This is a typical monochrome seascape by the Haarlem painter Pieter Mulier the Elder: shipping on choppy waters under a vast clouded sky. His son, Pieter the Younger became an important marine painter in Italy.
Our picture is also a sharp political allegory: at left the Dutch ship proudly sails ahead in heavy weather, while at right the Spanish ship suffers from battering waves and strong winds. Eleven days after Mulier died Spain recognized an autonomous, independent Dutch Republic. Holland had fought during 80 years against the Spanish oppressor.
About Pieter Mulier I
Haarlem circa 1600/1615 – 1659 Haarlem
Pieter was born into a family of Flemish cloth-weavers, Protestant refugees who, as so many others, had come to Haarlem.
Until recently it was thought that he died in Haarlem in 1670, but apparently this was another person carrying the same name.
He specialised in seascapes with shipping on choppy waters under a vast, often clouded or misty sky.
Funny enough his artistic production can be divided into 2 types, those with and those without a small rowing boat with a fisherman pulling in his net on the foreground.
Nothing is known about Mulier’s artistic training. According to L.J. Bol he trained under Simon de Vlieger in Rotterdam.
His marine paintings with silver-grey and brown tonalities remind of Simon de Vlieger, Jan Porcellis, Jan van Goyen and of Abraham van Beyeren.
There are not that many details known about Pieter’s life.
He got married in 1635 and the couple had at least two children.
He entered the guild of Saint Luke in Haarlem in 1638.
Among his pupils ranks his son Pieter the younger and Frans de Hulst.
In 1647 he is recorded in Amsterdam, where he was a member of the Mennonite community.
Between 1652 and 1658 he is again recorded in Haarlem. He died in Haarlem in May 1659.
In the last years of his life he is known to have accumulated substantial personal debts as a result of excessive drinking.
He used 3 types of signature :
His son and pupil, Pieter Mulier the younger (1637 – 1701), nicknamed " Cavalier Pietro Tempesta", was a dramatic marine and landscape painter active in Italy, where he spent eight years in jail, in Genoa, accused of a murdering his own wife.
A political statement
In our painting the Dutch ship on the left is proudly sailing in heavy weather conditions, while the Spanish ship on the right, flying the Habsburg flags with the so-called “batons de Bourgogne”, is in trouble.
Our painting must therefore be seen as an allusion on the contemporary political situation in Mulier’s days. In 1648, eleven years before Mulier passed away, Spain was finally forced to accept the creation of a sovereign, independent Dutch Republic as Spain had lost a long, expensive war: the Eighty Years’ War.
The Burgundy cross (“Batons de Bourgogne”) was based on the wooden X-shaped cross where St. Andrew was crucified on.
At the origin it was the flag of Burgundy (including Flanders). Following the marriage in Ghent in 1477 of Mary of Burgundy with Maximilian of Austria it became a Habsburg and therefore Spanish flag up till 1785.
The design is made of two crossed, roughly knotted branches on a white field.
In 1785 Charles III of Spain decided to change this flag due to similarities with the English Cross of Saint George, a red cross on a white field.
As to the Dutch flags, the old Dutch flag, called the “Prince’s flag” (“Prinsenvlag” referring to William of Orange), consists of three horizontal bands of orange, white and blue. After the mid 17th century the original orange was changed into red, for the orange dye was unstable and tended to turn to red. This then became the flag of the Netherlands, which is still in use.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is not only a beautiful representation of shipping in heavy weather, with dancing waves and curling clouds, but also a unexpected political allegory: the proud Dutch vessel is heading undisturbed through the storm while the Spanish ship is clearly suffering from battering waves and strong winds.