Nymphs bathing
Nymphs bathing

Nymphs bathing

Dirck van der Lisse
1607 – The Hague – 1669
Diana Discovering the Pregnancy of Callisto
Oil on panel (oak) 42.3 x 69.5 cm
Signed with ligated monogram bottom left: “DL”

Provenance
Sale, Vienna (Dorotheum), 24 March 2018, lot 284

Description
Diana, the goddess of the Hunt, is seated with her back to the viewer on her white
chemise and a red drapery. She is surrounded by her retinue of nymphs. The harvest of
hours of hunting is lying near her, along with hunting gear. More nymphs bath on the
other side of the brook. It is a sunny day and the sky is azure blue.
Van der Lisse’s entire oeuvre betrays a debt to Cornelis van Poelenburch (1594-1667)
and his stamp is also clearly visible in our work. We even see a quotation from
Poelenburch’s works, such as the figure of Diana.1 Van der Lisse generally took his cue from his master’s early style.2 And he emulated his former teacher by adding a higher
degree of sophistication to the staffage figures. The present work is a good example of
the type of refined cabinet-sized pictures Van der Lisse excelled in and that were so
popular.

Although the figures enlivening his landscapes are invariably quite small they don’t
take the backseat but are just as important as the setting. Just like his tutor, Van der
Lisse had a strong preference for bucolic and mythological figures as well as
protagonists from historic or literary tales. As is the case here, many of his scenes are
composed on panels with a stretched panoramic format, enabling him to show varied
scenery.

The theme of Diana bathing with her nymphs is without a doubt Van der Lisse’s most
favourite. Van der Lisse often depicted the story told among others by Ovid in his  Metamorphoses of the hunter Acteaon who accidentally discovered the naked Diana and
her female companions as they were bathing on Mount Cithaeron. To punish him she
transformed him into a stag and next he was pursued and killed by his fifty hounds.
There is no Actaeon to be discerned in our painting but it does seem the artist is
implicitly referring to this widely known and often-depicted tale by putting the viewer
in the role of voyeur and making him an Actaeon. Numerous related scenes with
sleeping nymphs also feature a satyr or shepherd secretly admiring them. The very act
of peeping at female nudes is quite regularly a key element in such paintings by Van der
Lisse.

On closer inspection it emerges that Van der Lisse is staging another story here. One of
the nymphs on the opposite bank gets special attention from the others and she tries in
vain to cover her belly with a piece of cloth. One nymph rushes across the stream
towards Diana, as if she has an urgent message. The story as related, again, by Ovid of
the nymph Callisto who was seduced by Jupiter in the guise of Diana, became pregnant
and was expelled by the enraged Diana, since she only allowed virgins as her
companions, was popular in art and was treated a number of times by Van der Lisse.3
The moral lesson conveyed by the depiction of the stories of Actaeon and Callisto were
the same, as Eric Jan Sluijter points out: ‘They were examples of youths who
succumbed to the temptations of the senses and consequently were ruined’. Both
Actaeon and Callisto fell in disgrace.4 The former because he allowed his eyes to see
Diana naked, the latter because she foolishly allowed her Jupiter to deceive her.

As no dated works by Van der Lisse have come down to us, his stylistic development
cannot be sketched in detail. Possibly, as with his teacher Poelenburch, his style did not
undergo marked changes. All this makes dating the present work arduous if not
impossible. Given the finely balanced composition and the superb treatment of the
nudes our painting will not be a juvenile work, but more likely mature production.
Another clue in dating our painting is the distinct influence of Jan Both (1618-22-1652),
who had returned to Utrecht around 1642. Reminiscent of Both for instance is the clump
of trees closing off the scene at the left, especially the light playing on the tree trunks,
the hazy atmosphere in the distance and the waterfalls. All this seems to plead in favour
of a dating from the beginning of the 1640s onwards.

Dirck van der Lisse is arguably Cornelis van Poelenburch’s most gifted pupil. He was
born as the youngest son of Abraham Claesz van der Lisse.5 In 1625 he had his
testament drafted, possibly because he was planning to travel abroad. The following year, however, we find him in Utrecht, no doubt to train with Poelenburgh who had just
returned from Italy. In 1635 a group of artists, Van der Lisse among them, received a
prestigious commission from the court to paint a series of works to decorate a room of
Amalia van Solms in Palace Honselaarsdijk. In the second half of the 1630s Van der
Lisse divided his time between Utrecht and The Hague. In 1639 he married a noble
woman, Anna Petronella van der Houve, Lady of Campen, Geersdijke and Wissekerke.
In 1642 the family settled in Amsterdam. By 1644 Van der Lisse was back in The
Hague and here registered with the Guild of Saint Luke. Two years after his first wife
had died, Dirck married Maria Both. He was highly respected in artistic circles,
fulfilling leading positions within the guild, and from 1659 repeatedly served as a
burgomaster in The Hague. All this time, he continued to paint. He died a wealthy man
owning a collection of about 100 paintings.

Notes
1 A similar composition by Poelenburch of the same theme in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg shows Diana similarly seen on her back although the pose is not exactly the same, see: N. Sluijter-Seijffert, Cornelis van Poelenburch 1594/5-1667: the paintings, [Amsterdam] 2016, pp. 131, 331, no. 119, ill.
2 Especially from works Poelenburch made when he had just returned from Italy, as remarked by Albert Blankert, see: A. Blankert, Nederlandse 17e eeuwse italianiserende landschapschilders, exh. cat. Utrecht (Centraal Museum) 1965, p. 108.
3 A version by his own hand is even listed in Van der Lisse’s own estate. See: B. Broos, Liefde, list & lijden: historiestukken in het Mauritshuis, The Hague 1993, p. 198.
4 See: E.J. Sluijter, ‘Depiction of Mythological Themes’, in A. Blankert et al., Gods, saints and heroes: Dutch painting in the age of Rembrandt, exh. cat. Washington (National Gallery of Art), Detroit (Detroit Institute of Art) and Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum) 1980, p. 58. See also Sluijter’s discussion of these two themes in: E.J. Sluijter, ‘Over prestige, wedijver, erotiek en moraal: mythologie en naakt in de Hollandse schilderkunst van de 16de en 17de eeuw’, in: P. Schoon & S. Paarlberg (eds.), Griekse goden en helden in de tijd van Rubens en Rembrandt, exh. cat. Athens (National Pinakothek), Dordrecht (Dordrechts Museum) 2000-01, pp. 45-49.
5 For a detailed account of Van der Lisse’s life and career, see: E. Buijsen (ed.), Haagse schilders in de Gouden Eeuw: Het Hoogsteder Lexikon van alle schilders werkzaam in Den Haag 1600-1700, Zwolle 1998, pp. 194-199, 325.