León Krempel (Hg.): Frans Post (1612-1680). Maler des Verlorenen Paradieses, Petersberg: Michael Imhof Verlag 2006, 167 S., 50 Farb-, 40 s/w-Abb., ISBN 978-3-86568-116-4, EUR 39,95
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Mirjam Neumeister: Holländische Gemälde im Städel 1550-1800. Band 1: Künstler geboren bis 1615. Unter Mitarbeit von Christiane Haeseler bei den gemäldetechnologischen Untersuchungen, Petersberg: Michael Imhof Verlag 2005
In 1636 a young Dutch landscape painter named Frans Post sailed to Brazil in the retinue of German Count Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen, the new governor of Dutch Brazil, a Dutch West India Company colony. For twenty-four years, from 1630 to 1654, the Dutch occupied a large region of northeastern Brazil, at that time Brazil's most densely settled and economically rich area. In Recife and its neighbouring city of Mauritsstad, for seven years (1637-1644) Post worked alongside his fellow Dutch painter, Albert Eckhout, with each artist producing a remarkable body of images. Whereas Eckhout specialized in ethnographic imagery and natural history illustration, Post created paintings and drawings of the colonized, selectively exotic, landscape of Brazil. Returning to the Dutch Republic in 1644, Post specialized in Brazilian subjects, painting around 150 landscapes until his death in 1680. During his lifetime his work was displayed in the homes of wealthy and influential men in the Dutch Republic, although interest in the artist languished after his death and was revived only in the twentieth century. Although a mere seven paintings from Post's Brazilian period have survived (evidence suggests that there may have been as many as eighteen), today his work may be found in major museums in Europe, Brazil, and North America. As recently as June 2009, one of Post's paintings of a sugar mill from the 1660s sold for $1.7 million at Sotheby's, despite the global recession. Post is historically important as the first trained European artist to make paintings of the Brazilian landscape, although the popularity of his work is based on the idealized yet naturalistic appearance of his paintings, which are largely peaceful scenes filled with exotic animals, tropical vegetation, and human inhabitants, including slaves of African ancestry, Tupi and Tapuya (Tarairiu) Indians, and the occasional European.
In the last decade there has been a good deal of scholarly interest in Dutch Brazil because of the unique visual record its artists left behind; dissertations and books have been written on Eckhout and Post, and exhibitions that feature the work of both artists have been organized in the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, and Brazil. It is to one of these "Post Renaissance" publications that I now turn my attention: the catalogue for the 2006 exhibition at the Haus der Kunst in Munich. This catalogue is a fine place to begin one's exploration of Post's life and work, although only those who are multilingual will be able to fully appreciate the information presented here.
As part of the festivities surrounding the 2006 World Cup, Germany (the host) partnered with Brazil (a participant) to promote relations between the two countries by sponsoring a series of events and exhibitions in Germany, with "Frans Post (1612-1680): Maler des Verlorenen Paradieses" at the Haus der Kunst in Munich being one of them. This context helps explain the somewhat cobbled together theme of the show and its largely limited pretentions. In the exhibition title and preface to the catalogue by Haus der Kunst director Chris Dercon, Post is labelled a painter of "paradise lost", a tired and rather problematic description of his subject matter (as though paradise was somehow decorated with sugar plantations, obedient black slaves, colonized Indians and stuffed, mounted animals). Fortunately this theme is not emphasized in the rest of the catalogue. The exhibition and the catalogue that resulted from it are best described as a high end introduction to the artist. The exhibition clearly provided its target German public with the opportunity to see some of the finest, most celebrated, paintings by the artist, including ones from major European museums as well as examples drawn from less accessible private collections in Brazil.
The catalogue is aimed at a diverse linguistic audience, with essays and entries in German, Dutch, English, and Portuguese; full translations in English, German and Portuguese are nonetheless provided only for the catalogue entries. Otherwise, succinct but adequate summaries of the essays are given in English, German and/or Portuguese. The catalogue features high quality colour reproductions of the twenty-eight paintings and drawings by Post from the exhibition, which included some very fine examples of his work, from the recently discovered and quite beautiful Frederikstad in Paraiba (1638) to the unique city view Mauritsstad and Recife (1653). In general, however, the emphasis is on works from the 1640s and 1650s, created in the first decade after Post returned from his Brazilian adventure. Works from this period, generally thought to demonstrate Post at his most original and accomplished, are more highly valued than his later work, in which he starts to repeat compositions and motifs.
A series of six short essays in the volume includes Marcos Galindo's "Time of the Good Peace and the Sugar War" (in Portuguese), which provides historical context for the creation of Dutch Brazil; "Frans Post's career and posthumous reputation" (in Portuguese) by Bia and Pedro Corrêa do Lago; and León Krempel's overview of Post's work, "Biographical and stylistic notes on Frans Post" (in German), which addresses both Post's paintings and his earliest drawings (landverkenningen) with an emphasis on style, materials, and techniques. This essay, along with Krempel's catalogue entries (addressed below), forms the art historical meat of the catalogue, although there is surprisingly little discussion of iconography in the volume as a whole. The final three essays include Nederveen Meerkerk's "Cultural and historical perspective on architecture in the works of Frans Post" (in Dutch), which pays very little attention to the appearance and content of Post's paintings, but rather offers a detailed discussion of the locations (cities and forts) he paints, their historical significance, and the built environment more generally (including types of architecture, both religious and secular, that appear in Post's works). Dante Martins Teixeira's "Nature in Frans Post's paintings of the New World" (in English) is a thorough investigation and identification of plants and animals in Post's works, which he compares and contrasts with similar imagery in Albert Eckhout's paintings and the corpus of natural history drawings preserved from Dutch Brazil, and now in the collection of the Jagiellonian Library in Krakow, Poland. The final essay by Elke Bujok, "Soldiers of Fortune and Travellers for Research 1500-1900, Bavaria and Brazil" (in German), essentially provides historical background for the German-Brazilian association of 2006, beginning in the early 16th century with an Augsburg broadsheet announcing the peoples and islands recently discovered by the Portuguese (generally associated with the Tupinamba of Brazil as described in Vespucci's Mundus Novus), to the extraordinary career of 19th century Bavarian princess Therese von Bayern, who not only travelled to Brazil and throughout the Americas, but collected objects of material culture associated with a variety of indigenous groups (now in the Bavarian State Museum for Ethnology in Munich), and wrote about her travels.
The second half of the catalogue is devoted to fine full-page colour reproductions of all the paintings and drawings included in the show and Krempel's short descriptive entries for each. Krempel is a scholar of seventeenth century Dutch art, not a Post specialist, but this work demonstrates that he is an intelligent and careful scholar who has clearly immersed himself in the literature. As such he is able to make original contributions based on his own observations. For example, catalogue number 3, Brazilian Village, was previously thought to represent a plantation and quarters for slaves. Krempel convincingly argues that the painting instead features a village of colonized Tupinamba.
Although some of the content in the essays included here (particularly with respect to biographical details and discussion of Post's stylistic development), have been superseded by the more detailed discussions of these subjects in Pedro and Bia Corrêo do Lago's Frans Post (1612-1680). Catalogue Raisonné 2nd ed. (2007; the first edition was published in Portuguese in 2006), this catalogue still stands on its own as a valuable work and addition to the scholarship.
Rebecca Parker Brienen