Moses van Uyttenbroeck was a very successful and very expensive painter active in The Hague in the second quarter of the 17th century. Just as Vermeer in Delft he did not paint a lot: a mere 60 paintings are known by him.
He loved teasing his public, amongst whom the Stadtholder Frederick Henry, with his cryptic mythological paintings: rare subjects, extremely difficult to identify.
I have discovered that van Uyttenbroeck has taken for our painting a subject of a very rare Roman author from the 2nd or 3rd century AD, Antonius Liberalis. Only one of his books, written in Greek, has survived through a 9th century Byzantine version. And that unique copy was printed in 1568 in Heidelberg. In his Metamorphoses Liberalis tells 41 mythological stories, comparable to Ovid. His 31st myth tells of young Messapian shepherds, from the heel of the Italian boot, who boorishly challenged local nymphs to a dancing contest. Once defeated, the youth are changed into trees, standing next to the Temple of the Nymphs.
Another version of our painting is part of the collection of the Mauritshuis in The Hague; it is monogrammed and dated 1626. Our painting surfaced for the first time in the year 2000 at a Sotheby’s sale. Nor the Museum, nor Sotheby’s have identified its subject.
About Moses van Uyttenbroeck
Also known as Moyses van Wtenbrouck.
Important Dutch painter and etcher
The Hague circa 1590/1600 – in or before 1647 The Hague
Painter of Arcadian landscapes with mythological or biblical figures.
Van Uyttenbroeck spent his complete career in The Hague, working for a rich, literate public and for the court of the Stadtholder. He painted an important number of paintings for the Stadtholder Prince Frederick Henry, for several of his palaces in and near The Hague: for Huis Honselaarsdijk, Paleis Noordeinde, Huis ten Bosch and for the Prince’s quarters in the Binnenhof.
Van Uyttenbroeck entered the Guild of Saint Luke in The Hague in 1620.
He became dean in 1627 and possibly again in 1633.
The atmosphere of his landscapes is sometimes rather Dutch, some-times very Italianate. It is not known if van Uyttenbroeck ever did travel to Italy. Shepherds and their cattle often underline the pastoral atmosphere.
His paintings show the influence of Adam Elsheimer and of the so-called “Pre-Rembrandt” painters round Pieter Lastman, such as Jan and Jacob Pynas, Nicolaes Moeyaert and Jan Tengnagel. Most of them had travelled to Italy.
Van Uyttenbroeck belonged to the best-paid painters of his time. This is why he did not paint that many paintings; today some 60 paintings are known. He enjoyed an international fame. It is known that when a friend of the famous French painter Claude Vignon travelled to Holland, Vignon asked him to buy a few landscapes by van Uyttenbroeck.
Van Uyttenbroeck was also an excellent etcher; there are some 70 prints by him, one of them a self portrait.
Anthonie Jansz. van der Croos and Dirck Dalens I rank among his pupils.
His elder brother, Jan Matheus van Uyttenbroeck, (circa 1585 – before or in 1251) was also a painter.
About our painting
Our painting dates from his early years, when he applied a so-called heroic Italian landscape style: strongly poetic landscapes with a strong emphasis on the human figures. Another monogrammed and dated (1626) of our composition is in the collection of the Mauritshuis in The Hague.
Moses van Uyttenbroeck must have enjoyed teasing his intellectual public, giving often only a few hints alluding to the actual mythological subjects of his paintings.
His main source were the Metamorphoses of the famous Roman poet Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso, 43 BC – 18 AD), a compilation of 250 myths written in Latin verses. These were translated in Dutch and published in 1604 by Karel van Mander (1548 – 1606), a Flemish-born Dutch painter, writer and art theoretician. This translation was part of van Mander’s famous “Book of Painting” (“Schilder-Boeck”). That book was a compilation of three books: a translation of the “Lives” of Vasari, a similar collection of lives of Dutch, Flemish and German painters, and finally a translation of The Metamorphoses, that was followed by a guide explaining the figures. Van Mander died already two years after the publication of his “Schilder-Boeck”, which became very influential. In 1618 a second edition was published. His version of the Metamorphoses became so popular that it was sold as a separate book.
But Ovid can not be the source fort his composition by van Uyttenbroeck. Ovid did describe a similar story to ours, but about only a single shepherd mocking the Apulian nymphs. A second, slightly younger, almost forgotten Roman author, Antonius Liberalis, did write in Greek the story of a group of shepherds mocking the same nymphs. He must have lived during the second or third century AD, there are no details known about his life, nor about what part of the Roman empire he lived in. Only one of his books has survived, The Metamorphoses (“Metamorphoseon Synagoge”), which is a compilation, written in Greek prose, of 41 stories of transformation: some seem summarised from older authors, others are possibly inventions of the author himself. Liberalis’ Metamorphoses appears in only one parchment, Palatinus Graecus 398 at the University library of Heidelberg in Germany. It must date from the second half of the 9th century AD. It was brought around 1437 from Constantinople to Basel. And that Greek manuscript was printed for the first time in 1568 in Heidelberg by Guilielmus Xylander.
Here you have the text in English of our 31st story from the Metamorphoses by Antonius Liberalis:
"Tellers of stories say that in the land of the Messapians [in Italy] near the so-called Sacred Rocks there appeared the choral troupe of the Nymphai Epimelides (Epimelid Nymphs, Protectors of Sheep). Young Messapians left their flocks to view them. They declared they themselves could dance better. What they said irritated the Nymphai and rivalry arose increasingly over their dancing. Because the youths did not know that they were competing with deities, they danced as they would in a contest with mortals of their own age. Their manner of dancing, being that of shepherds, was without art, while that of the Nymphai was entirely dedicated to beauty. In their dancing they surpassed the youths and they said to them : ‘Young men, did you want to compete against the Nymphai Epimelides? So, you foolish fellows, now that you have been beaten, you will be punished.’ The youths, as they stood by the sanctuary of the Nymphai, were changed into trees. Even today one hears at night the sound of groans coming from the trunks. The place is called that of the Nymphai and the Youths."
And here you have the English translation of Ovid’s version (14:513 ff)
"The bays and pastures of Apulia [in Italy], there he had seen a grotto deep in shade, of forest trees, hidden by slender reeds, the home of half-goat Pan, though once the Nymphae (Nymphs) lived there. A local shepherd frightened them; they fled away at first in sudden fear, but soon recovering, disdained the lout who had pursued them and began again the nimble measure of their country dance. The shepherd mocked them, mimicking the dance with loutish leaps and shouts of coarse abuse and rustic insults. Nothing silenced him till wood enswathed his throat. For he's a tree, and from its juice you judge its character. The oleaster's bitter berries bear the taint of that tart tongue; they keep today the sourness of the things he used to say."
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is an important composition by a rare artist who painted for the intellectual elite of his days.