A Major, Rare Exhibition on Northern Baroque Art

Abraham van Beyeren (The Hague 1620/21–1690 Overschie), Banquet Still Life, possibly mid-1660s, oil on canvas, HOHENBUCHAU COLLECTION, on permanent loan to LIECHTENSTEIN. The Princely Collections, Vienna, HB 23

Photography provided by Cincinnati Art Museum


The Old Masters are alive and well this summer at the Cincinnati Art Museum as it hosts the first exhibit in a decade featuring Dutch and Flemish paintings from the Golden Age of the 17th century. 

The rich, dramatic detail of what’s known as the NorthernBaroque period will be on display in all its ornate glory, from opulent table settings piled high with dead game, fruits and vegetables to epic Biblical parables; from magnificent landscapes, seascapes and portraiture to the street life of the common beggar. 

The exhibition, “Northern Baroque Splendor, the HOHENBUCHAU COLLECTION from: LIECHTENSTEIN. The Princely Collections, Vienna,” which is on display from June 27 to September 20, is the first time the 64 paintings have been shown as a group in the United States. 

The Cincinnati Art Museum is one of just two U.S. stops for the show, which opened last fall at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn. The exhibit was organized by Peter C. Sutton, executive director of the Bruce, who says, “The Hohenbuchau Collection is not only remarkable for offering examples of virtually all genres produced by the Netherlandish Old Masters, but also for the rich diversity of size, format and subject within each genre.” 

“It’s a wonderful coup for the art museum,” says Julie Aronson, curator of American Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings. “We are very fortunate to have this here. We haven’t really had an Old Masters show on this scale for more than 10 years. It’s exciting.” 

Since the 1970s, the works have been acquired in a private collection by Otto Christian and Renate Fassbender to adorn a hunting lodge named Hohenbuchau. The paintings are on long-term loan to the collections of the Prince of Liechtenstein in Vienna. 

What has admirers of the period excited is that so many different genres and subjects are featured in the display. There are historical depictions, portraits, landscapes, hunting scenes, flower pieces and animal paintings. Many of the Old Masters of the period are represented, including Gerard van Honthorst and Hendrick ter Brugghen of the Utrecht Caravaggisti school, landscape artists Jacob van Ruisdael and Salomon van Ruysdael, the Leiden fijnschilders Gerard Dou and Frans and Willem van Mieris, and the great Flemish masters Peter Paul Rubens and Jacob Jordaens. 

Aronson says the period is known as the Golden Age because of the explosion of art driven by the wealthy upper classes of the Low Countries, which were feeling their protestant spirit, newly separated from Catholic Spain. 

“We often forget the Netherlands had the wealthiest per capita income in Europe at the time,” says Aronson. “There becomes a real enthusiasm for collecting paintings. It’s the first time on this
magnitude that there was a private art market. Earlier, most of the art was commissioned by the church or for royalty. Suddenly there was this aristocratic and upper middle class group of people collecting art for their homes.” 

The artists of the time are known for their realistic work with incredible detail that often built a dramatic effect. They helped establish landscape and still life as distinct genres. And they did it often in ways that celebrated the good times of their day. For example, one painting shows a banquet table laden with dead game and spectacular goblets. 

“The paintings of the time celebrate a kind of bounty and abundance, both in nature and in wealth,” Aronson says. “There are gorgeous silver objects, oriental carpets, porcelain and other things brought in from exotic places that people could afford to buy. You see lobsters and other sumptuous foods.” 

The Baroque Period is known for the exaggerated drama in its paintings, whether depicting an historic or Biblical epic, a hunting scene or even a seascape. 

“It’s often a visual spectacle,” Aronson says. “It also became quite a virtuoso exercise for the painters. How opulent and over-the-top can I make this painting? How with the composition of colors and shapes, reflections and things can I create a painting that is incredibly enticing to the eye? In many ways they are trying to outdo each other.” 

But there is also the simple timeless work in the collection, such as the painting capturing the pure joy of a man whose face is being licked by his dog. At the opposite emotional end is a cityscape featuring the haggard, desperate face of a beggar. They are both works that speak with relatable emotions that cut across the centuries. 

Unique to the collection are 10 collaborative paintings, a concept foreign to our modern concepts of art, except perhaps in rock ’n’ roll supergroups. But, of course, many of these painters were the rock stars of their day.

“The idea of painters working together is something we would not imagine today,” Aronson says. “But it was common at the time that someone would specialize in painting figures and another would do landscapes and they would work together on a painting. They had specialized fields of expertise. It makes some sense when you think about it, but it’s a different notion of artistic genius than we think of today.” 

Aronson hopes the takeaway for exhibitgoers will be quite simple: “I think people will just enjoy looking. The detail in these paintings is spectacular. They are such rich paintings. There are so many little things to discover in each of them. You will linger. And because there is such a great variety, there is going to be something to appeal to any taste.” 

“Northern Baroque Splendor, The HOHENBUCHAU COLLECTION from: LIECHTENSTEIN. The Princely Collections, Vienna” is June 27 to September 20, at the Cincinnati Art Museum, 953 Eden Park Drive. You can reach them at 513.721.2787 or visit their web site at www.cincinnatiartmuseum.org.