A hunting party rests beside a fountain in an Italianate landscape. The ruins of a temple stand in the left foreground while a river meanders through the hilly countryside in the distance. The letters SPQR on the base of the fountain refer to the city of Rome.
This Italianate landscape from the second half of the seventeenth century was painted by Gaspar (or Jasper, Casper) de Witte. De Witte, who was born and died in Antwerp, joined the Bentvueghels in Rome around 1646. Within this seventeenth-century Dutch-Flemish painters’ association, it was customary to give each member a fictive nickname: De Witte was called Grondel. Unfortunately, it’s no longer known why his fellow painters in the clique named him after this type of fish. De Witte returned to Antwerp by 1650, the year in which he paid his dues to the guild of St. Luke (as mentioned in De Liggeren, the archives of the painters’ guild).
Although old biographies state otherwise, Gaspar De Witte was probably never married. From 1655, he was a member of the ‘Sodality of the bejaerde jongmans’, a society of bachelor men for which he also acted as president for several years. In addition to his work as a painter, he ran a small shop in painting supplies, which he had taken over from his mother and continued until his death in 1681.
Gaspar de Witte specialised in Italianate landscapes. He enjoyed great fame in his own time and was a much sought-after painter. During the eighteenth century, his work, like that of his fellow Italianists, was highly appreciated and praised. During the early nineteenth century, interest in the Italianate genre slowly waned and the painter fell into oblivion, as did his Dutch colleagues Nicolaes Berchem, Karel Dujardin, Jan Both and Adam Pijnacker.
The English painter John Constable once even remarked that collectors would be much better off burning their Berchems. However, interest in these painters, who brought the Italian light to the North, has revitalised considerably during the past decades.
C. Brossel, Gaspard de Witte : peintre paysagiste Anversois (1624-1681) in, La Revue Belge d'Archéologie et d'Histoire de l'Art, 28 (1959) nr. 3/4, P. 211-223
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