Hendrik Terbrugghen
Biography of Dutch Genre-Painter, Utrecht School.

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St Sebastian Tended by Holy Women
(1625) Oberlin Museum, Ohio

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Dutch Realist Artists. For their
main type of painting, see:
Dutch Realist Genre Painting.

Hendrik Terbrugghen (1588-1629)


By far the ablest of the Utrecht Old Masters influenced by Caravaggio and his distinctive Caravaggism, was Hendrik Ter Brugghen. Mainly a religious painter, he also produced some remarkable genre-paintings.

He was born into a Catholic family at Deventer, in 1588, studied with the Italianate, Abraham Blomaert, went to Italy at the age of 16 in 1604, and stayed there ten years. In Italy he knew Rubens, who later was to praise his talent, but Caravaggio, whom Ter Brugghen must have frequented, is the chief influence on his art, and the young Dutchman was to give Italian tenebrism a very personal application. His early works frequently employ Caravaggist chiaroscuro which creates rather hard sculptural forms and throws sharpely defined detail into relief. As mentioned, Terbrugghen was admired by Rubens but he was much less influential in 17th century Dutch painting than other Utrecht artists such as Gerrit van Honthorst, and was largely neglected until the 20th century, when historians began a general reappraisal of Caravaggesque art.

For details and information about
the 17th Century style of easel-art
which flourished in Holland, see:
Frans Snyders (1579-1657)
Still life painter from Antwerp.
Frans Hals
Antwerp Portraitist.
Adriaen Brouwer (1605-38)
Noted for his tavern genre-pictures.
Adriaen van Ostade (1610-85)
Peasant scene artist, from Haarlem.
Rembrandt (1606-69)
Unique portraiture, self portraits.
David Teniers the Younger (1610-90)
Peasant, guardroom scenes.
Gerard Terborch (1617-81)
Genre painter, Amsterdam, Haarlem.
Aelbert Cuyp (1620-91)
Dordrecht landscape artist.
Jan Steen (1626-79)
Leiden artist: tavern scenes.

Jacob Van Ruisdael (1628-82)
Haarlem-born landscape painter
Pieter de Hooch (1629-83)
Famous Delft school genre-painter.
Gabriel Metsu (1629-67)
Intimate small-scale genre scenes.
Jan Vermeer (1632-75)
Greatest Dutch Realist artist.
Baroque Art Movement
17th century art movement.

For the best still life painters:
Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606-83)
Utrecht School of Dutch Realism.
Willem Kalf (1619-93)
Pronkstilleven Paintings.
Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-78)
Interiors, genre works, still lifes.
Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750)
Flower painter, still lifes.

For the finest painting, see:
Greatest Paintings Ever.

Return to Holland

Upon his return to Utrecht, Terbrugghen began to produce oil paintings combining deliberate Netherlandish themes - such as motifs derived from Lucas van Leiden, and grotesque types inspired by Quentin Metsys - with Caravaggesque motifs. After 1620, with the return of other Dutch Caravaggisti from Rome, the Caravaggio style begins to predominate. But his dependence on the Italian painter is never slavish; he evolved entirely new, shimmering colour harmonies, a silvery tonality, and a method of painting dark figures against light backgrounds.

In his later work light falls more softly on figures and objects, conveying a more subtle sense of their forms and textures. Together with the rejection of harsh raking light effects, there is a preoccupation with reflected light, and in the opinion of several art critics, his art anticipates modern plein air painting. This is noticeable in such half-length, genre style figurative paintings like the poetic Flute Player (1621). In these and in some later religious paintings in the style of Protestant Reformation art, the cool clear colours, pale silvery tonality, and an air or silence and stillness look forward to Vermeer, Fabritius and the Delft school of Dutch Realism.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.
For the greatest genre-painting, see:
Best Genre Painters.
For the top allegorical painting,
see: Best History Painters.

Subject Matter of His Dutch Realism

In general, his mood was lusty, often sensational, tinged with a rather obvious romanticism. Like his exemplar, Caravaggio, and his fellow townsman, Gerard Honthorst, he prefers in all subjects contemporary and plebeian types, and always emphasizes, often over-emphasizes, character. Such a picture as Sleeping Mars, at Utrecht, well represents his merits. A wearied soldier in fine arm or dozes, resting his elbow on a drum. His hand lightly holds his sword hilt. What makes the picture is the honest emphatic presentation of a rather characterless face in relaxation, and a fairly Rembrandtesque beauty of illumination. The light, very broadly disposed, is most subtly modulated.

The head and bust of a buxom girl in the same museum show Ter Brugghen's skill in modelling with large areas of transparent shadow, his avoidance of smaller definition in favour of the larger truth of rounded mass. Such a head as this, dated 1629, might well have given lessons to Vermeer.

The Calling of Matthew is a densely composed character study in oblong form, quite in Caravaggio's vein. But the insistence on relations of surprise and the artful balance of large passages of light and shadow (chiaroscuro) indicate a more complex dramaturgy which was Ter Brugghen's own. On his return from Italy, in 1616, he joined the Guild of St. Luke at Utrecht, and passed the rest of his short life there, dying in 1629, only forty-one years old.

There are pictures by him mainly of biblical subjects and genre paintings in many of the best art museums, including Copenhagen Museum; the Gemaldgalerie Kassel; the National Gallery, London; the Metropolitian, New York; the Nazionale Museum, Rome. His masterpiece Saint Sebastian Tended by the Holy Women (1625) is in Oberlin, Ohio, College.

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