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Gudlaugsson, Sturla

    Full Name: Gudlaugsson, Sturla

    Other Names:

    • Sturla Jonasson Gudlaugsson

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1913

    Date Died: 1971

    Place Born: Skagen, Nordjylland, Denmark

    Place Died: Rotterdam, South Holland, Netherlands

    Home Country/ies: Denmark

    Subject Area(s): connoisseurship, Dutch (culture or style), iconography, Northern Renaissance, painting (visual works), and seventeenth century (dates CE)


    Connoisseur; specialist in Dutch seventeenth-century painting and iconography; Director of the Netherlands Institute for Art History and the Mauritshuis in The Hague. Gudlaugsson was born in Skagen as the son of the Icelandic poet Jonas Gudlaugsson (1887-1916). His mother, Maria Ingenohl, was a Dutch woman raised in Germany. After the death of her husband, she moved with Gudlaugsson, her only child, to Berlin. Gudlaugsson studied art history in Berlin and in Munich. His teachers in Berlin included Oskar Fischel and Wilhelm Pinder. In spring 1936, he did research in the Netherlands, in the Amsterdam Rijksprentenkabinet. In 1939, he obtained his doctoral degree at the University of Berlin with the dissertation: Ikonographische Studien über die holländische Malerei und das Theater des siebzehnten Jahrhunderts with Pinder as his advisor. The study deals with the rather complicated relationship between scenes in theater plays and representations in Dutch genre painting. The book of his Dutch friend, Frithjof W. S. van Thienen (1901-1969), Das Kostüm der Blütezeit Hollands (Berlin, 1930), had been an important source of inspiration. After his student years, Gudlaugsson worked as a volunteer in the Berlin Schlossmuseum. In 1939, however, he decided to leave Nazi Germany, and moved first to Denmark, where he was appointed assistant in the Nationalhistoriske Museum Frederiksborgslot in Hilleröd. Early in 1942, he immigrated to the Netherlands, where he found employment in the Municipal Museum of The Hague. He joined the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Dokumentatie (Netherlands Institute for Art History) in The Hague in 1943 (remaining there until 1970). In 1965, he succeeded his life-long colleague Horst Gerson as the director of the institute. With accuracy and connoisseurship he documented the art historical collection, including thousands of photographs of works of art. His interest in portraits and his knowledge of the history of the costume were often useful. He continued his research on the relationship between theater and Dutch seventeenth-century painting. In 1945 De komedianten bij Jan Steen en zijn tijdgenoten (Comediants by Jan Steen and his contemporaries) appeared. In a series of articles he focused on Dutch paintings depicting scenes from the popular plays “Lucelle” and “Granida”, the former translated into Dutch by G.A. Bredero (1585-1618), and the latter written by P.C. Hooft (1581-1647). In this same period, Gudlaugsson started working on the Dutch painter Gerard ter Borch. In his article “De datering van de schilderijen van Gerard ter Borch” he dealt with the chronology of a series of paintings of Ter Borch, correcting the dates previously given by Eduard Plietzsch in his 1944 monograph on Ter Borch. Gudlaugsson criticized the method followed by Plietzsch and argued that along with the stylistic analysis different approaches are necessary to establish a valuable chronology for the oeuvre of Ter Borch. In his own research, Gudlaugsson took into account distinctive aspects of the representations: the costume, decorative features of interiors, and the resemblance between persons in different paintings. In 1959-1960 appeared his magnum opus: Geraert ter Borch. In the first volume the artistic evolution of the painter’s oeuvre is described in close relation with the succeeding periods of his life. The second volume, the critical catalog, contains an amount of information, including references to the history of costume and emblemata. The book won the 1960 “Karel Van Mander Prize”. It was praised in the Connoisseur (146, January 1961: 270) and Oud Holland (79, 1964: 135-139). In a remarkable lecture, Gudlaugsson elucidated his broad knowledge on emblematic iconography in Dutch seventeenth-century genre painting, but the manuscript remained unpublished. As director of the Rijksbureau, Gudlaugsson coordinated the revision and re-edition of J.-B. de la Faille‘s Van Gogh catalog. In 1966 he joined the editorial board of Oud Holland, in which journal he published frequently. Between 1964 and 1968 he wrote a series of contributions in Kindlers Malerei Lexicon. Along with his position in the Rijksbureau, Gudlaugsson had a caring interest for the Royal Cabinet of Paintings the Mauritshuis in The Hague. Its successive directors, J. G. van Gelder and A. B. de Vries frequently consulted Gudlaugsson on ongoing affairs in the museum. On June 1st, 1970, Gudlaugsson eventually succeeded De Vries as director of the Mauritshuis. To honor the retiring director, Gudlaugsson organized an exhibition of the paintings acquired by De Vries for the Mauritshuis, and wrote the catalog: Vijfentwintig jaar aanwinsten Mauritshuis [1945-1970]. Gudlaugsson had only just begun his new position when he unexpectedly died in March 1971, at the age of 57. For many years, Gudlaugsson did investigations on nineteenth-century painting, focused on the Biedermeier period, but his premature death left the work unfinished. Walter Liedtke wrote that Gudlaugsson’s 1959-1960 work on ter Borch the opening of a golden age in Dutch scholarship.

    Selected Bibliography

    [For a selection of his publications, see:] Gerson, Horst. Jaarboek van de Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde te Leiden 1971-1972: 161-164; Ikonographische Studiën über die holländische Malerei und das Theater des siebzenhten Jahrhunderts. Wurzburg: Dissertions-Verlag K.J. Triltsch, 1938; De komedianten bij Jan Steen en zijn tijdgenoten. The Hague, 1945; “Bredero’s Lucelle door eenige zeventiende eeuwsche meesters uitgebeeld.” Nederlandsch Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 1 (1947): 177-195; “Representations of Granida in Dutch Seventeenth-Century Painting I” Burlington Magazine 90 (1948): 226-230; II: 348-351; III 91 (1949): 39-43; “Adriaen Pauw’s intocht te Munster, een gemeenschappelijk werk van Gerard ter Borch en Gerard van der Horst” Oud Holland 63 (1948): 39-47; “De datering van de schilderijen van Gerard ter Borch” Nederlandsch Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 2 (1948-1949): 235-267; “Aanvullingen omtrent Pieter Post’s werkzaamheid als schilder” Oud Holland 69 (1954): 59-71; Geraert ter Borch. 2 vols. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1959-60; “Kanttekeningen bij de ontwikkeling van Metsu” Oud Holland 83 (1968: 13-43; Vijfentwintig jaar aanwinsten Mauritshuis. The Hague, 1970.


    [obituaries:] De Vries, A.B. “S.J. Gudlaugsson” Burlington Magazine 113 (July-December 1971): 742-743; “In Memoriam S.J. Gudlaugsson” Oud Holland 86 (1971): 1-2; Emmens, J.A. “In Memoriam Dr. Sturla Gudlaugsson” Simiolus 4, 3 (1971); Gerson, Horst. Kunstchronik 24 (1971) 274-276; Gerson, Horst. “Sturla Jonasson Gudlaugsson” Jaarboek van de Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde te Leiden 1971-1972 (1973): 150-164; Bergström, Ingvar. “In memoriam Sturla J. Gudlaugsson 1913-1971” Konsthistorisk Tidskrift 42 (June 1973): 67; Müller-Hofstede, Cornelius Weltkunst 41 (1971): 350; Liedtke, Walter. “The Study of Dutch Art in America.” Artibus et Historiae 21, no. 41 (2000): 214.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen and Monique Daniels


    Lee Sorensen and Monique Daniels. "Gudlaugsson, Sturla." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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