CORNELIS DE WAEL II (1592-1667)
AN ITALIANATE HARBOUR CAPRICCIO
Pen & ink on two joined sheets of laid paper
(with additions & repairs to paper)
41 x 58 cm
This impressive large-scale drawing of a harbour filled with sculptures, crowds and grand ships is one of the ambitious drawings by de Wael to come to light in recent years, and demonstrates both his remarkable skill as a draughtsman as well as his creative originality. In addition to the various imagined elements, there is an immediately-recognisable monument taken from life depicted here: Livorno's Statue of the Four Moors to the lower left, which was completed during de Wael's early years in Italy (1626), here modified to feature an equestrian statue of a Roman Emperor atop the Moorish figures in keeping with the fictional context of the scene. The grandeur of the composition is redolent of Claude's views of harbours at sunset, with the skies filled by the rigging and sails of enormous ships and elaborate classical ruins throughout which contrast with the contemporaneous costumes of the staffage. Several of de Wael's comparable, smaller-scale drawings of exotic harbours and ports can be found in collections across Europe, with particularly close examples in the Rijksmuseum,Amsterdam, the Maidstone Museum of Art, and the Warsaw University Library (see final three images).
Cornelis de Wael was the son of the artist Jan de Wael I, an engraver and painter of religious and landscape subjects. Cornelis’ mother likewise descended from an artistic family, with a cartographer father Gerard de Jode) and an engraver brother (Pieter de Jode I). Growing up in this dynasty, it is unsurprising that both Cornelis and his brother Lucas both followed in this career (as did their younger brother Antonie), and they emigrated together to Italy in 1619. Unlike many of the Netherlandish artists who visited Italy in the 17th century, they first visited Genoa (spending around two years there), then Venice, and finally settled in Rome for several years. Both brothers joined the Bentveughels, and Cornelis was even admitted to the Roman Accademia di San Luca, an indication of the respect which his Italian peers held for him.
Cornelis returned to Genoa with Lucas in 1628, and the former remained there for almost the rest of his life. Genoa was a sensible choice commercially, as there was both less competition and an abundance of wealthy clients in the thriving port-city. De Wael specialised in marine and military paintings, with a particular aptitude for large paintings of port scenes (much like the present sheet). Upon the artist's death in Rome, it was said that more than 400 of his countrymen accompanied the hearse, 'bearing torches', to his tomb, designed by Frans Duquesnoy.