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The seventeenth-century, probably Flemish, artist Abraham Casembroot (Bruges? before or in Ι593 - Messina Ι658) spent the latter half of his life in Sicily. His entire extant oeuvre was produced there, which is probably why he is so little known in the Netherlands. The painter lived in the east-coast port of Messina, where for the last nine years of his life he held the post of consul for the Republic of the United Netherlands. Some of the bulletins he sent to the States General in his consular capacity are kept in the Rijksarchief at The Hague. So are the documents which confirm his appointment in Ι649 and that of his successor and thus establish Ι658 as the year of Casembroot's death. Information about his life can be found in biographies of Messina artists. The most detailed account is by Francesco Susinno in his Vite de' pittori messinesi of Ι724, although later vite of Messina artists also devote a comparatively large amount of space to Casembroot. As a painter he was evidently held in considerable esteem in Messina, where he had five local pupils. Casembroot specialized in harbour and marine views and tempests; according to the vite his paintings were much in demand in both Sicily and the Netherlands. The well-known seventeenth-century collection amassed by Don Antonio Ruffo of Messina boasted no fewer than ten works by Casembroot, one of which was very likely the large canvas The Swordfish Catch, now in the Museo di San Martino in Naples. Incidentally, a hitherto unpublished document reveals that one of Casembroot's consular duties was to deal with the ship that in all probability had on board Rembrandt's Aristotle, commissioned by Ruffo. It is remarkable that currently only four authenticated paintings by Casembroot are known, plus a fifth which is attributed to him on convincing grounds. His imaginary harbours resemble those by less well-known Netherlandish painters in Italy such as Cornelis de Wael and notably Adriaen van der Cabel. For a long time the latter was thought to have been responsible for four large series of sketchbook drawings with Sicilian studies which were in the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin until the I9305 and subsequently scattered. In I973 Hans Mielke observed numerous stylistic correspondences between sheets from this former Berlin series and a preliminary drawing by Casembroot for an etching. There is also a stylistic resemblance to other traceable sheets from the former Berlin series (a considerable number of which are now in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge), some of which have been identified as preliminary studies for etchings by Casembroot. Consequently, three of the four Berlin series of sketchbooks previously attributed to Van der Cabel must now be established as Casembroot's work. Compared with Casembroot's paintings, his etchings and drawings exhibit more obvious personal stylistic characteristics, which Mielke had already observed in the nervous lines and the distinctive manner in which the small human figures are depicted; this enables reliable attributions to be made now. Mielke also demonstrated that Van der Cabel made use of drawings by Casembroot for his own etchings, and he is quite likely to have owned drawings by Casembroot. Casembroot's best-known work is a series of etchings of views of Messina and the surrounding countryside which he dedicated to the collector Lucas van Uffelen. Preliminary drawings for this series and for an authentic painting have survived. Casembroot utilized the drawings he did from nature in his sketchbooks as preliminary studies for etchings and paintings. Surviving sheets show small figures engaged in various activities, topographical sketches and accurate studies of local ships. The artistic quality of Casembroot's oeuvre is not particularly high. Its current significance is largely due to the topographical depictions of Messina and its environs, which look completely different today as the result of natural disasters. Despite his lengthy sojourn in Sicily, Casembroot remained a recognizably northern painter. His subject-matter displayed typically Dutch features which were uncommon in Messina, where local painters generally confined themselves to history pieces. With his harbour and sea views Casembroot seems to have discovered a gap in the market, which may account for his success in Messina.


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