Another day another Dutch artist but we move from the countryside and animals to sea and ships. My featured artist today is the Flemish painter Adam Willaerts, who was actually born in London. Born to Flemish parents in 1577 he was a painter of the Dutch Golden Age, a period in Dutch history, approximately spanning the 17th century, in which Dutch trade and science, military, and art were some of the most admired and highly-praised in the world. The reason of his birthplace being in England was because his parents had to flee Antwerp to avoid religious persecution. They returned to their Flemish homeland in 1585 and Adam remained there for the rest of his life. He spent the majority of his time in Utrecht where he became a member of the local Guild of St Luke. The Guild of Saint Luke was the most common name for a city guild for painters and other artists in early modern Europe, especially in the Low Countries. They were so called in honour of the Evangelist Saint Luke, who was the patron saint of artists.
Willaerts was known for his paintings of rivers and coastal landscapes but in particular his depictions of grand arrivals or departures of ships carrying dignitaries, which is exactly what is shown in my featured painting in today’s My Daily Art Display. This is one of a series of paintings produced to document the marriage of Frederick V, Elector Palatine, to Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I and Anne of Denmark, in 1613. It was painted ten years after the event in 1623 by Adam Willaerts in and is entitled The Embarkation at Margate of Elector Palatine and Princess Elizabeth. The painting was acquired by Queen Victoria in 1858 and can now be seen in the Queens Gallery at Buckingham Palace.
One presumes that the painting was commissioned in the Netherlands around the same time that other artists such as Hendrik Cornelisz Vroom in 1623 and Cornelis Claez van Wieringen in 1628 were commissioned to paint similar works.
So who were these people and what were they doing in the south-east English port of Margate ? Frederick, or to give him his Germanic title, Friedrich V, was the protestant Elector Palatine of the Rhine and for a short time King Fredrick I of Bohemia. His wife was Princess Elizabeth the daughter of the protestant King James VI of Scotland (and simultaneously King James I of England). In 1619 Frederick accepted the crown of Bohemia and ruled in Prague for one winter (hence his name the ‘Winter King’) before being defeated in 1620 by the Imperial army. The couple arrived as exiles in the Netherlands in 1622 and were formally deprived of the Palatinate by imperial edict in 1623.
Princess Elizabeth married Frederick in London on February 14th 1613 and after prolonged celebrations sailed from Margate on 25 April 1613 for Heidelburg and Prague, via the port of Flushing (in Dutch: Vlissingen). The couple were seen off by James I and Anne of Denmark both of whom can be seen in the foreground of the painting; they then were rowed out by bargemen in livery and brought aboard the sailing vessel, Prince Royal, which we can see lying at anchor awaiting the arrival of its distinguished guests. The vessel, Prince Royal was built in 1610 by Phineas Pett for Henry Prince of Wales, the king’s eldest son. This in all probability explains its “HP” monograms, Henry’s initials, (Henricus Princeps) and the Prince of Wales feathers as well as a figurehead of St George on a horse. Prince Henry did not attend his sister’s wedding to Friedrich as he died of typhoid fever, aged 18, a year before the event. The painting depicts a scene of pomp and ceremony as King James I sees off his daughter Princess Elizabeth and her husband. The beach scene with its mass of figures is typical of Willaert’s works. The ship lies in the centre of the picture surrounded by a blaze of natural, but highly suggestive white light.
Critics of the painting were less than enthused by the depiction of the choppy sea with one describing it as “a rolling vegetable patch, with cresting waves emerging like florets of broccoli sprouting from the soil”.
Rather harsh but if you zoom in on the waves there is that look as described by the critic!!!!