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Rijksmuseum acquires rare masterpiece: 'Landscape with an Episode from the Conquest of America' by Jan Mostaert

The Rijksmuseum has acquired a painting by Jan Mostaert, 'Landscape with an Episode from the Conquest of America' (c. 1535), the earliest known panel with an imaginary depiction of the Spanish conquest of the American continent.

What is striking is that the painting does not glorify the conquest, but highlights the European invaders’ brutal disruption of the ‘heavenly New World’. The painting is of major significance to Western art history and will be on display from 4 July on the Middle Ages & Renaissance floor of the Rijksmuseum.

Landscape with an Episode from the Conquest of America was acquired with support from the BankGiro Loterij, the Rembrandt Association and the National Art Collections Fund, the Mondriaan Fonds and the Nationaal Aankoopfonds of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the VSBfonds, the SNS REAAL Fonds and the family of Jacques Goudstikker (in his memory). The initial financial contribution of Vereniging Rembrandt has significantly contributed to the success of this purchase.

Matthias Ubl, the Rijksmuseum’s curator of early Netherlandish painting:
‘Landscape with an Episode from the Conquest of America is a rare example of a work that depicts a historical event of global importance, the discovery of America, in a panoramic landscape. Art and history blend so beautifully in this iconic work. We’re very proud to have been able to acquire this work for the Netherlands Collection.’

The conquest of America
Painted almost 40 years after the discovery of ‘America’ (by Columbus in 1492), this work of art was one of the earliest attempts by an artist to give an impression of the new continent. One striking detail is that the procession of indigenous people is depicted completely naked. There is fairly conclusive evidence that the indigenous people did not live naked at all, but that Mostaert portrayed them as such to contrast the violent Spaniards and the peaceful, heavenly landscape with its ‘unadulterated’ inhabitants. The landscape was drawn entirely from the artist’s imagination, but to convey its exotic location, Mostaert added some local details (animals and birds).

Jan Jansz Mostaert
Jan Jansz Mostaert (c. 1474-1552/53) is one of best known 16th-century painters from the northern Netherlands. He is primarily known for his portraits and religious paintings. This painting is a complete one-off in his oeuvre. It forms the basis for North Netherlandish landscape painting and, as such, is a milestone in art history. The panel is a special canonical work in Western art history. Other famous works by Mostaert are on display at the Royal Museum in Brussels, the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum in Madrid and the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Origin and acquisition
As early as 1604, the famous artist biographer Karel van Mander referred to the work as ‘West Indian landscape’. At that time, it was owned by Mostaert’s grandson. In the 1930s, the panel ended up with the dealer Jacques Goudstikker (1897-1940). During the German occupation, it was confiscated for the collection of Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring. After the war, the painting was placed in the custody of the state of the Netherlands and was displayed for years at the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem. In 2006, the painting was restored to Goudstikker’s heirs. The Rijksmuseum owns four other paintings by Mostaert, including Portrait of an African Man (c. 1525-1530), The Adoration of the Magi (1520-1525) and Portrait of a Woman (c. 1525). All these paintings and Landscape with an Episode from the Conquest of America are on display at the renovated Rijksmuseum.