Jacob van Ruisdael’s “A Landscape with a Ruined Castle and a Church” is a quintessential example of Dutch Golden Age painting, showcasing the artist’s mastery in landscape art. Created approximately between 1665 and 1670, this oil on canvas resides in the prestigious collection of the National Gallery in London.
The painting measures 109 cm by 146 cm and depicts a vast, open plain that is richly varied with elements such as woods, meadows, cornfields, villages, churches, cottages, and windmills. The foreground features the ruins of a castle with a stagnant moat surrounded by trees and underbrush. A winding road passes by a cornfield with sheaves and disappears into the distance, enhancing the depth and expansiveness of the scene.
In this landscape, human figures and animals are present, adding life and narrative to the serene environment. A shepherd converses with a youth seated near a dog and three sheep atop the old castle wall. Three swans glide gracefully on a nearby pool. Notably, the figures and cattle in the painting were contributed by A. van de Velde, a testament to the collaborative nature of some artworks during that period.
The atmosphere of the painting is dramatic yet tranquil, with a thunderstorm having just passed, leaving behind rolling clouds through which sunbeams break to highlight distant windmills. The rest of the landscape is cast in partial shadow, creating a play of light that adds to the painting’s emotional impact.
This work is not only a representation of Ruisdael’s talent but also an embodiment of his ability to evoke a poetic, sometimes brooding or tragic mood through his landscapes. It stands as a chef-d’oeuvre of the artist, celebrated for its depiction of nature’s grandeur and the delicate interplay of light and shadow.
“A Landscape with a Ruined Castle and a Church” shares similarities with other paintings by Ruisdael from the same period, such as “A View of Beverwijk,” also in the National Gallery, and “The Ruins of a Fort,” which was sold at Christie’s in 1998. These works collectively underscore Ruisdael’s specialization in landscape painting and his significant contribution to the classical phase of Dutch landscape painting in the 17th century.