Title: Landscape with Cow
Etching on laid paper
Dimensions: Image / sheet: 4 3/4 × 6 1/2 inches (12.1 × 16.5 cm)
Bequest of William P. Chapman, Jr., Class of 1895
This etching shows a typical flat Dutch landscape, with spires of towns rising in the distance, a farmhouse, barn, and overloaded hay wagon in the middle ground, and a cow standing by water in the foreground: all elements of our mental image of Holland.
The cows Berchem would have met around Haarlem, where he was born, and Amsterdam, where he also lived (and died), would have been much fatter. During the Dutch Golden Age, cows were bred mainly in the east, especially on agriculturally poor former peat lands, and then brought to the western provinces (North and South Holland and Zeeland) at about the age of two years, for dairying and fattening. There, milk was important not just for drinking and for cheese-making, but also for the Dutch method of linen bleaching. Cowhide, too, was used in many ways—for shoes, gloves, aprons, straps, buckets, and book bindings. Indeed, especially in Amsterdam, there was even a thriving industry creating gilt and embossed leather wall panels, which replaced tapestries of earlier centuries in the homes of the wealthy.
Berchem took every opportunity to present well-fed livestock in his paintings, and so one may ask: Why did he picture such a lean cow here? Perhaps we are supposed to notice the contrast between the cow’s leanness and the overflowing hay wagon, seemingly unattainable across the water.
Virginia Utermohlen, "The New and Unknown World: Art, Exporation, and Trade in the Dutch Golden Age," catalogue accompanying an exhibition organized by the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, curated by Andrew C. Weislogel and presented the Johnson Museum August 13–October 2, 2011.
NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.