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Emmens, J. A.

    Image Credit: Wikidata

    Full Name: Emmens, J. A.

    Other Names:

    • Jan Ameling Emmens

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1924

    Date Died: 1971

    Place Born: Rotterdam, South Holland, Netherlands

    Place Died: Utrecht, Netherlands

    Home Country/ies: Netherlands

    Subject Area(s): iconology


    Director of the Dutch Institute for Art History in Florence; Professor of Art History and Iconology at Utrecht University. Emmens attended the Marnix Gymnasium in Rotterdam. Between 1947 and 1955, he studied art history at Utrecht University where J. G. van Gelder was among his major influences. As a student, he wrote a thesis, Apelles en Apollo, about Dutch poems on seventeenth-century paintings. He became the research assistant for William S. Heckscher, during Heckscher’s years as Professor of Iconography and Early Medieval Art in Utrecht University. In 1958, Emmens went to Italy, as the Director of the Dutch Institute of Art History in Florence. In 1961, he returned to the Utrecht institute, again as a researcher. In 1964 he obtained his doctorate with a dissertation on Rembrandt, which attracted so much scholarly attention it was published in 1968. As his adviser, van Gelder was instrumental in his appointment as Lector in Utrecht, in 1965. In the same year he also became Lector at the University of Amsterdam and met a young American student of Dutch art, later a major Rembrandt historian Gary Schwartz. Emmens was appointed Professor in de ‘algemene kunstwetenschap en ikonologie’ at Utrecht University in 1967, a position he occupied until his death. For a short time, Emmens was a member of the team of the Rembrandt Research Project, which was launched in the late 1960s. His plans for a systematic study of Rembrandt’s iconology were not realized. He died at age of 47 in 1971. At the time of Emmens’ death, he and Schwartz were collaborating on a volume on Dutch art for the Prentice-Hall series Sources and Documents in the History of Art. The volume never appeared. Peter Hecht, one of his students and later Professor of Art History at the same university, wrote a short essay on Emmens as an art historian and as a poet. Hecht notes that Emmens as a teacher paid particular attention to developing a critical attitude. Among Emmens’ students were Jochen Becker, Ella Reitma, Evert van Uitert, Carel Blotkamp, Frans Haks and Hans van Helsdingen. Emmens’ premature death prevented any but van Helsdingen to complete dissertations and to obtain doctorates under his supervision. Emmens’ own dissertation, Rembrandt en de regels van de kunst, deals with the various ways Rembrandt had been viewed throughout history and with Rembrandt’s own concepts on art and those of his early critics. Emmens attacked the romantic image of Rembrandt as an independent and rebellious genius, popularized in particular by the former Director of the Rijksmuseum, F. Schmidt-Degener. The Dutch art historian, Hessel Miedema, reviewed this book discussing shortcomings but concluding that this important study was a stimulus for further investigation in this field. In a number of shorter publications, mainly on sixteenth- and seventeenth- century painting, Emmens’ iconological research in particular focused on the relation between visual art and literature and on the emblematical meaning of representations. His original and innovative articles were highly appreciated among his colleagues. A similar scholarly approach is apparent in some iconographical works of Sturla Gudlaugsson, former Director of the Mauritshuis in The Hague. In the obituary which Emmens wrote for Gudlaugsson, shortly before Emmen’s own death, he pointed to the Gudlaugsson’s historical awareness of artistic developments and his ability to compare image and text, having been in this way a source of inspiration to younger investigators. Emmens also highly valued Erwin Panofsky, whom he called in a commemorating article “the most brilliant and influential art historian of our time”.

    Selected Bibliography

    “Ay Rembrant, maal Cornelis stem” Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 7, 1956: 133-165; and Bruyn, Josua “De zonnebloem als embleem in een schilderijlijst” Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum 4 (1956): 3-9; and Bruyn, J. “The Sunflower Again” The Burlington Magazine 99 (1957): 96-97; and J.G. van Gelder De schilderkunst van Jan Vermeer: een voordracht. Utrecht: Kunsthistorisch Instituut, 1958; “Les Ménines de Vélasquez. Miroir des Princes pour Philippe IV” Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 12, 1961: 51-79; “Natuur, onderwijzing en oefening. Bij een drieluik van Gerrit Dou” in Album Discipulorum , aangeboden aan Professor Dr. J.G. van Gelder, ter gelegenheid van zijn zestigste verjaardag, 27 Februari 1963. Utrecht: Dekker & Gumbert, 1963: 125-136; “H.Gerson, Seven Letters by Rembrandt” Book review. Oud Holland 78 (1963): 79-82; “Een fabel van Ariosto” Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 15, 1964: 93-104; and De Jongh, E. “De kunsttheorie van Cobra, 1848-1948” Simiolus 1,1 (1966-1967): 51-64; “Erwin Panofsky as a Humanist”. Translated by Gary Schwartz. Simiolus 2,3 (1967-1968): 109-113; Rembrandt en de regels van de kunst. Rembrandt and the rules of art (proefschrift Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht, 1964) Utrecht: Haentjens Dekker & Gumbert [1968] Reprint Amsterdam, 1979 (= Verzameld werk 2); “In Memoriam Dr Sturla Gudlaugsson” Simiolus 4, 3 (1971): 123; “Rudolf and Margot Wittkower, Born under Saturn” Book review. Translated by Gary Schwartz. The Art Bulletin 53 (1971): 427-428; “‘Eins aber ist nötig’ – Zu Inhalt und Bedeutung von Markt- und Kuchenstücken des 16. Jahrhunderts” Completed by Jochen Becker. in Album Amicorum J.G. van Gelder. Edited by Bruyn, J; Emmens, J.A.; De Jongh, E; Snoep, D.P. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973: 93-101; “Apelles en Apollo: Nederlandse gedichten op schilderijen in de 17de eeuw” Kunsthistorische opstellen 1, Amsterdam, 1981: 5-60; For his complete art historical oeuvre, see Kunsthistorische opstellen. 2 vols. (= Verzameld werk 3 and 4) Amsterdam 1981, with bibliography, 2: 223-225.For his poetry, see: Gedichten en aforismen (= Verzameld werk 1) Amsterdam, 1989.


    Miedema, H. “J.A. Emmens, Rembrandt en de regels van de kunst” Oud Holland 84 (1969): 249-256. Book review [personal correspondence, Gary Schwartz, December 2011]; [obituaries:] Bruyn, J. “In memoriam J.A. Emmens. August 17, 1924 – December 12, 1971” Simiolus 5, 1,2 (1971): 1-2; Reznicek, E.K.J. “J.A. Emmens” The Burlington Magazine 114 (1972): 245-246; Hecht, Peter “J.A. Emmens (1924-1971)” in Hecht, Peter; Hoogenboom, Annemieke; Stolwijk, Chris (eds.) Kunstgeschiedenis in Nederland. Negen opstellen. Amsterdam: Prometheus, 1998: 169-192.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen and Monique Daniels


    Lee Sorensen and Monique Daniels. "Emmens, J. A.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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