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Johann Heinrich Roos

(1631 Reipoltskirchen–1658 Frankfurt a. M.)

A Pastoral Landscape with a Shepherd Boy Drinking Water and a Resting Shepherdess with their Flock. Pen and black and brown ink, gray wash, over black chalk. 47.8 x 33 cm. Signed at bottom right: “JHRoos fecit”. Circa 1668/9.

This large-format and highly concentrated composition offers vivid testimony to the graphic mastery of Johann Heinrich Roos and clearly shows how much he owed in terms of style and subject matter to the art of the Dutch Italianates. This is no doubt due to the years Roos spent as an apprentice in Amsterdam. In 1647 the young Johann Heinrich, whose family had moved from the Palatinate to Holland in 1640, began to study under Guilliam Dujardin, a painter of historical scenes, and was later trained by the landscape artist Cornelis de Bie and the animal and portrait painter Barent Graat. Round about 1651/52 the young artist returned to Germany and travelled a good deal before finally settling down in Frankfurt on Main in 1667, where he was to work for almost twenty years with considerable success. Roos, founder of a widely ramified painter dynasty, was a very productive and skilled draughtsman. Most of his drawings are small-format preliminary studies for his own paintings, featuring animals and herdsmen in a variety of poses. These rough sketches, which are generally executed in black and more rarely in red chalk, were made directly from nature and betray a profound interest in light and atmosphere. The earliest dated drawing is from 1660. From the mid-1660s onwards pen drawings combined with wash, which display a more detailed treatment and a wider range of subject matter, become increasingly frequent. This category of drawings was probably earmarked for sale. They show ambitious, carefully arranged compositions featuring ruin landscapes with herdsmen and their flocks and served as pendants to the paintings (see exhibition catalogue Roos. Eine deutsche Künstlerfamilie des 17. Jahrhunderts, edited by Margarete Jarchow, Kupferstichkabinett Berlin, 1986). The present drawing is a representative example of this type of drawings and very closely related to a similar sheet included in an earlier catalogue (cf. Nicolaas Teeuwisse, Ausgewählte Handzeichnungen/ Selected Drawings, IV, Berlin 2007, no. 3, pp. 12–15). What is striking is the identical and unusually large size of the two drawings, which gives them a very special place in the artist’s graphic oeuvre (see ill p. 19). Roos normally favoured smaller formats. Jedding records only a few drawings with a comparable sheet size, all of which were produced around 1668/69 (Jedding 193, National Museum, Stockholm, Jedding 194–195, Vienna, Albertina). The drawing technique employed by Roos is extraordinarily refined and varied. Over a skilfully conceived preliminary drawing in black chalk the details of the leaves and grass in the foreground and the different textures of the shaggy coats, fleeces and horns of the resting animals are painstakingly depicted with fine, nimble pen strokes in black and brown. The deftly applied light wash realistically renders the play of light on their bodies. This drawing also shows Roos to be a master of directly from life observed detail. A very original touch is provided by the motif of the little shepherd boy dressed in frayed jacket and trousers who is greedily gulping down water from his hat. Roos has skilfully characterised the weathered, ivy-covered masonry of the ruined well, while a grotesque head on an ornamental stone vase lends the scene a humorous note. A small tree with bizarrely arranged branches is outlined picturesquely against the sky; by leaving the paper in the background white Roos suggests a radiantly blue summer sky. The animals of the herd dozing in the merciless noonday heat are incredibly life-like. The blazing sunshine bathes the architecture and the landscape in a summer glow. In view of this perfect illusion of a pastoral southern landscape it is hard to imagine that Roos himself had probably never seen the Roman Campagna. At any rate there is no record of the artist ever visiting Italy. Roos had obviously so internalized the formal world of the Dutch Italianates that he did not need the experience of a sojourn in Italy. Yet he is never imitative – just astonishingly true to life in his feeling for nature and affectionate observation of men and animals.

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