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Abraham Bloemaert
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One of the leading Dutch artists in the first half of the 17th century, Abraham Bloemaert had a profound influence beyond his large oeuvre of paintings and drawings and the engravings made after his designs. Through his teaching he influenced a generation of artists (including four of his sons) in Utrecht and his Konstryk Tekenboek (Artistic Drawing Book), with 166 plates after designs by him, was reprinted in several editions continuing into the 19th century. Altogether scholars have found more than 200 paintings by Bloemaert, some 600 prints after his designs, and more than 1500 drawings, including those providing designs for prints. Born on Christmas Eve 1566 in Gorinchem, in southern Holland east of Rotterdam, his father Cornelis Bloemaert I (ca. 1540-1593) was a prominent sculptor, engineer and architect. By 1576 Bloemaert’s family had moved to Utrecht. He probably received his early artistic training from his father, who then had him study with six teachers, including three in Paris, a disjointed education Bloemaert later complained about. By 1585 he was back in Utrecht, again working for his father. In 1591 Cornelis was hired as an engineer by the City of Amsterdam, and Abraham moved there with him. He established his own studio and became a citizen of Amsterdam. His earliest dated painting is from 1591. Bloemaert worked in the Mannerist style, influenced by Hendrick Goltzius of Haarlem (1558-1617) and the Flemish artist Bartholomeus Spranger (1546-1611). He also began his long career of designing engravings, the earliest in 1593. Bloemaert probably met the artistic elite of Amsterdam during his three years living there. At the age of twenty-five he married a woman from a prominent Utrecht family nearly twenty years his elder, Judith van Schonenburch (d. 1599), who probably brought property to the marriage. After Cornelis’s death in 1593, Bloemaert and his wife returned to Utrecht. He became dean of the Saddlers’ Guild, which at that time included painters. Bloemaert’s his total surviving eouvre from before 1604 consists of only thirty-five paintings and twenty engravings, leading to scholarly speculation that works may have been lost (See Roethlisberger, pp. 15, 22.). His wife Judith died childless in 1599, stricken by the plague. The next year he married Gerarda de Roij (ca. 1580-1648), the daughter of a wealthy Utrecht family, who apparently bore him fourteen children, including their four sons who became artists: Hendrick (ca. 1601-1671), Cornelis (ca. 1603-1692), Adriaen (aft. 1609-1666) and Frederick (ca. 1616-1690). Bloemaert was very active making prints during the first decade of the 17th century, working with the Haarlem engravers Jacob Matham (1571-1631) and Jan Saenredam (1565-1607), both of whom had been trained by Goltzius. Later, many of his prints were engraved by his son Frederick. In 1611 he was one of the founders of the Utrecht Guild of St. Luke, separating the painters, sculptors and other artists from the Saddlers’ Guild. He was elected dean in 1618, but served only one year, to be replaced by a Protestant, Paulus Moreelse (1571-1638). He and Moreelse were friends, however, and were active in founding a drawing academy, where they both taught. Bloemaert also had as many as thirty apprentices in his studio over the years, in addition to his four sons. Always an ardent Catholic, and through his wife one of the patrician Catholic families of Utrecht, Bloemaert prospered despite the Protestant majority in the city. From 1610 he received several important commissions from the Catholic Church. In all, he painted at least eighteen large altarpieces, including two for Jesuit monasteries, and perhaps a dozen more smaller paintings serving the same the purpose. In 1617 he purchased a large house in a fashionable area of Utrecht. In the 1620’s his style evolved, reflecting the return to Utrecht of artists who had studied in Italy and were influenced by the dramatic lighting effects of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), particularly Bloemaert’s pupil Gerrit van Honthorst (1590-1656). Some scholars think his best work was done during the 1620’s. The respect accorded him at the time is reflected in the visits to his studio in 1626 by Elizabeth Stuart (1596-1662), the former Queen of Bohemia, and Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) in 1627. The subject matter of his art ranged widely, with religious and allegorical scenes predominating, but extending to landscapes, genre scenes and portraits. He continued to be active throughout his long life. Bloemaert made the many drawings for his Tekenboek from 1620 through 1650; Frederick engraved the plates and published the first edition between 1650 and 1656. Bloemaert died in January 1651 at the age of 84. (TNB 9/2012) Selected bibliography: Roethlisberger, Marcel G., with Marten Jan Bok. Abraham Bloemaert and his sons: paintings and prints. Diane L. Webb, trans. Aetas aurea; no. 11; 2 vols. Doornspijk, The Netherlands: Davaco, 1993. Spicer, Joaneath A. and Lynn Federle Orr. Masters of Light: Dutch Painters in Utrecht during the Golden Age. Exhibition catalog, pp. 375-376 and passim. Baltimore: Walters Art Gallery; San Francisco: The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.