Willem II van Nieulandt

The temple of Zeus at Olympia; one of the seven wonders of the ancient world


Willem II van Nieulandt was born in Antwerp in 1584; his family moved to Amsterdam shortly thereafter, because of the war with Spain. Willem became the pupil of Jacob Savery in Amsterdam until 1599; in 1601 he went to Rome and worked in the workshop of the famous Flemish landscape painter Paul Bril, whose typical style would prove of great importance in his artistic development. In 1604 he returned to Antwerp, where he joined the guild of Saint Luke. A painter, draughtsman and a poet, he relied upon his memories from his stay in Rome to lend his landscapes and history scenes an antique character. In the present scene, a fictional landscape is depicted, dominated by an enormous temple featuring a truly monumental statue of Jupiter, who is depicted with an eagle, his symbol.

This is, of course, a depiction of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, all but one of which have sadly been lost. For the temple and the statue, van Nieulandt was inspired by a print by Philippe Galle (1572) after a drawing by Maarten van Heemskerck (Heemskerk 1498 – 1574 Haarlem) from his series of the wonders of the ancient world. The same print inspired the coronation scene which van Nielandt added in the foreground (the only prize at the ancient olympics, given only to the winner, was a laurel wreath), as the ancient olympics were dedicated to Zeus.

To this, van Nieulandt added new elements, such as the two see-through landscapes on either side of the temple (highlighting the influence of Paul Bril) and the delightful hustle and bustle of passers-by, worshippers and horse-drawn carriages in and around the temple, which are executed with sparing yet flowing and graceful brushstrokes. As an early work – the copper support is dated 1604 – this painting is an important addition to the oeuvre of Willem II van Nieulandt.

Artist: Willem II van Nieulandt
Marks: the copper stamped by Pieter Stas and dated '1604'
Medium: oil on copper
Dimensions: 26,5 x 34 cm
Signed: 'Nieulandt', lower left (indistinctly)