The Pastoral Scenes of Jan Siberechts

The Ford by Jan Sieberechts (1672) Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest
The Ford by Jan Sieberechts (1672)
Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest

My Daily Art Display today features the 17th century Flemish painter, Jan Siberechts.  I will also look at some of Siberechts works and look how his style of painting changed during his lifetime.  In today’s blog I will concentrate on his rural life paintings and in my next blog I will look at how his painting style changed when he went to England. 

Jan Siberechts was born into a family of artists in Antwerp in January 1627, first training with his father, who was a sculptor.  Little is known of his early life and upbringing except to say that in 1648, at the age of twenty-one, he became a master in the Guild of St Luke in Antwerp and four years later, in 1652, he married.   Siberechts’ early works, up until around 1660, were mainly landscapes which were heavily influenced by the Dutch Italianates.  The Dutch Italianates were a group of seventeenth-century Dutch artists who painted landscapes of Italy.  Many of these painters had travelled to and lived in Italy whilst others who had never made the journey to Italy were simply stimulated by the works of those who did.   Many young Dutch painters made the arduous journey, often by foot, over the Alps to Italy, whereas others travelled by sea. The favourite destination for these intrepid travellers was usually Rome, but some journeyed to Venice, and a few to Genoa. 

Many of these artists would make copious sketches during their sojourn in Italy and in the case of those who crossed the Alps on foot, they would pictorially record their arduous journey through the breathtaking mountain passes and then, once they arrived back home to their studios, they would produce this Italianate art.  Such works of art, which were extremely popular with the Dutch and were in great demand in what was then a booming Dutch art market. These Dutch Italianate painters enthused over the golden light of Mediterranean skies which they encountered in Italy.   The countryside around Rome (campagna) was a constant source of inspiration and featured in many of the works of the Dutch Italianates.   Some of the leading Dutch Italianate painters during the lifetime of Siberechts were artists, such as Nicolaes Berchem, Jan Both, Karel du Jardin, and Jan Weenix.  Because Siberechts’ early works reveal the influence of the Dutch Italianates some art historians believe that he may have made the journey to Italy but there is no firm proof of this assertion.   Many believe Siberechts remained in Antwerp until 1672 at which time he accepted an invitation to travel to England and so it could be that he was simply influenced by the finished works of the Dutch Italianate painters which were offered up for sale in Antwerp.  

Shepherdess by Jan Siberechts (1660's) Hermitage, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Shepherdess by Jan Siberechts (1660’s)
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Siberechts style changed around 1661 when he became interested in depicting scenes from the Flemish countryside and the rustic life of the peasants.  His initial landscape work with its occasional small figures changed and, in his work now, the figures in his landscape settings were larger and took on a paramount importance. 

Landscape with a Road, a Cart and Figures by Jan Siberechts Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery)
Landscape with a Road, a Cart and Figures by Jan Siberechts
Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery)

Often the countryside scenes depicted in these paintings incorporated country roads which had been partly flooded forming fords and peasant women going about their daily routine, carrying goods, such as hay or vegetables, to or from market, often by horse and cart.  In other paintings we see the women tending to their livestock along a river bank.  

The Wager by Jan Siberechts (1665) Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp
The Wager by Jan Siberechts (1665)
Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp

In Siberechts’ countryside depictions his female figures were much larger than corresponding figures in most paintings of this genre. The female figures we see in Siberechts’ paintings are not willowy, weak women but strong robust females who were quite able to hold their own against their men-folk when it came to working on the farm.  The presence of water in Siberechts’ scenes gave him the chance to show off his artistic ability of depicting reflections on the water surface and the glittering of the light on moving water.  The inclusion of water into his peasant scenes also gave Siberechts an excuse for showing us a sensual glimpse of bare female thighs as they washed and cooled down their bare legs in the fords or streams.  The colours Siberechts used in these landscape works were often quite similar.  He would utilise whites, reds and yellows for the clothes of the women and these colours would contrast against the various greens he used to depict surrounding plants and vegetation.  Often there would be no background as such to these paintings as the dense foliage in the middle ground obscured our view of any background. 

I like these works.  There is a certain quaintness about them.  As you will see in my next blog the paintings Siberecht did whilst in England couldnt be more different.

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Author: jonathan5485

Just someone who is interested and loves art. I am neither an artist nor art historian but I am fascinated with the interpretaion and symbolism used in paintings and love to read about the life of the artists and their subjects.

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