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Over the course of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries in the Netherlands, landscape began to emerge as an independent subject in painting and printmaking. Before this time, landscape had been employed by European artists primarily as a backdrop in religious, mythological, and allegorical scenes. Although landscapes continued to furnish settings for these and other narrative subjects, leading artists of the day gradually shifted their attention from human-centered activities to the wonders of the natural world around them. This exhibition of some sixty prints from the Museum's extensive collection of Dutch and Flemish prints traces the growth of landscape as a hallmark of Netherlandish printmaking.
Then, as now, landscape prints simultaneously provided viewers with a means of vicarious travel and a way to savor the multifaceted manifestations of nature's beauty. Imaginary alpine vistas by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (active 1550–1569) give way to realistic depictions of the flat Dutch countryside by Jan van de Velde (c. 1593–1641), while evocative Italian ruins by Herman van Swanevelt (c. 1600–1655) contrast with darkly dramatic night scenes by Hendrik Goudt (1583–1648). Other Netherlandish artists represented in the exhibition include Lucas van Leyden (c. 1494–1533), Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617), Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), and Jacob van Ruisdael (1628/29–1682).
A special highlight of the exhibition is seven etchings by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606–1669). Famous as a painter of portraits and episodes from the Bible, Rembrandt is equally celebrated as a printmaker, whose deftness with the etching needle yielded an astonishing range of atmospheric effects in his prints, from the awe-inspiring explosion of supernatural light that illuminates the inky black sky in The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds (1634) to the tranquil rural terrain of Landscape with a Cottage and a Large Tree (1641).
A Natural Attraction: Dutch and Flemish Landscape Prints from Bruegel to Rembrandt will complement the major survey exhibition Jacob van Ruisdael: Dutch Master of Landscape on view in the first floor Dorrance Special Exhibition Galleries from October 23, 2005 to February 5, 2006.