King Nimrod Overseeing the Building of the Tower of Babel
c 1580
80" x 76"
Framed: 90" x 86"
Painting, Oil on canvas
Region: Flanders
At the close of the 16th century, Northern Europe was reeling from the devastation wrought from the 30 Years War and the near destruction of the Netherlands in the process. The Hapsburg Empire's attempts to maintain control of the Lowlands by way of terror and suppression left in it's wake a countryside whose economic base was decimated, and by extension, it's artistic production. Combined with this was the so-called Iconographic Controversy taken up by fundamentalist Catholics and the wholesale destruction of sacred images seized from religious institutions. The artistic legacy from the period reflects this turmoil in the limited number of works remaining, the gaps in the historical record of artists and their workshops, and even the subject matters chosen.

The Tower of Babel is one such topic artists employed as a fitting metaphor of the times. There was little doubt among the faithful that the misery being visited on Europe was brought on by the pride and hubris of man's recently discovered "humanism", The Renaissance. While perhaps not viewed quite so clearly as we can through our historical lens today, the prosperity and growth of influence enjoyed during the first half of the 16th century, particularly by the courts of Europe, was unlike any time ever known in human history. It was a small leap for people to see themselves in retrospect as having tried to build a tower to heaven. Likewise, the chaos they found themselves in was inferred to be divinely ordained, as God interceded to thwart their plans.

This painting exhibits characteristics of both Italian and Flemish works from the last quarter of the 16th century. During this time a number of artists from the north were known to have migrated south, both for the artistic heritage Italy offered, and to seek out patrons which might be intrigued by and be able to afford works of a foreign style. No doubt a work of this magnitude must have been created by way of an important commission. The details of such have as of yet not been discovered. Several scholars have suggested an attribution to Lodewyk Toeput who is better known by his adopted Italian moniker, 'Pozzoserrato', or an artist in his immediate circle. The massive baroque scale almost certainly points to an Italian source of production, as does the red preparatory ground the work is composed on. Conversely, the tradition of the tower of Babel derives exclusively from Northern precedence, following in the tradition of Pieter Breughel the elder, and Lucas and Martin von Valkenborch.

About the Artist
(c. 1540 - c. 1605)
Lodewijk Toeput, called il Pozzoserrato ( c. 1540/1550 – between 1603 and 1605) was a Flemish landscape painter and draftsman active in Italy. He is mainly known for his canvases and frescoes of landscapes and formal gardens with banquets and music-making groups. His landscapes had an important influence on the next generation of Flemish landscape artists such as Joos de Momper, Tobias Verhaecht and Gillis and Frederik van Valckenborch.

The early life of Lodewijk Toeput in his native Flanders is not documented and the date and place of his birth are not known with certainty. The late 16th century biographer Karel van Mander, who claimed to have met Toeput in Venice, placed Toeput's birthplace in Mechelen. While many contemporary art historians tend to identify his birthplace as Antwerp there is still no consensus view. In Antwerp he is believed to have studied with Maerten de Vos, a leading history painter who had studied in Italy.

While the date of his departure from his home country is not documented, it is believed the artist arrived around 1573–74 in Venice. According to Carlo Ridolfi's Le maraviglie dell'Arte (1648), Toeput initially worked in the studio of Tintoretto.[8] Here he likely was in contact with his fellow countryman Paolo Fiammingo (Pauwels Franck), who was also residing and working in Venice. The artists may actually have met in Tintoretto's workshop.

Toeput is recorded in Florence in the late 1570s. A stay in Rome is not documented, but it is believed on the basis of drawings of ancient Roman churches that at the beginning of the 1580s Toeput stayed in this city. He then probably resided in Venice for a brief period but was documented in February 1582 in Treviso, near Venice, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. It is possible that the artist moved from Venice to Treviso because the Venetian painter's guild did not grant him membership and thus the right to work in Venice. Despite his residence in Treviso, Toeput kept in touch with Venice where he met with artistic personalities such as Jacopo Bassano, Hans von Aachen, members of the Sadeler family, Otto van Veen and Pieter de Jode I.

In Treviso there was at the time a high demand by religious and civilian patrons for artwork. One important assignment was for decorations for the Monte di Pietà, a communal pawnshop, for which Toeput created frescos of scenes from the Old and New Testament and parables alluding to the works of mercy. The artist married Laudamia Aproino in 1601 in Treviso. In Italy, the painter was known as Ludovico Pozzoserrato, the literal translation into Italian of his Flemish name Toeput which can be read to mean ‘'Closed Well'’. After he established his residence in Treviso, the artist referred to himself as Lodovico Pozzo da Trevigi.

He died in Treviso some time between 1 January 1604 and 9 September 1605.

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