Many – very probably most – seventeenth-century Dutch landscape paintings do not show a real view, but were composed to capture the spirit or impression of a place. Even where they do depict somewhere specific they would often be made more aesthetically pleasing by exaggeration or rearrangement.
That is what has happened in this view of Brederode Castle near Haarlem. Although the ruins have deteriorated since Hobbema painted them in 1671, significant parts still survive, as does the moat, so we can see that he made significant changes. He removed parts of a wall in the foreground to open out the view and raised the north-east tower on a high bank (in reality it stands on flat ground). His changes make the whole castle seem larger and more dramatic.
The figures and animals are also figments of an artistic imagination – though perhaps not Hobbema’s. They were probably added by another painter, possibly Dirck Wijntrack, after the landscape was finished.
Many – very probably most – seventeenth-century Dutch landscape paintings do not show a real view, but were composed to capture the spirit or impression of a place. Even when they were based on reality, they would often be made more dramatic or aesthetically pleasing by exaggerating, adding or rearranging particular features or elements of the scenery.
This painting depicts the ruins of a castle in Holland which still exist, so we can get an insight into whether Hobbema was faithful to what he saw and, if not, how he adapted the composition. Brederode Castle is in Santpoort, about three miles north of Haarlem. It was built and rebuilt several times between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, but was badly damaged in 1573 as a result of the siege of Haarlem. This took place during the Dutch revolt against Spain’s occupation of Holland. The victorious Spanish forces beheaded the leader of the local resistance, General Lancelot van Brederode, plundered his castle and set it on fire. After that the castle was never rebuilt and this painting of the ruins was made a century later, in 1671, a little over two decades after the Dutch had finally won independence. It may be that Hobbema or his patron (whose name has not survived) wanted the picture to commemorate this heroic history of resistance.
Although the ruins have deteriorated since 1671, parts of the two corner towers we see here and the remains of the gatehouse still survive, as does the moat. The woodland and even the course of the waterways may well have been adapted over the last 350 years, so we can’t be sure how faithful Hobbema has been in respect of these details (though the tree-lined road on the left still exists). But we can see that he made significant changes, removing parts of the surviving castle wall in the foreground to open out the view and raising the north-east tower on a high bank (in reality it stands on flat ground). His changes make the whole castle seem larger and more dramatic.
The figures and animals are also figments of the artistic imagination, but nevertheless an important part of the composition. They help give scale and depth to the composition, from the ducks in the foreground to the distant figure in a brown coat between the trees on the left and the couple who have climbed to the top of the ruins on the right. The pedlar walking with his sack and the man with the monkey also inject a sense of movement. They represent different social classes too, from the pedlars and the fishermen to the gentleman with his gun slung over his shoulder and the elegant sightseers admiring the ruins.
Most of these figures were probably added by another painter, possibly Dirck Wijntrack, after Hobbema had finished the landscape. This was a common arrangement in seventeenth-century Holland when certain elements were left to specialists.
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