Withoos is best-known for his so-called Nature Pieces, an attractive mix of prickly plants and colourful flowers hiding insects and other animals. He got inspred for this type of paintings during his stay in Rome with Otto Marseus van Schrieck and Willem van Aelst around the middle of the 17th century.
This painting is a summary of Rome and its surrounding province with monks and hunters among ancient Roman ruins.
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 "Calzetti" or "La Calzetta Bianca", referring to his white socks.
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 our painting
This is a highly interesting view inspired by monuments of Rome and of the surrounding Roman Campagna. The staffage combines hunters, resting in the foreground or hunting a deer at right, with monks, praying or discussing.
In the foreground one sees sarcophagi scattered around, while the background is inspired by the Coliseum (the central hallway in our painting) and the Great Baths of the Villa Adriana in Tivoli at left. In the right background are remains of the Claudian Aqueduct, in the centre the Alban hills.
The general sense of details is typical of Withoos, especially in the plants depicted in the foreground.
Withoos often included Vanitas symbols in his paintings: here he opposed the decay of ancient Roman monuments, contemporary hunters and timeless monks in one painting.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is a great view of Rome and of its surroundings, which Withoos visited around the middle of the 17th century.
Because one travels into three different periods in this painting: ancient Rome with its ruins, eternal Christian Rome with its monks and Withoos’ contemporary Rome with the hunters.