Johan van Haensbergen is especially known for his Classicistic and Mythological paintings, situated in extensive Italianised landscapes. Stylistically these works are closely related to the works of his famous tutor Cornelis van Poelenburch (Utrecht 1594/1595 – 1667). In the left of the composition the wine god Bacchus is depicted, adorned with a crown of wine leaves and laying on a red robe. He embraces a nymph, whose blond hair is decorated with ribbons and minute flowers. Bacchus is surrounded by joyfully dancing nymphs and satyrs and is presented a gold tazza with wine by a nymph seated to his right. In her other hand she holds a large gold carafe, decorated with floral motives. Two pieces of cloth are placed over the rock on which she is seated: one in striking bright blue, the other white. The delicate gold lines at the rim of the white fabric are noteworthy. In the middle of the composition, two satyrs lift a nymph on their shoulders, who also holds up a gold cup. Both satyrs are depicted with pointy ears and the upper body of a man combined with the lower body of a goat. The one on the left wears a goatskin sash over his right shoulder, the satyr on the right wears a string of wine leaves around his waist. In the background, a seated nymph is playing the triangle, two satyrs join her on the tambourine, while another satyr is playing a ram's horn trumpet. In the foreground three satyr-boys are depicted: one sleeping in the left corner of the composition and two in the middle, flanking a goat. The tallest of the two holds the goat by his horns and gazes directly to the viewer. At the right side of the composition, a sleeping man is depicted. This man forms a possible key to the interpretation of this scene. Note that he is the only man who is not depicted as a satyr and who appears to be fast asleep. In his dreams, the man temporarily exchanges the rational realm of Apollo and surrenders himself to the ecstatic and irrational world of Bacchus and his merry entourage. The scene is placed in an extensive Italianised mountainous landscape, with a ruin and hills in the background.
Artist’s biography (1)
Johan van Haensbergen (also known as Jan van Haenbergen) was born on January 2, 1642. The exact place of his birth is unknown (2). Supposed are either Utrecht (3) or Gorinchem. Some of his works are signed 'Joh. Haensbergh Gorco fecit', which led to the assumption that he may have been active in ‘Gorcum’ (or ‘Gorinchem’) and that he was possibly related to the printer Alexander van Haensbergen, who was also active in Gorcum (4). According to Van der Willigen, Van Haensbergen spent his childhood in Gorinchem. Later on he moved to Utrecht, where he was apprentice of Cornelis van Poelenburch (Utrecht, 1594/1595 - 1667) and member of the painters guild (5). It is not known how long Van Haensbergen remained in the workshop of his tutor, but he evidently worked closely in his master’s style. It is known with certainty that he was signed in as a member of the Utrecht's painters' Guild of St Luke between 1668 and 1669.
On 31 May, 1665 Van Haensbergen had already married Johanna van Heusden in The Hague, which was his wife’s city of origin. In 1669 he moved to The Hague, where he became a member of the Confrerie Pictura. After his move to The Hague, he mainly painted portraits, which were – according to Houbraken – much more profitable (6). Van Haensbergen was a very successful portraitist and his refined style and skilfulness earned him commissions from important aristocratic patrons and numerous members of the civic upper-class (7).
Apart from being a painter, Van Haensbergen was also active as an art dealer. As such, Van Haensbergen was able to make a comfortable living for himself. In fact, an inventory of his belongings that was drawn up on occasion of his second marriage with Sophia van der Snouck in 1679, shows that he owned two houses in The Hague and a large number of paintings, comprising works by Van Poelenburch and Jan Both (Utrecht, ca. 1615 - 1652) (8). In 1682 – 1683 and 1689 – 1690 he acted as ‘Hoofdman’ (or head) of the Confrerie Pictura. In addition, he was the director of the drawing academy. Van Haensbergen acted as the tutor of his son Willem Johan van Haensbergen (The Hague, 1680 - 1755). Other pupils are not recorded. He was active in The Hague until his death on January 10, 1705 (9).
Style and place within the master’s oeuvre
Van Haensbergen was a versatile artist, who worked as a painter, draughtsman and engraver and produced portraits, religious scenes (10), and still life paintings (11), but who is especially renowned for his Classical or Mythological scenes, situated in extensive Italianized landscapes. Apart from his tutor Van Poelenburch, Van Haensbergen’s oeuvre also demonstrates influence of Caspar Netcher (Heidelberg, 1639 – The Hague, 1684) and Nicolaes Maes (Dordrecht, 1634 – Amsterdam, 1693), especially regarding his portrait paintings.
Van Haensbergen’s landscapes are both stylistically and in subject matter closely related to those of his famous tutor Cornelis van Poelenburch. Sluijter-Seiffert states that Van Haensbergen’s landscapes recall his master’s late work more than that of any other of Van Poelenburch’s pupils. She points out that the compositional similarities include steep repoussoirs (12) in the foreground and the middle ground (13). Typically, she continues, Van Haensbergen’s trees and plants are less finely detailed than those of Van Poelenburch, as are his usually somewhat heavier figures. In the use of colour and fine brushwork, however, Van Haensbergen almost measures up to Van Poelenbruch’s late work (14). Such is the case with this painting, especially regarding the tonality of the sky, the skilful anatomy of the figures and the refined detail. In addition, the present painting features plants with highly detailed leaves and the figures are of exceptional quality. Note also the sophistication in the light-treatment, especially in the seated nymph in the foreground, which clearly displays Italianate chiaroscuro (15), and in the extended foot of the nymph that is carried by the two satyrs. As such, this Bacchanal is without a doubt a mature work, in which Van Haensbergen equals the excellence of his master and arguably one of the highlights of Van Heansbergen’s oeuvre.
The work of Johan van Haensbergen is represented at the Centraal Museum, Utrecht, the Netherlands; the Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem, the Netherlands; the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia; the Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen Mauritshuis, The Hague, the Netherlands; the Musée du Louvre, Paris, France; The National Gallery, London, England; the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands and the Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, Budapest, Hungary
(1) This biography is principally based on: Buijsen, E. [et.al.] (1998). Haagse Schilders in de Gouden Eeuw. The Hague, pp.150-154, p. 312; Craft-Giepmans, S. (2006). Hollandse meesters, Catalogus van de schilderijen van hollandse meesters zeventiende en achttiende eeuw. Schoten; Frimmel, Th. von (1913/1914). Cornelis Poelenburg und seine Nachahmer. In: Studien und Skizzen zur Gemäldekunde. Vol. 4 (1913), p. 102-105, Vol. 6 (1914), pp. 137-145; Hollstein, (1949/1953). Dutch & Flemish etchings, engravings and woodcuts ca. 1450-1700. Vol. 8, p. 209; Saur, K. G. (1999/2000). Allgemeines Künstlerlexicon. Bio-bibliographischer Index. A-Z. München/Leipzig, Vol. 4, p. 494; Sluijter-Seiffert, N.C. (2006). The school of Cornelis van Poelenburch. In: Golahny, A. [et.al.] In his milieu. Essays on Netherlandish art in memory of John Michael Montias. Amsterdam, pp. 441-454; Tissink, F. & Wit, H.F. de (1987). Gorcumse schilders in de Gouden Eeuw. Gorinchem, pp.83-84
(2) Buijsen, 1998, p.150
(3) Houbraken, A. (1718). De Groote Schouburgh der nederlantsche konstchilders en schilderessen. Amsterdam, Vol. I, p. 169; Tissink, 1987, p. 83
(4) Tissink, 1987, p. 84
(5) Willigen, A. van der & Meijer, F.G. (2003). A Dictionary of Dutch and Flemish Still-life Painters Working in oils 1525-1725. Leiden. p. 98
(6) Houbraken, 1718, pp. 170-171
(7) e.g. Portrait of Pieter Dierquens, ‘baljuw’ or ‘govner’ of The Haugue, dated 1690, collection of the Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen Mauritshuis, The Hague, the Netherlands, inv.nr. 720, RKD.nr. 15534; Portrait of Pieter Kemp, lord of Bommenede, Moermont and Zuidland, Burgomaster of Zierikzee, collection of Instituut Collectie Nederland, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, inv.nr. 1025, RKD.nr. 15540;
(8) Sluijter-Seiffert, 2006, p. 449
(9) Willigen, 2003, p. 98
(10) Sluijter-Seiffert, 2006, p. 450
(11) e.g. Still life with a jar, signed and dated 1665, collection of the Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen Mauritshuis, The Hague, the Netherlands, inv.nr. 601, RKD.nr. 6659
(12) In art, repoussoir is an element in a composition that appears to force the remainder into the background. (In French 'repousser' means ‘to push back’.) Large objects or figures in the foreground are ideal repoussoirs since they enhance the sense of depth.
(13) Sluijter-Seiffert, 2006, p. 448
(14) Sluijter-Seiffert, 2006, p. 449
(15) In art, chiaroscuro (Italian for ‘light-dark’) is characterized by strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition. It is also a technical term used by artists and art historians for the use of light-dark contrasts to achieve a sense of volume in modelling three-dimensional objects.