2001, (24 x 17 cm), 2 volumes, xxii, 985 pp. English text, 185 ill., (2 colour), clothbound
Arnold Houbraken (Dordrecht 1660-1719 Amsterdam) was an accomplished painter, mezzotinter, etcher, inventor for the book trade, emblematist, Biblical scholar, moralist, and biographer, as well as a tireless breadwinner for his wife Sara and their nine children. He is best known for his three-volume Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen, which features the lives of hundreds of Flemish and Dutch artists of the seventeenth century along with several interspersed theoretical digressions. Houbraken commenced his Great Theatre in 1715 and published its first two volumes in 1718 and 1719. He died in the latter year while still writing the third tome, which his widow brought out two years later. Many art historians have mined The Great Theatre for Houbraken's biographical information, which is generally considered to be uneven but indispensable. Relatively few scholars have examined Houbraken's theory, which has met with little sympathy in the twentieth century. No one, however, has studied his theological publications and philosophical convictions, which are essential to a full understanding of both his biography and theory. Houbraken was a deistic Stoic who, in the summer of 1713, fled to England for nine months to avoid public censure by the Church Council of Amsterdam. His Great Theatre may be understood as his final, heroic attempt to advance, in a seemingly innocuous format, the central conviction of his life: that a gift for art is the best possible consolation for living in a world tyrannized by fortune and bereft of a caring God. Houbraken's art theory is intimately related to this philosophy. He was a deistic classicist who believed that the most fortunate artist is the one who can best discern and convey the ultimately impenetrable design of the remote prime mover. Every aspect of Houbraken's style, organization, biographical method, thought,values, and taste can be shown to have a reasoned connection to his unusual intellectual orientation. The Golden Age Revisited examines Houbraken's life, art, and theology before proceeding to the historiography, anecdotes, social and professional thought, art theory, art history, proto-feminism, and overall achievement of his Great Theatre. Hundreds of passages in English translation demonstrate Houbraken's great strengths as a thinker, storyteller, and human being. The book concludes with the reception of his magnum opus in modern scholarship, especially in that of the last two decades. One outcome of the closing chapters is to make Houbraken's Enlightenment thought look very strong in comparison.