Oil on copper
10 x 14 inches (25.4 x 35.6 cm)
Signed: HS 1663
Private Collection, Germany
Private Collection, USA
Herman Saftleven is best known for his landscapes, which he devoted himself to for most of hs life. Saftleven probably first studied with his older, highly accomplished brother, Cornelis. He moved to Utrecht in 1632, and remained there for the rest of his life, except for one trip along the Rhine and the Moselle to Basel. Saftleven married the daughter of the architectural painter, Hendrick van Vliet. The artist was active in the Utrecht guild of painters, serving as “overman” in the years 1655, 1656, and 1665, and as Dean in 1657, 1658, 1666, and 1667.
Saftleven’s early landscapes relate to the works of Jan van Goyen, Abraham Bloemart, and Pieter Molijn. These landscapes were often small in size and usually included mountainous hills and rivers with peasants and villages. Toward the 1650s, Saftleven became more interesting; his paintings began to reflect a diverse interpretation of nature, with Rheinland views, which, although imagined, were indeed topographically accurat,e with both hilly and rocky landscapes. Saftleven greatly influenced Jan Vollerdt, Christian Georg Schutz, and Jan Griffier, who even copied some of his compositions.
At the time of his collaboration with his brother Cornelis in the mid 1630s, he primarily produced depictions of rustic barn interiors; his genre paintings bear a resemblance to works by Pieter de Bloot, Frans Rijckhals, and Hendrick Sorgh. At the end of the 1630s, Saftleven began to produce Italianate landscapes in the manner of Cornelius Poelenburg, with whom he also collaborated.
By 1645, however, Saftleven abandoned Italiante subjects in favor of native Dutch landscapes inspired by a visit in 1644 to the province of Gelderland. After 1650, he concentrated on imaginary Rhineland panoramas of accurate hilly and rocky landscapes peopled with tiny figures that reflect the influence of Roelandt Savery.
Our painting, A Rhenish Landscape. is a charming example of these imaginary Rhineland landscapes that made Saftleven one of the best-known Dutch artists during his lifetime. In the foreground, Saftleven portrays a quaint village at the base of prominent, rocky hills. The rutted dirt road that winds through the center of the village provides a central axis that draws attention to the hills in the background. Thatched, rustic houses line the road, along which numerous figures, dwarfed by the surrounding landscape, move about the business of daily life: tending fields, making barrels, and conversing. A large inn and a spindly tree that grows beside it frame the right foreground. Its many patrons rest, nap, and bathe beneath the shade cast by the inn and the eaves of its open porch. Behind the bustling village, dense foliage provides a transition to steep outcroppings of rock. At the upper right, sunshine emanates behind clouds in rays of rose, orange, and gold that extend to the surrounding clouds. Against the clouds, the hills are violet in color, creating depth in the composition by providing a contrast with the earth toned palette of the foreground. Though the landscape is imaginary, the depiction of the village and its inhabitants is highly detailed, imparting the impression that the artist is depicting an actual existing view.