Gerson Digital : Denmark


5. Defining Dominance: Wuchters versus van Mander III

Mikael Bøgh Rasmussen

Karel van Mander III (1609-1670) [1] was no doubt the most prominent artist at the Danish court in the central decades of 17th-century Denmark. The aim of this article is to research the career of his main contender and eventual successor in that position: Abraham Wuchters (1608-1682) , who was for most of Van Mander’s career assigned a secondary position.

As an introduction to the theme of the article, I will discuss briefly Danish art for the elite from the onset of the baroque under the elective monarchy of Christian IV in the 1630s, until the establishment of new state art institutions meant to support the newly established absolute and hereditary monarchy under his son Frederick III and grandson Christian V. Thus, Danish elite art at that time was and should be considered as a structure in transition and transformation. Van Mander’s position in it and his ability to hold it turns out to be the more impressive when one takes into consideration the fundamental changes that he would have to adapt to along the way. Van Mander’s achievement is thrown into high relief when compared with the struggling career of his fellow court artist Wuchters. But first, it is necessary to address the question of attribution.1

Cover image
Abraham Wuchters
Portrait of Christian Reedtz (c. 1660-1704) as cupid, c. 1664
Copenhagen, SMK - National Gallery of Denmark, inv./ KMS3727

Alexander Cooper or David Beck
Portrait of Karel van Mander III (1609-1670), c. 1656
Copenhagen, SMK - National Gallery of Denmark, inv./ KMS3731

Abraham Wuchters
Self-portrait of Abraham Wuchters (1608-1680), 1640s or 1650s
Copenhagen, SMK - National Gallery of Denmark, inv./ Sp. 803

From the sources in the Royal Account Books, for example, it is clear that both artists, as well as a small host of others, provided the court and high nobility with history paintings, portraits and decorative panels and canvasses. However, as descriptions in these accounts are very often rather summary, and as a substantial proportion of paintings we know of today are without a firmly established, complete provenance, it is generally very hard to match written evidence and surviving paintings. In regard to Van Mander and Wuchters, this has led to some degree of uncertainty about who painted which pictures. In particular, this is due to the fact that their stylistic idioms appear to be quite alike at certain times in their production and that the quality of both their outputs seems to be variable, perhaps due to the participation of students in their studios. Attribution from mere stylistics may thus have evident weak links.

Fortunately, a firm corpus of autograph works can be established due to the engravings from the hand of the close co-operator of both, Albert Haelwegh (1620-1673).2 Haelwegh forms a third important node in the field of art, as he was Engraver of the University of Copenhagen and Royal Engraver since 1647. These positions were established in 1622 and 1624, respectively and, like the position of Drawing Teacher at Sorø Academy that was created in 1623, these new positions can be seen as part of the same conscious attempt to structure the production of high art by Christian IV [3-4] at this time. Haelwegh succeeded Simon de Passe (c.1595-1647), who had held both positions since their establishment, and he would engrave both Van Mander’s and Wuchters’ portraits, as well as funerary leafs and treatise illustrations. In 1653 Haelwegh would also become the brother-in-law of Wuchters. Haelwegh’s engravings form our primary basis for the attribution of the paintings of Van Mander and Wuchters, as we may assume from his close personal acquaintance with them that their designations of authorship are beyond doubt.3

The primary attempt to establish a body of securely and plausibly attributed work of both Karel van Mander and Abraham Wuchters is the dissertation by Povl Eller from 1971. In this important publication, all known sources have been taken in and are referred to. Eller’s book thus remains the starting point for any consideration of the two artists.4

Albert Haelwegh after Karel van Mander (III)
Portrait of King Christian IV (1577-1648) of Denmark, c. 1644-1645
Hillerød, The National Museum of History Frederiksborg Castle

Albert Haelwegh after Abraham Wuchters
Portrait of King Christian V of Denmark (1646–1699) as a child, dated 1655
Copenhagen, SMK - The Royal Collection of Graphic Art, inv./ KKSgb8533


1 RKDimages encompasses 219 works in relation to Abraham Wuchters and 294 works in relation to Karel van Mander III as a result of the Gerson Digital project (January 2015).

2 Sthyr 1965. Haelwegh was probably trained by Jonas Suyderhof in Haarlem and came in 1643/1644 to Copenhagen.

3 At the moment 86 records of works by or related to Albert Haelwegh are to be found in RKDimages (January 2015).

4 Eller 1971. See for Wuchters: Andrup 1915. For Van Mander: Bobé 1919, Andrup 1932, Andrup 1933-1934, Andrup 1936, Andrup 1939, Eller 1971A, Roding 2006, Roding 2014  . An English monograph on Karel van Mander III in the Frederiksborg Research Series (Juliette Roding, Søren Mentz, Thomas Lyngby eds.), with contributions by Hugo Johannsen, Hessel Miedema, Louis Sicking, Mette Skougaard and Vibeke Winge, is fortcoming (2015). RKDimages encompasses 219 works in relation to Abraham Wuchters and 294 works in relation to Karel van Mander III (January 2015).

Cookies disclaimer

While surfing the internet, your preferences are remembered by cookies. Cookies are small text files placed on a pc, tablet or cell phone each time you open a webpage. Cookies are used to improve your user experience by anonymously monitoring web visits. By browsing this website, you agree to the placement of cookies.
I agree