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'de beste Schilders van het gantsche Nederlandt' Karel van Mander en het Haarlemse cultuurbeleid 1603-1606

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image of Oud Holland - Journal for Art of the Low Countries

Karel van Mander's Schilder-Boeck was published in 1604. During this period the Haarlem city council was pursuing an active cultural policy in which painting played a central role. In 1603, the porter at the Prinscnhof was instructed not to refuse admission to people who wanted to view the paintings and other objects of art housed there. That same year Hendrik Goltzius, Cornelis van Haarlem and Hendrik Vroom were commissioned to paint pictures of their own choice to commemmorate their art. The paintings were to hang in the Prinsenhof. In 1605 the council cndcavoured to ensure the city's claim to a number of paintings from the Jansklooster. This monastery, unlike others in Haarlem, had not been seized when the city became Protestant. The monks were allowed to keep their property until the last one died, but not to adopt any more monks. In 1605 the council demanded an inventory of the immovables and of the paintings too. The majority of the paintings in the inventory, which was supplied a year later, proved to be the work of highly esteemed artists. Although by no means all the art in the monasterey was listed, the city council did not protest. The intention had simply been to secure the important paintings with a view to placing in the Prinsenhof when the time came. Karel van Mander and his friends Cornelis van Haarlem and Hendrik Goltzius undoubtedly contributed to the creation of a climate in which such an art policy was feasible. Van Mander had spent years preparing his Schilder-Boeck, and had paid a great deal of attention to Haarlem painting. In his efforts to gather information the had established numerous contacts. He had carefully described he paintings in the Prinsenhof, and had also seen works by Haarlem painters belonging to private individuals. One such man was Gerrit Willemsz. van Schoterbosch, a burgomaster who had been on the council when that body commissioned Cornelis van Haarlem to make four paintings for the Prinsenhof during the last decade of the 16th century, and also during the period discussed here, 1603-1605. What were the aims of the city council in pursuing this cultural policy? There are two possibilities, both of which are encountered in the Schilder-Boeck. Van Mander wanted to elevate painting to a higher status than a craft. In his praise of painting he therefore dwelt at length on art lovers who collected paintings for art's sake. May not the city council have desired to assemble such a collection? If so, something very special was happening in Haarlem. Perhaps there is more to be said for the other possibility, to which Van Mander also refers: the council could have enlisted the Haarlem painters to sing the praises of the city.


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