Matthias Withoos  - Capriccio of the Forum, Rome, with the Arch of Constantine and the Coliseum in the Background
Capriccio of the Forum, Rome, with the Arch of Constantine and the Coliseum in the Background
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Matthias Withoos (Amersfoort 1627 - Hoorn 1703)

Withhoos was a Dutch still life and cityscape painter, best-known for the details of insects, reptiles and undergrowth in the foreground of his pictures.

Withoos studied under Jacob van Campen, at his painters' school just outside the city at his country house, and then with Otto Marseus van Schrieck. When he was 21, Withoos made a trip to Rome with Van Schrieck, and Willem van Aelst. There they joined the group of northern artists known as the "Bentvueghels" ("Birds of a feather"), and Withoos went by the alias "Calzetta Bianca" ("White Hose")—a translation of his name into Italian. Withoos' work caught the eye of the cardinal Leopoldo de Medici, who commissioned various paintings from him. By 1653 Withoos had returned to Amersfoort, but when the French troops occupied the town in during in the "Disastrous Year" of 1672, Withoos fled to Hoorn, where he would remain until his death in 1703.

Withoos is best known for his still-lifes. These often depict the base of a tree trunk with a longer view of a sand-dune or hilly landscape and show small animals, reptiles and insects among thistles and other plants. The plants and wildlife are painstakingly depicted, often in strongly differentiated areas of light and shade. Some of his works, such as the Vanitas in a Graveyard (Stockholm, Eric Vaaeur, Private Collection), which shows a ruined graveyard with a pyramid and Classical urns, have vanitas connotations. In the foreground is an arrangement of vanitas symbols such as skulls, a globe, a book and an hour-glass. Withoos used cool colours, which contributes to the mysterious atmosphere and recalls the sfumato technique of 16th-century Venetians. The painting is probably indebted to Salvator Rosa’s Democritus (Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst), which was exhibited in the Pantheon in Rome in 1651 and known either directly, or through a print, by Withoos. Withoos also painted views of Dutch ports (e.g. Grashaven near Hoorn, 1675; Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum).

Five of Matthias Withoos’s children were also painters: Johannes Withoos (b Amersfoort, 1648; d Hoorn, 1685) painted landscapes; Pieter Withoos (b Amersfoort, 1654; d Amsterdam, 1693) and Frans Withoos (b Amersfoort, 1657; d Hoorn, 1705) specialized in watercolours of insects and flowers; Alida Withoos (b Amersfoort, 1659 or 1660; d Hoorn, after 1715) painted still-lifes and landscapes; Maria Withoos was principally a watercolour painter.

Withoos is represented in the following collections: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, amongst others.