Details
Herman Posthumus (East Frisia 1512-1566 Amsterdam)
Extensive mountainous, coastal landscape
oil on canvas
26 3/8 x 55 ½ in. (67 x 141 cm.)
inscribed 'NON / OMNIBVS COTIGIT / ADIRE CHORINTVM / D. M.' (lower right, on arch)
Provenance
Acquired in London by the mother of the present owner in the 1960s.

Lot Essay

This panoramic landscape is a significant addition to the oeuvre of Herman Posthumus, which was little known or studied until the re-discovery and subsequent acquisition by the Liechtenstein collection of another large landscape by the artist, in 1983 (fig. 1; Vaduz, Liechtenstein Collection, inv. no. GE740). This prompted new research on an artist previously known only for a few years of activity in Lower Bavaria in the service of William IV, and signalled the re-emergence of one of the most highly inventive Netherlandish landscape painters of the mid-sixteenth century.

Nicola Dacos’ article ‘Hermannus Posthumus. Rome, Mantua, Landshut’, published in The Burlington Magazine in 1985, helped place the Lichtenstein painting in this hitherto almost unknown painter’s artistic context, focussing on his formative years in Rome. This seminal article remains amongst the foremost scholarly works on the artist. Before this, Herman Posthumus was only known to have worked on the redecoration of the palace of William IV, Duke of Bavaria (1493-1550), between 1540 and 1542. The duke, a relative of the Gonzaga family, had embarked on an ambitious scheme of remodelling, transforming his Landshut Stadtresidenz with Italianate designs based on the Palazzo del Te in Mantua. Numerous documents from the building and decorative works refer to a ‘Master Herman’ who worked as the second highest paid painter on the project. He seems to have been engaged in producing a series of frescoes depicting the story of Arachne and Athena, drawn from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and also painted a Nativity with a predella depicting The Adoration of the Magi, for the palace chapel, which he signed in full. In these works, the painter showed the clear influence of Roman painters, notably Giulio Romano, whose frescoes decorated the Mantuan model for the duke’s residence.

The discovery of the painting now in the Liechtenstein collection, which is signed and dated ‘1536’, allowed for more details of Posthumus’ life and work to be reconstructed. That painting’s evident reliance on first-hand knowledge of ancient buildings, decorative friezes, and designs in Rome strongly indicated that the painter must, for a time, have been resident in that city before 1540, and was certainly there by 1536, when he completed and signed the Liechtenstein picture. Posthumus is believed to have accompanied the Emperor Charles V during the Conquest of Tunis in 1535. The following year, he was likely the ‘Maestro Ermanno’ mentioned in account books for the preparation of the decorations of the Emperor’s triumphal entry into Rome on 5 April. Posthumous’ residence in the city, as part of the small community of Northern artists working there, is further evidenced by the graffitied signatures on the walls of the famous grottoes beneath Nero’s Domus Aurea; grouped together and written in the same hand, the signatures 'HEMSKERC' [Maarten van Heemskerk], 'HER. POSTMA' [Herman Postma, Latinised to Posthumus] and 'LAM AMSTER’ [Lambert of Amsterdam, called Sustris] record his presence in the city with his fellow countrymen.

This large archaeological fantasy can also be dated to the artist’s formative years in Rome, when he was making use of the architectural designs and ornamentation he had studied there. At the left of the picture, the painter has carefully integrated the Pantheon into his fictive view of a capriccio harbour, filled with imaginary ships. The arched ruins at the foot of the mountain on the far side of the waterfront seem to have been adapted from Rome’s Severan Arcades, which were recorded in several drawings, formerly attributed to Marten van Heemskerk, though now attributed to a follower. With the publication of the Liechtenstein picture, several of these drawings were tentatively reattributed to Posthumus. This paintingnot only demonstrates his ability to render carefully observed details of architecture and Classical ornament, but also his extraordinary powers of invention. Rather than attempting to replicate exactly the details of the ruins and buildings he saw, he seems instead to have been more interested in the ‘depiction of monuments marked by the passage of time…[he] took his inspiration from buildings he must have seen…which he himself ‘ruined’ in the process of drawing’ (N. Dacos’, ‘Hermannus Posthumus. Rome, Mantua, Landshut’, The Burlington Magazine, 127, 1985, pp. 433-34). The wide expanse of sky shows a storm approaching from the right across the sea, dispersing and endangering the many boats on the water below. This, perhaps, gives a visual parallel to the inscription on the fictive archway at the right of the painting. Taken from Horace, and based on a Greek proverb, this can be fully transcribed as ‘Non cuivis homini contingit adire Corinthum’ (‘It is not every man that can go to Corinth’) meaning that not all people possess the same opportunities (Horace, The Works of Horace translated into English Prose, D. Watson and W Crakelt, eds., London, 1792, II, p. 289).

The imagination, ambition and scale of this work bears a number of similarities to Maarten van Heemskerk’s Panoramic landscape with the Abduction of Helen painted in Rome in 1535 (fig. 2; Maryland, Walters Art Museum, acc. no. 37.656), which likewise makes use of carefully observed classical elements, combined in a strikingly inventive capriccio form. It has been proposed by Guy Bauman that Posthumus and van Heemskerk both trained in the workshop of Jan van Scorel (G. Bauman, in Liechtenstein: The Princely Collections, exhibition catalogue, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998, p. 251). The proximity in their Italian works, especially in the overall conception and monumentality of their landscapes, and the drawings circulated between the painters, suggests that they continued a close association during their time in Rome.
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