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View of the town of Rhenen... Amersfoort... no, it’s Rhenen

An etching in the Rijksmuseum collection with an image of a panoramic landscape and a walled town turns out to be a view of Rhenen seen in mirror image. This comes as a surprise, because according to the title of this remarkable print it is a View of Amersfoort. The etching, of which only one impression is known, was made in about 1628 by the experimental artist Hercules Segers (1589/1590-1633/1640).


Images of Rhenen 

The discovery that Segers was representing Rhenen and not Amersfoort came about thanks to research by Laurens Schoemaker, Curator for Historical Topography at the RKD. The artist drew the city on the Nederrijn river from a relatively high position on the southern slope of the ridge known as Utrechtse Heuvelrug, close to where Rhenen’s train station is today. In the etching, the elegant tower of St Cunera’s Church, the medieval Bergpoort, one of the city’s gates, the Walmolen windmill on the northern ramparts, and the Westmolen windmill to the north west of the city can all be clearly made out.

Hercules Segers, View of Rhenen from the east (mirror image), c. 1625-1630, 86 x 301 mm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam


Misunderstanding

It is striking that at least as early as the beginning of the twentieth century the print was known to be a view of Rhenen. In 1966, after a lengthy lobbying campaign by an Amersfoort printer, in which even the mayors of both towns were involved, the title was erroneously changed into View of Amersfoort. In the latest issue of the art-historical journal Oud Holland Schoemaker describes what lay behind the misunderstanding. Views of the towns of Rhenen and Amersfoort have been confused before, something to do with the superficial similarity between Rhenen’s St Cunera’s church tower and Onze Lieve Vrouwe church tower in Amersfoort.


Art excursion

Segers’ view of Rhenen is closely related to the print he made of nearby Wageningen, of which four impressions are known. Probably the artist visited both towns on an art excursion, taking time away from Amsterdam where he was then living. Moreover, in Berlin there are two paintings by Segers that show Rhenen. The larger of the two panels is the result of an unusual experiment. Schoemaker’s research reveals that the town and landscape are shown in mirror image in this work. As far as we know, this is something in which no other seventeenth-century artist from the Northern Netherlands has followed Segers.

Hercules Segers, View of Rhenen from the north (mirror image), c. 1620-1630, 22 x 66,6 cm, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie

Hercules Segers, View of Rhenen, c. 1628-1630, 12,8 x 36,1 cm, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie