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Aelbert Cuyp, The Large Dort

Key facts
Full title A Distant View of Dordrecht, with a Milkmaid and Four Cows, and Other Figures ('The Large Dort')
Artist Aelbert Cuyp
Artist dates 1620 - 1691
Date made about 1650
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 157.5 × 197 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876
Inventory number NG961
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Large Dort
Aelbert Cuyp

Cows often feature in pastoral landscapes, but it is rare for them to be given quite such heroic status as the four monumental brown beasts which dominate the foreground of this large canvas. They relegate the shepherd to the hill and the milkmaid, who funnels the results of her labour into a brass flask, to the sidelines.

But, for the artist and his contemporaries, cows were extremely highly valued. The seventeenth century had seen improvements in breeding stock, better feeding practice and the reclamation of flooded land – low-lying pasture was much better for cattle than sheep. Cheese and butter were not only national staples, they were now key exports. In short, cattle represented wealth, peaceful prosperity and plenty.

Cuyp was famous for his ability to paint such scenes of bovine bliss and this painting is similar to another smaller one, A Distant View of Dordrecht, with a Sleeping Herdsman and Five Cows, which is also in the National Gallery’s collection.

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