Northern Nocturnes: Nightscapes in the Age of Rembrandt

Adam Elsheimer, 'The Flight into Egypt', 1609. (from Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek, Munich)

Northern Nocturnes: Nightscapes in the Age of Rembrandt.
1st October – 11th December 2005

Millennium Wing

The most celebrated nocturnal landscapes in northern European art - three paintings by Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens and Adam Elsheimer - were united for the first time in this unique show of some 50 paintings, drawings and prints drawn from public and private collections in Europe and the United States.

Adam Elsheimer's mesmerising Flight into Egypt, 1609 (Alte Pinakothek, Munich) became the most influential night landscape of the seventeenth century. Rubens, a personal friend and great admirer of Elsheimer paid homage to him by making a version of the same subject in 1614 (Staatliche Museen, Kassel), in which he based the nocturnal effects on Elsheimer's picture. Rembrandt also was inspired by Elsheimer's composition when he painted his Rest on the Flight into Egypt, 1647 (National Gallery of Ireland), generally considered the finest nightscape in the art of the Low Countries.

The exhibition demonstrated how the nightscape developed from a backdrop of biblical subjects to a genre in its own right. These secular nocturnes reached the peak of their popularity in the middle of seventeenth-century Holland in the works of Nicolas Berchem, Aelbert Cuyp, Jan van Goyen and Jacob van Ruisdael.
Adriaan Waiboer, curator of the show and author of the accompanying catalogue, said that nightscapes were primarily painted by artists interested in rendering various light effects in the dark, such as the moon, stars, comets, open fires, torches and lanterns. In fact, contrary to what one might expect, nightscapes are all about light. Many Dutch and Flemish artists known for daytime scenes, such as the winter landscape painter Hendrick Avercamp, took up the occasional challenge of painting a landscape or cityscape by moon or twilight. Among the few and most accomplished specialists in the field of nightscapes was Aert van der Neer.

Exhibition Catalogue:
Northern Nocturnes: Nightscapes in the Age of Rembrandt
© 2005 National Gallery of Ireland and the Authors
Editors Fionnuala Croke and Adriaan Waiboer
ISBN 1-904288-13-8