Masters of Mobility


9.3 De Lairesse : from Amsterdam to the Art Academies in Berlin and Nuremberg

Gerard de Lairesse (Liège 1640 – Amsterdam 1711) [11], the author of the last two texts that will be examined, was a well-established artist who hardly needs an introduction.1 As he turned blind around 1689, De Lairesse was forced to abandon his profession and focused on teaching and writing about art instead. His Grondlegginge ter Teekenkonst (1701) and Het Groot Schilderboek (1707) [12-13] are based on the discussions that took place during the ‘vergaadering in myn huys’ (gathering in my house).2 The books have an indisputably instructional and prescriptive character, while simultaneously providing De Lairesse a platform to formulate his theory of art.3 Both publications were translated into German, as well as French and English.4 In contrast to the initiatives to translate Goeree’s and Beurs’ publications, which originated in The Netherlands, the interest for a German translation of De Lairesse’s texts is directly related to artistic developments in the German states. In both cases, there was however again a direct ‘Dutch connection’.

Pieter Schenk (I)
Portrait of Gerard de Lairesse (1641-1711), dated 1707
Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet, inv./ RP-P-OB-9247


Gerard de Lairesse (inv.), Gerard de Lairesse’s Grondlegginge ter Teekenkonst (frontispiece, 1701)


Gerard de Lairesse (inv.), Gerard de Lairesse’s Groot Schilderboek (frontispiece, 1707

Grondlegginge ter Teekenkonst
The Grondlegginge ter Teekenkonst contains specific lessons and propositions that De Lairesse deemed necessary for an artist’s education, as well as a dialogue between an experienced draughtsman and a young painter concerning the apprenticeship and métier of artists. The book consists of two parts: twelve basic lessons in the first part, followed by the descriptions of the more complex propositions interwoven with the dialogue between the two artists in the second part. A couple of simple engraved drawings are included in the book in order to clarify De Lairesse’s instructions or, as he phrases it: ‘I also had plates added, to aid youth’s weak understanding.5

The artist Samuel Theodor Gericke (Spandau 1665 – Berlin 1729) translated the text into German in 1705 in Berlin with Gothard Schlechtiger, only four years after its original publication [14].6 Different from the English and French translations, Gericke’s translation included both parts of the treatise.7 The initiative to translate De Lairesse’s treatise should be appreciated in light of the foundation of the Berlin Akademie der Künste. Gericke dedicated the book to the Dutchman Augustinus Terwesten (The Hague 1649 – Berlin 1711), who had stimulated him to undertake the translation project.8 Gericke and Terwesten both played an important role in the foundation of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin in 1696 and served as professor and instructor at the institution. Augustinus Terwesten was born in The Hague as the son of German immigrants. Before he moved to Berlin in 1690 to serve as King Friedrich I’s Hofmaler, he had been involved in the foundation of the Haagsche Teekenacademie in 1682. Samuel Theodor Gericke had been trained in Berlin by the Dutch court painter and architect Rutger van Langevelt (Nijmegen 1635 – Berlin 1695). In 1694 Gericke undertook a journey to Rome together with Ezaias Terwesten (Augustinus’ younger brother) to collect drawings, copies of paintings and plaster casts that could be used for educational purposes in the projected art academy. Upon his return, he also became court painter of King Friedrich I of Prussia.

Besides his activity as an artist and teacher, Gericke had a profound interest in art theory. Some of his academy lectures at the Berlin academy were published.9 In addition, he translated other treatises into German, namely Roger De Piles’ French annotated edition of DuFresnoy’s De Arte Graphica in 1699,10 and François Tortebat’s Abrégé d'Anatomie accomodé aux arts de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1706. The subjects treated in the texts reflect the knowledge that young artists were supposed to acquire as part of their artistic education. Gericke, well aware of the theoretical ideas that were promulgated at the art academies in Rome and Paris, did his best to bring the level of the new academy up to par with its examples. As he explains in the foreword of his translation, he set out to make these important texts more readily available to the students of the academy. He states that it is necessary that the text is available in the student’s own language. In fact, in the dedication Gericke names the fact that De Lairesse was not yet known to the artists in Berlin as motivation for undertaking the translation project.11 By providing a short biography in the foreword, Gericke makes an effort to introduce De Lairesse to the German readers.12 He also explains why he believes there is a need for the treatise (in the German-speaking lands): And because up until now only the praise and perfection of the works of the masters was addressed with grandiloquent rhetoric in all Painters’ Books, but since the ground rules were never covered – even though this is the most necessary and useful part for a student – you will find this done here, as this is the author’s main objective’.13 Like the original text, Gericke’s translation includes some engravings. The shapes and figures depicted on these engravings, accompanying the lessons and propositions, are the same as in the original.14 However, it appears that they were re-done by the translator (or someone else) on the occasion of the translation [15-16].

The fact that De Lairesse’s Grondlegginge ter Teekenkonst was selected by Samuel Theodor Gericke to be included in the corpus of texts that was made available to German artists may simply be related to the fact that it had recently been published. Gericke’s and Terwesten’s connections to Dutch artists may also have played a significant role. More importantly, however, the small treatise on the education of artists fitted in very well with the objectives of the new Berlin art academy.


Gerard de Lairesse’s Anleitung zur Zeichenkunst… (frontispiece, 1705)


Illustration from Gerard de Lairesse’s Grondlegginge ter Teekenkonst (between p. 24 & 25), 1701


Illustration from Gerard de Lairesse’s Anleitung zur Zeichenkunst (fig. VII), 1705

Groot Schilderboek: Nuremberg
For our last case, the translation of De Lairesse’s Groot Schilderboek, we move south to Bavaria, to the important artistic centre of Nuremberg. Nuremberg was perhaps the most advanced artistic centre of the Holy Roman Empire with regard to art theory and art literature, a fact that is partially connected to its significance as a centre for printing and engraving in general. The Nuremberg art academy, the first of its kind in the German-speaking states, had been founded in 1662 by the engraver and painter Jacob von Sandrart (Frankfurt am Main 1630 – Nuremberg 1708). Jacob was also the publisher of the Teutsche Academie der Edlen Bau-, Bild- und Mahlerey-Künste (1675-1679), written by his famous uncle, Joachim von Sandrart (Frankfurt am Main 1606-Nuremberg 1688).15 Yet another Sandrart, Jacob’s son Johann Jakob Sandrart (Regensburg 1655 – Nuremberg 1698), who was also active as a publisher and engraver, published the translation of Henri Testelin’s artist’s biographies and treatise on art in 1692. Further art-related books were published in Nuremberg during the following decades.16 The engraver, publisher and art dealer Johann Christoph Weigel (Marktredwitz 1661 – Nuremberg 1726) had a particular interest in books on art and architecture, frequently illustrating the publications with his own engravings.17 Between 1710 and 1728, he published at least nine art treatises, amongst them a German translation of Leonardo da Vinci’s Trattato della Pittura (1724) and translations of Vignola and LeBrun.18 In 1727, Weigel published a new translation of De Lairesse’s Grondlegginge and subsequently the first German translation of the Groot Schilderboek between 1728 and 1730 [17-18].19

The translators of the two texts are not identified explicitly in the publications. Although the title of the Grondlegginge was translated in a different manner (Grundlegung instead of Anleitung), it appears that the rest of Gericke’s translation was not altered.20 Some differences between the texts can be noted, such as the missing dedication to Terwesten in the 1727 edition and the added frontispiece and accompanying poem by Thomas Arents, as well as the foreword, to the second part of the book.21 The 1727 edition may nevertheless be considered a reprint of Gericke’s first translation with a different publisher, in another city. It has been suggested that Gericke was the translator of the Groot Schilderboek as well. Indeed, this seems very probable, as he refers to his efforts to translate the two immense volumes in the foreword of the two editions of the Grundlegung/Anleitung.

It is unclear why the Grosses Mahler-Buch was not published in Berlin, like the first German translation of the Grondlegginge. Conceivably, Gericke (or another translator) simply did not find (financial) support for this large project in Berlin. In any case, the fact that the publication of the two translations of De Lairesse’s books took place in Nuremberg cannot be a coincidence. With its well-established art academy and tradition of publishing art literature, Nuremberg was a more than appropriate place for this publication, and Johann Christoph Weigel was an experienced publisher with an indisputably strong interest in art literature. The extent to which the availability of the German translations of De Lairesse’s books within the context of the Nuremberg art academy contributed to the development of local artists is impossible to establish at this point. Nonetheless, their existence – and that of other translations of art literature – should be taken into account when considering the education of Nuremberg painters.


Gerard de Lairesse’s Grundlegung zur Zeichen-Kunst (title page, 1727, 2nd German ed.)


Gerard de Lairesse’s Grosses Mahler-Buch (title page, 1728-1730)


1 For the most recent literature on De Lairesse: De Vries 2011; Žakula 2013-2014; Beltman et al. 2016 (the publication of the proceedings of the conference that was organized in relation to this exhibition is in preparation). It is worth noticing that Willem Goeree’s son Jan (1670-1731) was one of Gerard de Lairesse’s pupils.

2 De Lairesse 1701; De Lairesse 1707. Other Dutch editions of the Grondlegginge were published in 1713 (Amsterdam: Rudolf en Richard Wetstein) and 1766 (Amsterdam: Gerrit Tielenburg). Het Groot Schilderboek had a second edition in 1712 (Amsterdam: Hendrick Desbordes).

3 Language and art terminology in particular were an obstacle for De Lairesse. Born in Liège and originally francophone, De Lairesse admitted in the forewords to the Grondlegginge and Het Groot Schilderboek that he no longer considers himself fluent in his mother tongue and feels insufficient in expressing himself properly in Dutch. As a consequence, and because of his blindness, De Lairesse’s sons (born in the Netherlands) assisted in the actual writing of both books.

4 French editions of the Grondlegginge: 1719 (Amsterdam: David Mortier); 1729 (Amsterdam: Michel Charles le Cène); 1746 (Amsterdam/Leipzig: Arkstee und Merkus). French edition of Het Groot Schilderboek: 1787 (Paris: Moutard), this edition included a translation of the Grondlegginge. English edition of the Groot Schilderboek: 1738 (London: John Brotherton); 1778 (London: S. Vandenberg). The Grondlegginge first appeared as an integrally English edition in 1777 (London: J. Serjeant – possibly also a compilation), but before that it had been part of a compilation by a certain Bernard Lens (‘…translated from the French of Monsieur Gerrard de Lairesse, and improved with extracts from C.A. Du Fresnoy’) that had several reprints: 1733 (London: Thomas and John Bowles), 1748 (London: Thomas and John Bowles); 1751 (London: B. Dickinson); 1752 (London: Thomas Bowles); 1764 (London: John Bowles); 1766 (London: Carrington Bowles); 1773 (London: Carrington Bowles). It should be noted that all the English editions are stated to be translated from the French. See Maes 2017 for the translations of the Grondlegginge.

5 De Lairesse 1701, [‘Noodzakelyk Voorbericht aan den Lezer’, unpaginated]: Ik heb daar mede platen in laaten stellen, omde zwakheid van het begrip der jonge jeugt, te hulp te koomen, […]’.

6 Gothard Schlechtiger (1672-1724) was relatively young and had recently started publishing on his own, after an assistantship in the publishing house of Ulrich Liebpert.

7 For more on the other translations: Maes 2017.

8 Gericke recalls that Terwesten had incited him to produce the translation: “Den durch Meines hochgeehrten Herrn Hand ist mir dieses Büchlein zukommen und durch Ihn bin ich zum Ubersetzen angemahnet worden” (De Lairesse 1705, dedication to Terwesten, n.p.

9 Gericke 1705.

10 Bärtschmann 2000; DuFresnoy 2005, p. 126-127.

11 De Lairesse 1705, ‘Wol-Edler Gross-Achtbahrer Insonders Hoch-Geehrter Herr und Werth-Beschässter Freund’, n.p.

12 De Lairesse 1705, ‘Geehrtester Leser’, n.p. In line with his own interest in the Berlin art academy, he narrates how the Amsterdam burgomasters offered De Lairesse a room in the city hall, for a ‘Kunst-Saal oder Kunst-Accademie’ (art room or art academy).

13 De Lairesse 1705, [Geehrtester Leser’, n.p : ‘Und weil vorhero in allen Mahler-Büchern; nur das Lob und die Vollkommenheit des Meisters in seinen Wercken mit einem hochtrabenden Red-Arth ist angewiesen, aber niemahls die Grund-Regeln affgedeckt worden, welches doch das nöhtigste und nüzlichtste Theil vor einem Lehrling ist, so wird man dieses hier verrichtet finden, weil dahin des Autoris vornehmster Endzweck street.’

14 As has been noted by Gaetane Maes, the French and English translations included many more illustrations that were not part of the original treatise (Maes 2017).

15 Again, the foundation of a new academy can be connected to the publication of art literature. It is worth reminding that Joachim von Sandrart had lived and worked in the Dutch Republic between 1637 and 1645.

16 The publisher Peter Conrad Monath published a translation of Abraham Bosse’s De la manière de graver à l'eaux-forte et au burin and Henri Gautier’s l’Art du Laver (Kunst zu Tuschen) in 1719. Bosse had already been translated into German in 1652 by Georg Andreas Böckler (Nuremberg: Paulus Fürst).

17 Not to be confused with Christoph Weigel, Johann’s older brother, who also worked as a publisher in Nuremberg (VD17: and VD 18: [two German digitalization projects] for a list of books published by the various members of the Weigel family).

18 Johann Christoph Weigel published: anonymous, Theoria Artis Pictoriæ : Reißbuch zu gutem unterricht der Jugendt (1710); J. Hoefnagel, Archetype Studiaque (ca 1715); J.J. Schübler, Perspectiva Pes Picturae (1719-1720); J. B. da Vignola, Grund Regeln über Die Fünff Säulen (1720); Ch. Le Brun, Ein Discours oder Rede des Herrn le Brun (1721) ; L. Da Vinci, Höchst-nützlicher Tractat von der Mahlerey (1724); P.J. Sänger, Vorstellung einiger Modernen Gebäude zum Pracht, zur Zierde und zur Bequemlichkeit eingerichtet (c. 1726).

19 De Lairesse 1727; De Lairesse 1728-1730. Other German editions of the Grondlegginge: 1745 (Leipzig: Arkstee und Merkus); 1780 (Nuremberg: Christoph Weigel); 1805 (Nuremberg: Schneider und Weigel).

20 The orthography, typesetting and layout differs slightly between the two versions.

21 This shows that Weigel or the translator (Gericke) were aware of the existence of the second Dutch edition (Amsterdam: Rudolf & Gerard Wetstein, 1713), which also includes these elements.

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