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Boekbespreking / Book Review

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image of Oud Holland - Quarterly for Dutch Art History

The past fifty years have witnesses a renewed interest in Arnold Houbraken's Great Theatre as an object of study and a source of information for art historians. Hendrik Horn has written a voluminous book on the Great Theatre, which appeared in 2000. His objective was to provide a wide audience with more knowledge about a work which in his opinion has not received due appreciation. Horn intended to defend Houbraken as an original thinker and to highlight the essence of his thinking. He is convinced that the biographer's thinking was strictly personal in such an extent that he refrains from looking into the position of Houbraken's ideas in his own time. Horn persistently interprets the overall idea of the Great Theatre as 'deistic classicism'. In Houbraken's art theory, Horn argues, the notion that nature is a hiding place for God's plan is combined with the classicistic idea that an artist should select the most beautiful from nature. Therefore, an excellent artist, through his paintings, is capable of revealing a glimpse of the divine plan. Horn does not analyze the concept of 'deistic classicism' thoroughly, due to his conviction that Houbraken's so-called 'deistic classicism' stands on its own. Horn deliberately refrains from comparing Houbraken's ideas with other religion-based art theory in the eighteenth century, and he does not clearly demonstrate the overall sense of deistic classicism' in the Great Theatre. His view on the book is mainly based on Houbraken's religious writings, which he has studied insufficiently. Had he given more attention to these writings, his conclusions about the Great Theatre would probably have been less determined and more balanced. Such an approach would have unearthed the difference between Houbraken's works on religion and art, and in all likelihood the religious thought would not prove to be as essential in the Great Theatre as Horn wants us to believe. Horn's search for coherent and systematic thinking in the Great Theatre is reflected by his overview of the research that has been done on Houbraken's book. He is very critical of the prevailing opinion that the Great Theatre incorporates traditional, contemporary and personal thought and considers this view to be the result of selective reading. But his own assumption that there is a unified plan hidden in the Great Theatre is hard to justify.


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