4. Jan de Bisschop

Amsterdam 1628 – 1671 The Hague

View of Amersfoort

Frits Lugt must have had a lifelong weakness for the carefully washed drawings by the Dutch lawyer and amateur draughtsman Jan de Bisschop, also known under his Latinized name, Johannes Episcopius. Over the years he collected more than 30 drawings, including Italian Landscape with the Church of San Giorgio in Rome, which was one of his earliest acquisitions.1 The present sheet is definitely the most spontaneous and experimental of the examples in the Fondation Custodia, drawn with quick, easy strokes of the pen and brush. There is no underdrawing in black chalk here, which is the case in most of De Bisschop’s drawings. It almost seems as if the artist applied the wash at random, creating an image that verges on the abstract.

Thanks to the autograph inscription on the verso of the drawing, we can identify the city of Amersfoort, seen from the southwest. Visible at the centre, piercing the low horizon, is the tower of the church of the Virgin (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk), also referred to as “Lange Jan” (“Tall John”). At 98 metres, the building is the third highest tower in the Netherlands and soars above the city. The church was destroyed by a gunpowder explosion in 1787, but the tower remained undamaged and still exists today. A second tower, probably that of the church of St. George (Sint-Joriskerk), is visible to the left. Other lower buildings in the city are blocked from De Bisschop’s view by the Amersfoortse Berg, undulating from right to left. This hill is part of the Utrechtse Heuvelrug, a ridge of low sandhills stretching from southeast to northwest over the provinces of Utrecht and North Holland.

Throughout his life De Bisschop made drawings of the Dutch landscape, especially in and around Leiden and The Hague, where he settled in 1652/53. He also drew Italian views with ancient ruins and monuments, although he probably never set foot in Italy.2 Particularly striking in these works is De Bisschop’s mastery in rendering light and atmosphere with a brush, similar to drawings of the Italianate artist Bartholomeus Breenbergh (1598-1657) with whom De Bisschop probably studied in Amsterdam. A great many of his landscape drawings, including the present sheet, are executed on paper measuring approximately 90 × 150 mm. According to Renske Jellema and Michiel Plomp, the artist probably used small sketchbooks of this size on his drawing trips in the Dutch countryside.3 Dated examples of these ad vivum sketches are known between 1648 and 1660, but De Bisschop probably continued to draw landscapes until his premature death from tuberculosis in 1671.4 View of Amersfoort can be dated quite late in his career, when the artist mainly used pen and brush and altogether gave up the black chalk.5 MR

1Paris, Fondation Custodia, inv. no. XIII (pen and brown ink, with brown wash; 121 × 207 mm). This drawing was acquired by Frits Lugt c. 1910.

2Peter Schatborn, Drawn to Warmth: 17th-century Dutch artists in Italy, exh. cat., Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum) 2001, pp. 197-199.

3Renske E. Jellema and Michiel Plomp, Episcopius. Jan de Bisschop (1628-1671), advocaat en tekenaar, exh. cat., Amsterdam (Museum Het Rembrandthuis) 1992, pp. 22-23.

4Ibid., p. 23.

5Schatborn 2001, op. cit. (note 3), p. 198.