol left his home town of Malines, where he joined the guild in 1560, for Antwerp, then Bergen-op-Zoom and later Dordrecht. He eventually settled in Amsterdam where he enjoyed a certain degree of influence. He drew a great deal, particularly for prints, working with Hieronymus Cock, who specialized in publishing engravings. He began his career with large tempera compositions but in 1567 decided to turn away from this technique, which was all too easy to copy. He chose instead a technique far more difficult to imitate, miniatures in oil on vellum. This work is a perfect illustration of this new style.

Miniatures for curiosity cabinets

This gouache is one of Hans Bol's late works. Twenty-six of these, dating from 1587 to 1592, are held in the Münchner Residenz, Munich. Eight others, dating from between 1580 and 1587, can be seen in the Dresden Gemäldegalerie, and two others are in the Worcester Art Museum. The refinement of the works, their small format, and the painstaking devotion to detail may indicate that these works were painted specifically for curiosity cabinets, which were common in Hans Bol's day.

Bibliography

Bolten Jaap, Dessins anciens du Cabinet des dessins et des estampes
de l'Université de Leyde, La Haye, Amsterdam, 1985.
Duclaux Lise, in Le XVIe Siècle européen, dessins du Louvre,
cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, octobre-décembre 1965, n 169, repr. pl. XLI.
Franz H. Gerhard, "Hans Bol als Landschaftszeichner", in Jahrbuch
des Kunsthistorischen Institutes der Universität Graz, Band I, 1965,
pp. 20-67.
Le Siècle de Bruegel. La peinture en Belgique au XVIe siècle,
cat. exp. Bruxelles, Musées royaux des beaux-arts de Belgique, 1963.
Vey Horst, "Two unpublished Miniature Paintings by Hans Bol", in Art Quaterly, Spring 1959, pp. 63-70.
Viatte Françoise, in Il Paesaggio del Disegno del Cinquecento Europeo,
cat. exp. Rome, Villa Médicis, Académie de France à Rome, 1972-1973, n 58, repr.

Technical description

  • Hans Bol (Malines, 1534-Amsterdam, 1593)

    The Sermon of St. John the Baptist

    1589

  • Gouache with touches of gold on vellum, mounted on board

    H. 23.6 cm; L. 33 cm

  • Acquired by the Louvre prior to 1827

    3919592

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

Signed and dated in gold letters, on the tree trunk on the left: Hans Bol 1589