"The Dance of Shadows" - An Important Treatise on Painting & Dutch Art by Rembrandt's Pupil

ART. PERSPECTIVE. Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-1678)

Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der Schilderkonst: Anders de Zichtbaere Werelt. Verdeelt in negen Leerwinkels, yder bestiert door eene der Zanggodinnen.

Rotterdam: F. van Hoogstraeten, 1678


Quarto: (14), 361, (8)p., Etched title, engraved portrait by J. Oudann, 13 folding plates and 4 illustrations.


Bound in contemporary gilt half calf, corners and spine worn. Fine internally. Four of the plates are devoted to human proportions and the 4 remarkable text illustrations illustrate the way light falls and shadows are cast.

Sole edition of the Dutch painter and art theorist Samuel van Hoogstraten's "Introduction to the Higher Academy of the Art of Painting: or The Visible World". The only extended theoretical treatise on painting published in Holland between Van Mander's ‘Schilderboeck’ of 1604 and Lairesse's ‘Het Groot Schilderboek’ of 1707, van Hoogstraten's work "is of undeniable importance as an account of contemporary artistic attitudes and practice."

The work is also of great art historical value. Van Hoogstraten was a student of Rembrandt from the winter of 1640–41 until shortly before April 1648, and his treatise includes a good deal of information on Rembrandt's studio and the master's paintings, including "The Night Watch". Rembrandt was then at the height of his powers and Hoogstraten wrote presciently that the fame of "The Night Watch" would outlive all its rivals because it was "so dynamic in its physical movement and so powerful."

"Samuel van Hoogstraten (b. Dordecht 1627 d. Dordrecht 1678) went to Amsterdam in 1642 to work as an apprentice in Rembrandt's studio, but after six years he was back in Dordrecht, before starting his travels through Europe, 'following the sun', as he described it, and offering his services at several courts. His aims were different from those of his teacher. His one-time pupil and fellow citizen of Dordrecht, Houbraken, put it succinctly: 'He was driven by an extraordinary ambition... because he could not stand to be surpassed by anybody in the race for artistic laurels.' He competed in all subjects: 'architectural paintings, landscapes, rough seas, quiet waters, animals, flowers, fruit, and still lifes, which he painted so naturally, that he deceived many'. With the last of these he acquired his highest acclaim when the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna rewarded him with a golden chain for his 'Still Life' because 'he was the first painter who had deceived him.' [In his portrait in his "Inleyding", Hoogstraten can be seen wearing the medal.]"(Brown, Samuel van Hoogstraten: Perspective and Painting, National Gallery Technical Bulletin Volume 11, 1987)

Perspective, Shadow & Theater:

"In his 'Introduction to the Higher Academy of the Art of Painting: or The Visible World'(1678), Van Hoogstraten describes with practical examples how both painters and amateurs may sharpen their perception by progressing through his nine different classes (leer winckels), each overseen by a mistress muse. His philosophy of painting is summed up in his observation that it is 'a science to give shape to all ideas, or thoughts, which the complete visible world can give, and to convince the eye that they are real with the help of contours [silhouette] and paint.' To achieve this one has to use 'details that communicate in a concealed manner.' His illusionism seems to include a wider range of possibilities than the pursuit of deception found in Gerrit Dou's work in Leiden. When discussing the concept of beauty, Van Hoogstraten relates it to the 'true ideaof beauty', thus demonstrating his knowledge of Plato, which also seems to come out in one of his most famous passages, the 'game the dance of shadows'.

"The 'dance of shadows' is discussed and illustrated in the seventh book, dedicated to Melpomene, the muse of tragedy. She presides over the use of light and shadow: 'Similar to the way in which Tragedy receives its strength from its mixture of happy and sad occasions (gevallen), in the same way Painting receives its lustre (luister) when she knows how to create daylight or darkness.' In the attic of Van Hoogstraten's house, a stage was constructed with, instead of curtains, a large sheet of white paper separating the audience from the stage. At a considerable distance behind the sheet stood a large, lit candle. In the space between the candle and the sheet, his students acted the play of Acis and Galatea in such way that the growing or diminishing dimensions of their shadows reflected the drama. In similar experiment to that in the perspective boxes that he constructed, he shows that Acis appears now as a human, then as a giant, demonstrating how light and shade change or even cover up (verhullen) reality, which at first sight looks fixed. 

"[In] Van Hoogstraten's image at the beginning of this chapter… the muse is placed in the center of a spiral stairwell, as an allegory of the ascent and descent of the art of painting, going up on the left to a scene in which Apollo, the god of light, is blessing the painter and, on the other side, descending to Vulcan's forge, stressing the role of shades. A similar composition arranged vertically around a narrow stairwell is also used for Thalia, the comic muse, who presides over joyous gatherings, often held at night under the moon, and who is to oversee 'invention' and 'composition', which in the end lead the painter to the halls of glory."(De Biève, The Shadow-dance, Silent Company, Stil-staande Levens, in Dutch Art and Urban Cultures, (1200-1700), p. 93 f.)


"Having left Rembrandt's studio and returned to Dordrecht to work as an independent artist, Hoogstraten travelled to Vienna in May 1651, where he received the patronage of Emperor Ferdinand. In 1652 Hoogstraten was in Rome but had returned to Vienna by the following year. He was back in Dordrecht in 1654 and married there in 1656: he appears to have remained in the town until he left for London at some time before September 1662.

"Hoogstraten was much in demand as a portrait painter. He was still in London at the time of the Great Fire in September 1666: he gives an account of the outbreak of the Fire in the ‘Inleyding’ Hoogstraten returned to Holland shortly after, settling in The Hague. He was back in Dordrecht by 1673, serving as one of the Provosts of the Mint. It was during these years, after his return to his native town, that he was working on his theoretical and technical treatise on painting, the ‘Introduction to the High School of the Art of Painting: or The Visible World'), which was published by his brother Francois in Dordrecht in 1678, the year of Hoogstraten's death.

"A number of Hoogstraten's large-scale canvases, showing figures in marble columned courtyards, survive: at least some of these form part of a series and may well have been part of a scheme of decoration commissioned from Hoogstraten by the Finch family during his stay in England. However the best-known and most effective of his large-scale perspective paintings is the ‘View down a Corridor’ of 1662 which is at Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire. Today this large upright canvas is placed – as it was always intended to be – at the end of an actual corridor where it has the effect, when seen from a distance, of prolonging the corridor. Like the peepshow, it is a highly effective illusion and testifies to the artist's skill in deceiving the eye. It was admired by Samuel Pepys who saw it on 26 January 1663 at Mr. Povey's rooms in Lincoln's Inn Fields: '[...] went and dined at Mr. Povys [...] above all things, I do the most admire his piece of perspective especially, he opening me the closet door and there I saw there is nothing but only a plain picture on the wall.'"(Christopher Brown, Samuel van Hoogstraten: Perspective and Painting, National Gallery Technical Bulletin Volume 11, 1987)

Arntzen/ Rainwater H63; Hollstein IX, p. 142, 31: J. de Mann, Kunst op schrift, Kunst op Schrift: Een inventarisatie van Nederlandstalige publikaties op het gebied van kunsttheorie en esthetica 1670-1820, 23