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Soldiers and Villagers Leaving a Burning Village, 1637

Aert van der Neer

Dutch, 1603-1677
Oil on panel
14-3/8 x 20-1/4 in. (36.5 x 51.4 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation, from the Estate of Jennifer Jones Simon
M.2010.1.87.P
© 2012 Norton Simon Art Foundation

Not on view

Aert van der Neer devoted himself to two specific categories of landscape painting, winter and moonlit scenes. This is one of his earliest known portrayals of fire and his considerable powers of observation are evident in the atmospheric effects of the thick smoke rising against the backdrop of a still smoldering town, the sight of a previous military siege.

Although the precise subject of this painting is unknown, it likely belongs to the pictorial genre that explored the life of the Dutch soldier. These included depictions of cavalry battles, images of soldiers at leisure and, occasionally, their abuse of citizenry. In this village scene smoke billows from the ruins of a burning Gothic church. Van der Neer captures both the emotions of the agitated villagers, who petition a gentleman on horseback, and the dejected postures of the manacled prisoners, who are being driven off by cavaliers on the right.

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