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Swillens, P. T. A.

    Full Name: Swillens, P. T. A.

    Other Names:

    • Pieter T. A. Swillens

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1890

    Date Died: 1963

    Place Born: Utrecht, Belgium

    Home Country/ies: Netherlands

    Career(s): curators


    Self educated art historian, amanuensis, designer and keeper of the Realia Collections at the Art Historical Institute at Utrecht University. Swillens obtained a degree in drawing at the Utrecht School for Applied Arts. He also was a musician who played the oboe in the Utrecht Orchestra, and published various articles on the history of music, mostly focusing on his home city Utrecht. Swillens decided to dedicate his active life to the visual arts, when he, in 1918, joined the Art historical Institute at Utrecht University as a volunteering assistant of Willem Vogelsang. Swillens’ task was to provide and to keep instructive materials needed for the art-historical education of the students, such as slides and reproductions. Vogelsang also ordered him to make models, plaster casts, and technical drawings, the latter to visualize the rules of the perspective. In addition, Swillens began to collect, mainly at his own expenses, all sorts of tools and materials, used in studios of painters, sculptors and engravers, and other documentation on visual arts, like prints, drawings, paintings and books. In 1923, Swillens became an employee, with the title of amanuensis. This post was upgraded to teekenaar (draughtsman, or designer) in 1929. From 1930 onward, he was allowed to teach a course on techniques of the arts. In 1940, no longer able to keep and to expand the collection by his own means, he decided to sell it. In 1941, the Art Historical Institute purchased the so-called “Technische Verzamelingen”. At the same time, Swillens hoped to be rewarded with a higher position, but the Curators of the University did not agree. In 2002, the “Swillenscollectie” was put on display in the museum of the University of Utrecht. As an art historian, and as a catholic as well, he was highly interested in the rich culture and artistic tradition of the mediaeval town of Utrecht. He published articles on a number of unknown Utrecht artists, including the sculptor Adriaen van Wesel (ca 1420-1499/1500). Swillens’ studies on Dutch seventeenth-century painting and architecture included a number of elaborate monographs on Pieter Janszoon Saenredam (1935), Johannes Vermeer (1950) and Jacob van Campen (1961). He also studied the 1718-1721 work of Arnold Houbraken (1660-1719): De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen (Great theatre of Netherlandish painters and paintresses). His useful three-volume transcription appeared between 1943 and 1953, completed with several indexes. Swillens stated more than once that the clearest sources to know an artist are documentary materials and facts, in addition to a technical and structural analysis of his works. Philosophical and historical reflections and aesthetical evaluations were in Swillens’ view not relevant. Some art historians, including Horst Gerson (in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 5 (1936): 205-206) criticized this purely descriptive and objective approach. In 1955, Swillens retired from the Institute with a Farewell lecture: Kunstschepping en kunsttechniek, presenting his rather romantic and traditional ideas on the creative process. In his view, works of art where sublime revelations of lucid images from the soul of their creator. In 1958, Swillens won the “Zilveren Anjer”, granted by the Prins Bernhard-Fund. In 1961, the Utrecht Centraal Museum asked him to prepare an exhibition on Pieter Jansz. Saenredam. On this occasion Swillens republished a separate Catalogue raisonné of Saenredam’s works, together with I. Q. van Regteren Altena, in a Dutch and an English edition.

    Selected Bibliography

    [For the most important publications, see:] Koot, Roman in Hoogenboom, Annemieke and Gerards, Inemie (eds.) De Swillenscollectie. De kunsttechnische verzameling van het Kunsthistorisch Instituut te Utrecht. Vianen: Optima, 2002: pp. 74-80; “Een perspectivische studie over de schilderijen van Jan Vermeer van Delft” Oude Kunst 7 (1929): 129-161; “Johannes Vermeer van Delft, 31 oct. 1632 – 15 dec. 1675” Opgang 12 (1932): 689-699; Pieter Janszoon Saenredam, schilder van Haarlem, 1597-1665. Amsterdam: De Spieghel, 1935; Prentkunst in de Nederlanden tot 1800. Utrecht: Het Spectrum, 1944; Nederland in de prentkunst. (Heemschutserie 43) Amsterdam: De Lange, 1944 (Reprint: Utrecht: Hes Publishers, 1978); De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen door Arn. Houbraken. 3 vols. Maastricht: Leiter-Nypels, 1943-1953; “De Utrechtse beeldhouwer Adriaen van Wesel, ± 1420 – (na) 1489” Oud Holland 63 (1948): 149-164; Johannes Vermeer, Painter of Delft, 1632-1675. Utrecht: Het Spectrum, 1950; “De Utrechtse beeldhouwer Adriaen van Wesel. Enige aanvullende mededelingen” Oud Holland 66 (1951): 228-233; Kunstschepping en kunsttechniek.Voordracht gehouden ten afscheid van zijn ambtelijke loopbaan aan het Kunsthistorisch Instituut der Rijksuniversiteit te Utrecht op 3 mei 1955. Utrecht, 1955: Prisma schilderslexicon. Utrecht: Het Spectrum, 1957; Encyclopedie van de schilderkunst & aanverwante kunsten. (Prisma-boeken) Utrecht: Het Spectrum, 1960; Jacob van Campen, schilder en bouwmeester, 1595-1657. Assen: Van Gorcum, 1961 (Reprint: Arnhem: Gysbers & Van Loon, 1979); and Van Regteren Altena, J.Q. Catalogue raisonné van de werken van Pieter Jansz. Saenredam: uitgegeven ter gelegenheid van de Tentoonstelling Pieter Jansz. Saenredam, 15 September-3 December, 1961. Utrecht: Centraal Museum, 1961.


    Utrechts Katholiek Dagblad, 2 april 1955; Hoogenboom, Annemieke and Gerards, Inemie (eds.) De Swillenscollectie. De kunsttechnische verzameling van het Kunsthistorisch Instituut te Utrecht. Vianen: Optima, 2002.

    Contributors: Monique Daniels


    Monique Daniels. "Swillens, P. T. A.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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