The interlaced monogram ‘DVL’ placed at the lower centre of this Arcadian landscape identifies the artist as the Hague painter and burgomaster Dirck van der Lisse,1 the most talented pupil of Cornelis van Poelenburch (c.1594/95-1667).2 His southern landscapes are so similar to those of his Utrecht master ‘that crafty art dealers still have no trouble cheating the gullible art lover’.3
Warm sunlight from the left illuminates this wooded landscape, where nude and semi-nude figures and their livestock are shown resting by a small body of water. The plants on the water’s surface suggest that this is not a river, but rather a pool or lake. A half-naked woman, with a deep blue cloak wrapped around her loins and a discarded white dress behind her, is seated on a rock in the foreground, where the painter has also added his monogram. She is addressing a young man leaning on
a stick, who turns towards her. He has draped his light-brown garment ‘all’antica’-style over one shoulder. In the left foreground a few cows and sheep have paused to drink. Bathed in a ray of light falling from behind a shadowy group of rocks and trees, a small nude figure descends towards the water. Several more figures and animals can be made out on the opposite shore. The living creatures, however, were clearly less important to the artist than the depiction of the sun-drenched landscape. Delicate brushstrokes suggest the leaves of the trees, whose contour lines appear to be repeated in some of the golden clouds lying low in the clear blue sky.
The panel is strongly reminiscent of the southern landscapes with bathing figures that Cornelis van Poelenburch made his trademark following his return from Italy in 1625. Arcadian landscape scenes – with figures sometimes recognisable as Diana and her nymphs – appear to have enjoyed great popularity, as Van Poelenburch’s followers also devoted themselves to the subject. Like many of Van Poelenburch’s paintings, this work by Van der Lisse seems not to take any story from classical mythology as its base.
Van der Lisse, who probably began his studies with Van Poelenburch around 1626, appears to have been particularly inspired by the latter’s early landscapes.4 It was apparently worthwhile to adopt his master’s elegant style, as at the time this was very much in favour with court circles at The Hague. Around 1635 Van der Lisse and Van Poelenburch, along with two other Utrecht painters, received a prestigious commission from stadholder Frederik Hendrik and his wife, Amalia van Solms, for a series of paintings destined for Amalia’s private apartments at Huis Honselaarsdijk.5 The series is comprised of scenes from the popular pastoral play Il pastor fido. Van der Lisse contributed a large multi-figure piece (fig. 1), and he also painted a Landscape with dancing herdsmen, one of the horizontal panels that made up part of the ensemble (fig. 2).6
Following his studies in Utrecht, in the second half of the 1630s
Van der Lisse alternated residence between The Hague and Utrecht. After a sojourn in Amsterdam in 1642-1644 he finally settled permanently in the city of his birth. There, he would fill a number of official posts: in the last ten years of his life he was appointed burgomaster several times. He nonetheless continued to paint. Although as mentioned above he executed a number of large figural works and even a few portraits, the idyllic landscape remained his speciality. Because Van der Lisse never dated his pictures it is very difficult to order his work chronologically.7 Dendrochronological research could perhaps provide an indication of the date of the Arcadian landscape shown here.