Cliff near Bomarzo


Bartholomeus BREENBERGH

Deventer 1599/1600 – 1657 Amsterdam

Cliff near Bomarzo

Pen in brown ink, brush in brown and gray ink; laid down; traces of dark brown ink

framing lines.

252 x 324 mm (9-7/8 x 12-1/2 in).


WATERMARK: crown with five points below a six-pointed star, nearly identical to Heawood no. 1116 (Rome, dated 1570); identical to watermark on two other Breenbergh drawings, Castello Bomarzo, monogrammed and dated 162[5], in the Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam (Schapelhouman and Schatborn, 1998, cat. no. 75), and Ruins of a castle on a hill, c. 1625, in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh (Andrews 1985, cat. no. D853); backing paper with countermark ADS (unidentified). (R2)
CHAIN LINES: vertical, 30-32 mm.
INSCRIPTIONS: none visible through backing paper.
PROVENANCE: Sale, Amsterdam, Christie’s, 26 November 1984, lot 66.

Ian Woodner, New York, his sale, London, Christie’s, 2 July 1991, lot 209, acquired at the sale.

LITERATURE: Roethlisberger 1991, p. 91.
EXHIBITIONS: Robinson, Franklin W. and Peck, Sheldon. Fresh Woods and Pastures New: Seventeenth-Century Dutch Landscape Drawings from the Peck Collection. Chapel Hill/ Ithaca/ Worcester. 1999-2001. Published catalogue.

This drawing is one of four very similar views of this dramatic spot, perhaps near Bracciano or Bomarzo.  Three of the drawings include not only the cliff we see here but also a road to the left, a small house on the road, and a boulder in the foreground, with two or three travelers.  One of these last three is by the Netherlandish artist Paul Bril, whose Italian landscapes were an important influence on his contemporaries; this drawing is in the Louvre (Fig. 1), while the other two drawings, in the Albertina and in a private collection, Amsterdam, are given to Breenbergh.

The relationship among these four drawings is hard to determine.  The drawing in Amsterdam is the loosest and most summary of the four and may well be a copy.  Of the other three, the Albertina version shows the most complete view of the scene, including the diamond-shaped cliff on the far right, the road and building on the far left, and the foreground boulder and travelers.  Interestingly, the vertical fold in the Albertina sheet is down the center of the paper.  The Bril in the Louvre stops, on the right, just before the diamond-shaped cliff;  appropriately, the vertical fold here is to the right of center, suggesting the sheet was cut down on the right.  The present drawing, which stops before the road and house on the left, has its fold to the left of center, implying it was cut down on the left.  (In each of the four drawings, the fold goes through the same part of the landscape.)

There are certain details that the Bril and the present drawing share, and the Albertina drawing lacks, for example, in the architecture at the top of the cliff and in the hut below;  this suggests that the Bril and this sheet are directly related, and the Albertina work is dependent on one or the other of them,  before they were cut down.  Close as the Bril and the present drawing are, the latter has all of Breenbergh’s dramatic play of light and shadow, especially evident in the brilliant device of shading the whole cliff on the right.

A sheet with just the lefthand part of the whole view (the road, building, and foreground rock) was at B. Houthakker, Amsterdam, in 1969 (cat. no. 6, illus.).  Different elements of the landscape found their way into the artist’s paintings.

Other connections between the drawings of Bril and Breenbergh have been discussed by Carl Depauw (1989).  He shows that a Bril drawing is clearly the model for a Breenbergh work in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh (Andrews 1985, cat. no. D853, p. 13).

This site was clearly popular with 17th century Dutch artists, for it was the subject of drawings by Nicolaes Berchem, dated 1654 (location unknown), and Anthonie Waterloo (sale, Amsterdam, Christie’s, November 14, 1988, no. 102).   At the top of the cliff in the present drawing, the portico of an estate may be seen, with a large shade showing a sunburst design, rolled down to keep out the glaring midday light.


Fig. 1.  Paulus Bril, Rocky Landscape with House, pen and ink with wash.  Louvre, Département des Arts Graphiques, Paris.