Dutch Ships at Anchor off a Fortified Scandinavian Town

In this Scandinavian scene the artist has effectively merged two pictorial genres: landscape and seascape. To the left a bay, with three Dutch ships at anchor, opens towards the horizon under a lightly clouded sky. On the right, wooded rocks rise towards a town on top of a hill. The landscape consists of hills and steep valleys dotted with coniferous trees leading down to a rocky foreshore. Between the coniferous trees, a waterfall rushes down a ravine and under a rough wooden bridge towards the beach. On the foreshore fishermen, who have pulled their pinks up on the sand, are selling their catch to the crowd which has gathered to meet them. On the far right a gentleman, his wife, child and maid are haggling with a fisherman over the purchase of a fish. Other fishermen and women are carrying nets, baskets of fish or sitting in their boats. Several figures and a heavily laden donkey are crossing the bridge above. They are possibly on their way back from the beach. In the foreground, on the left, a man with his back to the viewer is looking out to sea. Next to him, a dog sits looking back to face the viewer. Wild goats appear perched on the rocks, in the foreground, as well as, in the distance, below the town.

In this work Willaerts brings natural forms, narrative and the genre element of his coastal scenes, for which he was particularly celebrated, into particular focus. The descriptive realism in his depiction of the trees, rocks and figures is clearly intended to attract and hold the viewer’s attention, just as the theorist Karel van Mander had advocated in his didactic poem of 1604, 'Den Grondt der Edel vrij Schilder-const'. Therefore the Dutch vessels are mostly a pictorial acknowledgement of the likely collector of such paintings – a wealthy Dutch burgher potentially involved in the Baltic trade or with a taste for foreign settings.

The imaginary Scandinavian scenery is based on the compilation of carefully studied natural elements which the contemporary spectator would have understood as either exotic or foreign simply by their non-Dutch character and without any demand on topographical accuracy. The trees and rocks but, also, the buildings are based on (or are variations of ) drawings by Roeland Savery. Willaerts had access to Savery's drawings as a result of their close mutual acquaintance after 1614. Savery worked at the Bohemian Court in Prague from 1603 to 1613. From there he brought back drawings to Utrecht. The drawings depicted villages, local costumes, landscapes as well as Prague castle. Willaerts included views of the castle in many of his pictures. Here, the town, in the background, corresponds to the copy of a drawing by Savery in Vienna.

Adam Willaerts was born in London in 1577. He is recorded in Leiden in 1585, in Amsterdam in 1589 and settled in Utrecht in 1597. In Utrecht he was involved in the founding of the local Guild of St Luke and remained closely associated with its management, frequently serving as its deacon. He had a number of apprentices and three of his own children, including Abraham, became painters as well. He occasionally collaborated with the still-life artist, Willem Ormea. Willaerts, renowned for his lively coastal scenes and his sea storms, presented a painting of a Storm at Sea to the Hiobsgasthuis (Hospital of Job) in Utrecht, in 1628. He was buried in Utrecht in 1664. The painting is signed and dated 1625 'A Willarts f. 1625'.

Object Details

ID: BHC0803
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Willaerts, Adam
Date made: 1625
Exhibition: Turmoil and Tranquillity
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Palmer Collection. Acquired with the assistance of H.M. Treasury, the Caird Fund, the Art Fund, the Pilgrim Trust and the Society for Nautical Research Macpherson Fund.
Measurements: Painting: 635 mm x 1016 mm; Frame: 780 mm x 1170 mm x 70 mm

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