Pierce, Christopher (2009) Nave(l) gazing AA Files, 59 . pp. 70-73. ISSN 0261-6823
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In 2006 an exhibition of pictures by the Dutch artist Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-1682) was held at the Sackler Wing of the Royal Academy of Arts. Displayed trophy-like at the entrance to the third room was a chalk and pencil drawing of the interior of the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam purported to be by Ruisdael. Even to the uninitiated the drawing seems uncharacteristic of the artist, and more than just for the fact that, as the exhibition’s title proclaimed, Ruisdael is feted as the ‘Master of Landscape’. While he did on occasion venture into city subjects, this ecclesiastical interior is almost unprecedented. The subject of the drawing, the ancient Old Church (standing in the centre of a district dominated by Amsterdam’s oldest profession) is not only to be seen, but its wondrously anonymous space is also to be felt – a synthesis of the senses more typically used to describe Ruisdael’s rugged landscapes, which in itself could be a plausible explanation for the drawing’s attribution to him. Given Ruisdael’s specialism, there is a case to make that this drawing instinctively fused emerging ideas based on the study of nature with ancient explanations of physiological phenomena (and the tradition of depicting interior, architectural space as akin to a human, bodily nature). This fusing of naturalistic tropes, however, remains purely speculative. What we do know is that the exhibition’s curator, renowned Ruisdael expert Seymour Slive, first tested the waters as to the drawing’s attribution by placing it deep within his 2001 catalogue raisonné of the artist. When this met with no objection (raisonné or otherwise), he followed with the more brazen provocation of hanging it at the Royal Academy – as clear a call to arms as historians, art or otherwise, will ever get. In the three years since there has been no reply.
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