Lucas van Valckenborch A Panoramic Mountain Landscape, with a City, possibly Frankfurt, beyond
A Panoramic Mountain Landscape, with a City, possibly Frankfurt, beyond
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Lucas van Valckenborch ( Leuven c.1530 - Frankfurt am Main 1597 )

On 26 August 1560 Van Valckenborch joined the painters’ guild in Mechelen, and Jaspar van der Linden is subsequently recorded as his pupil on 30 August 1564. Van Valckenborch later married and had a son, Marten van Valckenborch II (1566 - Vienna, 1597), also a painter, before fleeing to Liège in 1566 and then to Aachen, where his brother Marten I had settled. In 1574-5 he returned to Antwerp and, in 1579, became court painter to the Habsburg archduke, Matthias, governor of the Spanish Netherlands in Brussels from 1577 to 1582 and later Emperor (reg 1612–19). In or after 1582 he followed Matthias to Linz, finally rejoining his relatives in Frankfurt in 1592–3.

In his art Van Valckenborch was close to Pieter Bruegel the elder. His art drew on the same Flemish tradition, modifying it in a highly personal way, without recourse to then current Mannerist tendencies. Although he did not have Bruegel’s skill, he never lapsed into mediocrity, and thematically his work is more varied than was formerly supposed. While his most significant achievements are undoubtedly his landscape paintings, he also made an interesting contribution to late 16th-century portraiture and subject painting, the latter with his large-scale allegories of seasonal labours. His works, many of which bear his monogram LVV and the date (with the L placed under the two Vs until 1570 and above them thereafter), always show solid craftsmanship and sometimes a brilliant technique. Unlike that of Marten I, his style did not change significantly. Judging from the relatively large number of paintings dating from his last years, he probably had a flourishing workshop, which may have included other, as yet unidentified family members. About 100 oil paintings and c.10 drawings by the artist are known.

Van Valckenborch adhered to the old conventions of composition, depicting panoramic scenes from a high viewpoint but, more than his predecessors, basing his work on first-hand observation of nature. He often mixed invention with genuine topography, as in the Spring Landscape with the Palais Royal of Brussels (1587, Vienna), in which the palace has been transplanted into a fantasy landscape. This mixture of realism and fantasy is quite distinct from the Mannerist tradition, being a blend of imaginary landscapes based on earlier prototypes (for example the landscapes of Jan and Cornelis Massys, Mathijs Cock and Lucas Gassel) with the naturalistic depiction of real places, the resulting ‘hybrid’ often being embellished with narrative details taken from everyday life. This free approach to topographical accuracy undermines attempts to localize his views and explains why, for instance, none of the many furnaces and forges that Lucas painted in expertly observed detail has ever been identified.

His preference was for rocky landscapes into which he would set these ironworks or small religious or peasant scenes. Fairs and rustic entertainments were another favourite feature, as in the Mountain Landscape with Peasants Dancing and a Furnace in the Background (1577, St Petersburg, Hermitage), or the two versions of the Landscape with a Peasant Wedding and Dance (both 1574, Copenhagen).

In the mid-1580s Van Valckenborch painted a series of large pictures showing the labours of the months, probably for Archduke Matthias. These compositions, of which seven survive, present the traditional activities in an apparently realistic setting and thus are also of documentary interest. In this they differ from earlier Flemish examples and from the work of Pieter Bruegel the elder, who otherwise provided him with an influential model. The careful brushwork, always technically correct, is never dry or monotonous in effect. Fore-, middle- and background are not divided in a mannered or schematic way but blend delicately in a soft triad of brown, green and blue hues, often with a sensitively calculated touch of colour, such as a piece of red clothing, accentuating the foreground.

Van Valckenborch also painted close-up views of forest landscapes, a subject that reached its apogee c. 1600 in the work of such painters as Gillis van Coninxloo III and Jan Breughel I. Van Valckenborch produced striking and original compositions, such as Cattle Pasture under Trees (1573, Frankfurt), and Angler at a Woodland Pool (1590, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum), but did not pursue the form further.

Valckenborch is represented in the following collections: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; Louvre, Paris; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Städel Museum, Frankfurt; Brukenthal Museum, Sibiu; Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, amongst others.