Herman van SWANEVELT

Woerden 1603 - Paris 1655


A painter, draughtsman and etcher, Herman van Swanevelt seems to have briefly visited Paris in 1623 before settling in Rome, where he lived for several years, between 1629 and 1641. He befriended several French artists in the city, and is almost certain to have come into contact with Claude Lorrain. Like Claude, Swanevelt developed a type of ideal landscape in both his paintings and drawings, and the two artists must have known and influenced each other; this is particularly evident in the similarity of their drawings, with their emphasis on effects of light and atmosphere. When he was admitted into the Schildersbent, the association of Netherlandish artists in Rome, Swanevelt was given the nickname ‘Heremyt’ or hermit, apparently because his preference for depictions of Italian ruins often led him deep into the remote countryside around Rome.

Swanevelt’s paintings of landscapes with biblical or mythological subjects were in great demand, and among his most significant patrons in Rome were the Barberini family, for whom he painted frescoes in their palazzo in the Piazza Navona, and Philip IV of Spain, who commissioned a number of large paintings for the Buen Retiro. Other Roman projects included a series of landscape paintings for the Galleria Doria and a pair of lunette frescoes in the sacristy of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, of which one survives. By 1643 Swanevelt was briefly back in the Netherlands, but for much of the later part of his career he lived in Paris, where his work proved very popular. Swanevelt spent the last eleven years of his career in Paris, where among his important commissions was the fresco decoration of the Hôtel Lambert, painted in the mid-1640’s. He was admitted to the Académie Royale in 1653.

Some two hundred landscape drawings by Swanevelt survive today, with the largest extant group - numbering fifty-eight sheets and for the most part consisting of preparatory studies for etchings - in the Uffizi in Florence. A gifted and prolific printmaker, Swanevelt also produced around 118 prints, and provided drawings for other artists to engrave. While in Rome he shared a house with the French printmaker Charles Audran, who published some of his etchings. A significant number of preparatory drawings by Swanevelt for his prints are known, and the etchings tend to follow the designs fairly precisely, with ‘the painterly effects of the drawings…converted into a great richness of surface texture in the print.’