Withoos is best-known for his so-called Nature Pieces, an attractive mix of prickly plants and colourful flowers hiding insects and other animals: here a kingfisher, butterflies, lizards and a troad.
About Mathias Withoos
Amersfoort 1627 – 1703 Hoorn
Although in his fully signed paintings he spelled his first name "Mathias", some writers today also spell it as "Matthias".
Important, but rare painter of so-called "Nature Pieces": a small and bizarre micro-cosmos set against an often Italianate landscape background.
These forest floors represent a mysterious dark close-up of the shadowy undergrowth of forest floors, giving detailed views of wild flowers, weeds, thistles and mushrooms, animated by butterflies, insects, reptiles and snakes.
This subject was invented by Otto Marseus van Schrieck (Nijmegen 1619/20 – 1678 Amsterdam).
Withoos also painted topographical views, harbours and portraits.
He was a pupil of Jacob van Campen (during 6 years at his school for painters at Randenbroeck, his country estate near Amersfoort) and of Otto Marseus van Schrieck.
He was made a master of the Amerfoort Guild of Saint Luke in 1647.
In 1648 he went to Italy with van Schrieck and with Willem van Aelst.
In Rome Withoos became a member of the Schildersbent, an association of Northern painters, mostly Dutch and Flemish, notorious for its bacchic rituals and opposition to the Roman Accademia di San Luca.
His "Bentname" was "Calzetta Bianca". This did not refer to the painter’s “white socks”, but it was the translation of his name in Italian.
While in Italy his noble patrons included Cardinal Leopoldo de' Medici.
He appears to have worked in Florence as well.
By 1653 Withoos had returned to Amersfoort.
In 1655, together with Jacob van Campen and Paulus Bor, he made an inventory of the highly important collection of Thomas Howard, count of Arundel, whose widow had died in Amersfoort.
End of November 1671 he sold a huge view of Amersfoort to the Town Council of Amersfoort for 200 silver ducats. This painting has since then hung in the town hall. Although the Town Council probably did not commission the canvas, such a large cityscape was most likely intended for a government building. Since Withoos himself had a seat on the Town Council in 1671 (actually from 1665 until 1672), he could have executed the painting with the assurance that he would be able to sell it to the Municipality.
When the French occupied the town of Amersfoort in 1672, he moved to Hoorn, where he died in 1703.
He was the teacher of the highly important vedute painter Gaspar van Wittel (called Gaspare Vanvitelli, Amersfoort 1652/53 – 1736 Rome).
He also thought five of his own children: his sons Jan (or Johannes), Pieter and Frans, but also his daughters Alida and Maria. All five specialised in making watercolours of plants and animals. There are also a few paintings known by them, showing a softer and more decorative way of painting, typical already of the 18th century.
Arnold Houbraken, himself a painter, published between 1718 and 1721 3 volumes of his reference work describing the lives of a large number of the painters of the previous century, called "De Grote Schouburgh der Nederlandsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen".
Like his model, Karel van Mander, who had published his "Lives …" more than a hundred years previously (1604), Houbraken devotes a lot of attention to their character traits, which he illustrates with colourful anecdotes.
Houbraken describes Withoos as a gentle, good-natured man, working day and night. Although very successful in Rome, he became homesick and went back to Amersfoort. He enjoyed a flourishing career, but he suffered from ill health in his later years, being unable to work for three or more months a year due to gout.
About Nature Pieces
Mathias Withoos' forest floors are clearly influenced by Otto Marseus van Schrieck, the inventor of this new genre of painting.
Around 1650, the empirical investigation into the behaviour and physiology of snakes, toads, lizards, chameleons, hedgehogs, etc. is detectable on a pan-European scale.
Animals were either collected and housed in jars, or observed in their native or in specially designed and enclosed habitats.
Otto Marseus van Schrieck, who had married a wealthy man's daughter in 1664, had a small estate outside Amsterdam, where he bred snakes and other animals. In Rome his "Bentname" had been "Snuffelaar", the "Snuffler" because of his habit of roaming the countryside in search of plants, lizards and other animals.
Many important Dutch artists from the 2nd half of the 17th century painted the same subjects and were equally influenced by Otto Marseus van Schrieck, such as Rachel Ruysch, Abraham Begeyn, Willem van Aelst, Elias van den Broeck, Abraham Mignon, Melchior de Hondecoeter and Nicolaes Lachtropius.
Often they show plants and animals that normally are not encountered together, some of them having their habitat in Italy, others in Holland.
About our painting
Mathias Withoos was a special painter:
- in the choice of his subjects. I know of no other 17th century artist who painted for example an otter (in the Guernsey Museum) or drugged birds (in the painting formerly with Galerie Coatalem): apparently the birds were given special berries so that they could easily be caught;
- in the use of a strong colour palette. I have often admired the painting with the drugged birds; no other painter before the end of the 19th century ever used such a daring colours.
In our painting Withoos has chosen for an Italianate landscape with a beautiful kingfisher set against the strong light of dusk, Mediterranean flowers among which a few butterflies, and in the lower part thistles and prickly plants with mushrooms and two lizards and a toad.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is such beautiful, sensitive, colourful, peculiar painting holding three aspects of a complex Italianate landscape:
- a hilly landscape with a kingfisher,
- flowering plants with butterflies,
- a forest floor with mushrooms, two lizards and a toad.