Cornelis van Poelenburch The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence
The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence
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Cornelis van Poelenburch ( Utrecht 1595 - Utrecht 1667 )

Poelenburch trained in Utrecht under Abraham Bloemaert, but it was his lengthy visit to Italy as a young man that was to have the most dramatic impact on his art. He was in Italy from 1617 to 1625, mostly in Rome, although between 1618 and 1621 he worked Cosimo II de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1590-1621) in Florence. During this period he absorbed a vast range of influences, from the antique and the Italian Renaissance, which have already been discussed, to the work of artists such as Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610) and Paul Bril (1554-1626), fellow Northern artists whose time in Rome also transformed their work. Whilst in Rome he also became a founding member of the Bentvueghels or Schildersbent, a famous society of mostly Dutch and Flemish artists who were active in that city for about a century from 1620 onwards.

Poelenburch returned to Utrecht in 1626, and quickly became one of the region’s leading artists, securing a commission to paint a picture for the Princess Amalia van Solm (1602-1675), which was to be gifted to her by the States of Utrecht. This commission, and the resultant status it granted him, allowed Poelenburch to develop a large studio of assistants, and he soon found great success and popularity.⁸ His religious and mythological scenes were avidly sought after by both courtly patrons and private collectors in Utrecht and beyond. In 1638 Poelenburch was invited to England to work as a court artist for Charles I (1600-1649), in whose employ he remained for four years. This reflects the fact that during his lifetime Poelenburch was one of the few Dutch Golden Age painters to achieve international renown.

Poelenburch’s small, highly refined paintings usually had a biblical or mythological subject, set within a landscape, and often with nude figures. His work combines a masterly control of the soft light of the Campagna, with the energetic figures, inspired by ancient sculptures and the artists of the Italian Renaissance.