(Gorinchem 1637 – 1712 Amsterdam)


Elegant Figures in the Grounds of a Baroque Palace


oil on silvered copper

4 ½ x 6 ½ inches (11.5 x 16.5 cm.)


Private European collection; sale, Piasa, Paris, 8 December 1999, no. 30; art market, London. 


Greenwich, Bruce Museum, Jan van der Heyden (1637-1712), 16 September 2006 – 16 January 2007; Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, 1 February – 30 April 2007.


P. Sutton, Jan van der Heyden (1637-1712), exhibition catalogue, Bruce Museum, Greenwich, 2006, pp. 184-185, no. 30.


By Meredith M. Hale:

This is one of Jan van der Heyden’s fantasy views: scenes of classical architecture, antique monuments, and baroque palaces in idealized Italianate settings.  This scene takes place in the grounds of a baroque palace, a classical temple in a picturesque state of decay appearing at the left surrounded by groups of people strolling under a perfect blue sky.  A couple sits side by side on a fallen architectural element in the foreground, two gentlemen engage in conversation nearby, and a mother holds a child at the far right.  The romanticism of the scene suggests the passage of time, the poignancy of earlier civilizations that have left only monuments behind, and the implication that one day the palace, too, will be nothing more than a memento of the past.  Indeed, van der Heyden included the broken column shaft and Corinthian capital at the lower left more for atmospheric effect and to provide a contrast to the modern building than to give information about any of the structures represented. He likewise included two sets of figures, ancient and modern—the former, inhabiting the surrounding niches, are integral to the scene while the latter remain forever removed from it.[1]  The contemporary figures in Elegant figures in the grounds of a baroque palace have been placed in the role of observer, taking in the scene much as the viewer of van der Heyden’s painting does, from the outside.  They are tourists out for a pleasant day on the grounds of an early incarnation of the National Trust property, preserved for tourism and meant for cultural consumption.


Van der Heyden arranged his composition around the vertical of the temple façade at the left and the horizontal of the palace’s balustrade that stretches almost the entire width of the scene.  Together they create a register in the lower half of the painting within which almost all of the action takes place.  The diagonal shadow on the near wall of the temple is mirrored by the shadow falling over the grotto in the middle distance, creating a sense of depth and emphasizing the plasticity of the architecture.  The fineness of van der Heyden’s painting technique and his sensitivity to color emphasize the idealized beauty of the scene and his use of a silvered copper panel, unusual within his oeuvre, suggests that he considered this work to be particularly precious.[2]


Van der Heyden was one of the first Dutch painters to specialize in the townscape, although he also depicted rural scenes, landscapes, and, late in his life, still lifes.[3]  His most common subjects were views of Amsterdam and scenes near the Dutch German border.  However, even these recognizable scenes are only loosely based on actual views.  Topographical accuracy does not seem to have been van der Heyden’s primary interest and the combination of reality and fantasy often appeared, as it does in this painting, in the form of a contrast between modern, mostly imaginary, buildings and historical settings.[4]  The clarity and sheer volume of detail in his paintings lends to the perception of them as actual views and it is often impossible to distinguish between the real and the imaginary in his works.  There is fluidity between the two in van der Heyden’s oeuvre, the Colosseum, for example, appearing in fantasy Italianate landscapes and Huis ten Bosch in idealized romantic settings.


Jan van der Heyden was a painter, draughtsman, and inventor.  He moved with his family from Gorinchem to Amsterdam in 1650.  He may have begun his artistic training in the studio of his eldest brother, Goris van der Heyden, who made and sold mirrors, and learned the reverse technique of glass painting from an artist in Gorinchem.  Van der Heyden painted throughout his life but became prosperous primarily through his inventions, which included a street-lighting system for Amsterdam used from 1669 to 1840 and a fire engine equipped with pump driven hoses.  A series of fourteen paintings associated with Maarssen may have been executed for the Amsterdam burgomaster, Joan Huydecoper II, who owned land in and around the village, and a commission of 1674 required van der Heyden to paint views of his house and estate at Goudstein.[5] Together with townscapes, van der Heyden also painted village streets, country houses and some forty landscapes, two of which are painted on glass.  He died a wealthy man with a collection of over seventy paintings.  No pupils or followers were recorded but his work had a dramatic impact on the eighteenth-century town view.


[1] Adriaen van de Velde and Johannes Lingelbach both provided staffage for van der Heyden’s paintings. Van de Velde painted the figures in this composition.

[2] Wagner mentions only one other silvered copper panel in her monograph on the artist, p. 77, no. 47. See H. Wagner, Jan van der Heyden 1637-1712 (Amsterdam and Haarlem), 1971.

[3] For an overview of the subject, see The Dutch Cityscape in the 17th Century and its Sources, B. Bakker, ed. (Amsterdam/Toronto), 1977.

[4] A notable exception is a painting of the Westerkerk in Amsterdam now in the Wallace Collection, London.

[5] See G. Schwartz, “Jan van der Heyden and the Huydecopers of Maarsseveen,” Bulletin of the Getty Museum (1983), p. 197-220.