Today is the birthday (1637) of Jan van der Heyden, a Dutch Baroque-era painter, glass painter, draughtsman and printmaker, as well as engineer. Van der Heyden was born in Gorinchem, the son of a Mennonite father and the third of eight children. His father was by turns an oil mill owner, a grain merchant, and a broker. The family moved to Amsterdam in 1646 and van der Heyden’s father acquired local citizenship. Van der Heyden himself never became a citizen of Amsterdam even though he lived there most of his life.
Jan van der Heyden may have received his initial artistic training in the studio of a relative, perhaps his eldest brother, Goris van der Heyden, who made and sold mirrors. He had joined Goris in his mirror producing and selling business. He may also have learned drawing from a glass painter. It is possible that his teacher may have been one of the most admired glass painters of the time, Jacob van der Ulft, who was also originally from van der Heyden’s hometown. Several examples of van der Heyden’s paintings on glass (verre eglomisé) have survived and probably date from this early part of his career.
Van der Heyden married Sara ter Hiel of Utrecht on 26th June 1661 in Amsterdam. At the time of his marriage, he lived on the most fashionable canal in Amsterdam, Herengracht. He was then already a practicing artist. His earliest dated works are two drawn portraits of his brother-in-law Samuel ter Hiel and his bride, Jacquemijntje van der Passe date 1659. His earliest dated painting is from 1663.
As a young man he witnessed the fire in the old town hall which made a deep impression on him. He later would describe or draw 80 fires in almost any neighborhood of Amsterdam. In 1668 Cosimo III de’ Medici bought one of his paintings, a view of the town hall with a manipulated perspective. Painting was not his sole occupation and interest. In fact, he never joined Amsterdam’s painters’ guild. Even while his work was in great demand, he did not rely on his art to make a living. His principal source of income was, in fact, not painting. Rather he was employed as engineer, inventor and municipal official. He was clearly greatly preoccupied with the problem of how to fight fires effectively, and, with his brother Nicolaes, devoted much time between 1668 and 1671 to inventing a new, highly successful water pumping mechanism. He also devised a street-lighting system for Amsterdam and was in 1669 appointed director of street lighting. In 1673 the two brothers received official appointments to manage the city’s fire-fighting equipment and organization. The appointments were sufficient to ensure their financial security.
Van der Heyden moved in 1680 to the Koestraat near the St. Anthonismarkt. Here he built a new family home and a factory for producing fire equipment. In collaboration with his eldest son Jan, he published in 1690 an illustrated book on fire-fighting, entitled ‘Beschrijving der nieuwlijks uitgevonden en geoctrojeerde Slangbrandspuiten’ (‘Description of the recently invented and patented hose fire engines’).
Jan van der Heyden died a wealthy man in 1712. His wife survived her husband by only a month. The inventory of the estate made soon after her death includes more than 70 of his own paintings. His only known pupil was his son Jan.
Van der Heyden was one of the first Dutch painters to dedicate most of his output to cityscapes and other depictions of groups of buildings. In addition, he also painted approximately 40 pure landscapes, of which two on glass. At the end of his career he painted still lifes in indoor settings. His most frequent subject was various views of Amsterdam. In addition, he painted vistas of other Dutch, Flemish and German cities (in particular the region near the Dutch–German border), country houses and estates and landscapes. It is believed that he visited these places personally. A painting of an Italian scene is believed to have been based on a drawing by Daniël Schellinks. Other foreign scenes may have been based on drawings of other artists. Van der Heyden often painted country estates. Several views exist of Goudestein, a country estate owned by Joan Huydecoper II, the Amsterdam burgomaster. A set of 14 paintings depicting scenes in and around the village of Maarssen were likely also made on commission for Joan Huydecoper II, who had developed real estate around that village.
Van der Heyden also created completely imaginary architectural fantasies, so-called capricci. An example is An Architectural Fantasy (c. 1670, National Gallery of Art), which appears to be a product of pure imagination. Italian influences are visible in the classical structure recalling the buildings of Palladio and the decorative sculptural elements. The figures, probably painted by Adriaen van de Velde, on the other hand, are unmistakably Dutch. While the great house with its sunlit formal gardens evokes an idealized world, at the elaborate gateway of the brick walls surrounding the gardens, an elegant gentleman encounters a beggar with her baby. The inclusion of these discordant elements undermining the country idyll set van der Heyden apart from his contemporary Gerrit Berckheyde. Various of his compositions include out-of-place statuary, stray farm animals or even urban shepherdesses, which add a feeling of anomaly and contradiction. These elements contribute to the feeling of modernity typical for his works. Only one painting known as the Triumph of Mordecai (Staatliches Museum Schwerin), depicts a history scene. It is probably an early work.
Despite the apparently naturalistic style, which was so detailed that every single brick was visible, the artist did not strive for topographical accuracy in his city views. Even in his depictions of recognizable sites he regularly adapted and rearranged the architecture and setting to fit his overall compositional goals. Topographical accuracy was clearly not his primary objective. Rather he strove to present an idealized vision of the world around him. Despite the attention to detail, Jan van der Heyden’s primary aim was to achieve an overall harmony in his compositions. Van der Heyden’s scenes are usually bathed in a brilliant, crisp light of almost unnatural clarity.
The people in his paintings was often added by other artists such as Johannes Lingelbach, Adriaen van de Velde and Eglon van der Neer. He most often collaborated with the accomplished painter of figures and animals Adriaen van de Velde. The two artists had an especially successful partnership built on their complementary skills: Adriaen van de Velde contributed his lively and well-characterized figures to van der Heyden’s exquisitely painted architectural settings. A fine example of their collaboration is The Dam and Damrak (c. 1663, Fogg Museum). The composition depicts the Dam and Damrak bathed in a late afternoon sun, which casts long shadows on the cobblestones of the Dam. The Damrak, the waterway that linked the Dam to Amsterdam’s harbor, terminates at the far left of the composition.
Jan van der Heyden painted still lifes in the beginning and at the end of his career. Nine of his still lifes survive. One of his earliest dated still lifes is a Still life with a bible (signed and dated 1664, Mauritshuis). This and other early still lifes typically depict a bible and other objects on a table with a carpet. An example of his early works in this genre is the Still Life with Globe, Books, Sculpture, and Other Objects (c. 1670, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna). This painting stands in a long tradition of Dutch still life paintings depicting vanitas symbols. These symbols include not only hourglasses, skulls and smoking candles but also attributes of scholarship and intellectual inquiry assembled in an amateur collector’s cabinet or the study of a humanist scholar.
Unfortunately van der Heyden did not paint any typical Dutch Baroque still lifes of food, so I cannot use one of them as a springboard for today’s recipe. Instead I give you a classic dessert from the region where he was born, bossche bol, a kind of chocolate smothered profiterole