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Elegant Shepherdess Listening to a Shepherd Playing the Recorder in an Arcadian Landscape

Govaert Flinck (Kleve 1615 – 1660 Amsterdam)
oil on canvas
139 x 170 cm
signed information

signed and dated lower left: “G flinck. f. 1654 (?)”

inventory number

Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Elegant Shepherdess Listening to a Shepherd Playing the Recorder in an Arcadian Landscape” (2018). In The Leiden Collection Catalogue, 4th ed. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Elizabeth Nogrady with Caroline Van Cauwenberge. New York, 2023–. (accessed June 13, 2024).

Govaert Flinck’s depiction of an amorous shepherd and shepherdess in the warm, evening light of a rolling landscape captures the lyrical character of the Dutch pastoral tradition. The shepherd, dressed in a burnt umber robe, calf-high sandals, and a floppy brown hat, plays a recorder as he gazes longingly at the shepherdess seated beside him. She returns her lover’s gaze with a coy, sideways glance, while placing a rose on her garland of flowers. Her arm barely conceals the plunging neckline of her bodice, which she wears over a voluminous, blue satin skirt. A lamb grazes near the pair’s feet, while the rest of the flock is visible beyond the shady enclosure of the trees.

The Leiden Collection painting is the only multi-figure pastoral landscape that Flinck executed during his career, and it reflects his familiarity with a broader pastoral tradition in the Netherlands. While Pieter Lastman (1583–1633) was the first to depict pastoral scenes, in Amsterdam in the 1610s, the genre most fully developed in Utrecht in the 1620s. There, Abraham Bloemaert (1566–1651), Paulus Moreelse (1571–1638), and Gerrit van Honthorst (1592–1656) began to produce half-length representations of shepherds and shepherdesses, popularizing the convention for pastoral images that quickly spread to cities such as Amsterdam and Dordrecht. Flinck’s own interest in pastoral subject matter began in the mid-1630s in the Amsterdam workshop of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69), evident in his portraits of Rembrandt and Saskia as Shepherd () and Shepherdess from 1636. In the Leiden Collection work, Flinck more directly explored the Arcadian themes of love and music by depicting the figures in the acts of flute playing and garland making, roles that were traditionally associated with shepherds and shepherdesses.

The Dutch interest in the portrayal of pastoral figures grew from a literary tradition that espoused the values of the simple, idyllic life of the shepherd. Works such as Pieter Cornelisz Hooft’s Granida, published in 1615, and Johan van Heemskerck’s Batavische Arcadia, from 1637, which were inspired by antique and Italian precedents, spurred the growing taste for pastoral cultural ideals. The flowering of this genre was similarly evident in the production of Crispijn de Passe’s book of engraved pastoral portraits, Les vrais portraits de quelques unes des plus grandes dames de la Chrestiente, desguisées en bergères, from 1640, as well as in the Hofdicht, or “country house” poetry and songbooks, of Jacob Cats, Jan Harmens Krul, and Joost van den Vondel, which were published in Amsterdam in the middle decades of the century.

A number of Dutch artists in this period portrayed the interaction between an amorous shepherd and shepherdess in a landscape, largely without a specific narrative. In his Pastoral Scene of 1627 (), for example, Abraham Bloemaert focused on the relationship between the shepherd and shepherdess in an expansive landscape. The shepherdess, identified by her crook and gourd, engages the advances of the humble shepherd who brazenly places his flute under her skirt. This sense of amorous revelry resonates in Flinck’s painting, although the relationship between the figures is more convincingly portrayed as one of reciprocal pastoral love. With her ivory skin, blond hair, and revealing neckline, Flinck’s elegant shepherdess welcomes the flirtatious advances of her male companion. Flinck emphasized the sensuous nature of their interchange by positioning the woman’s circular garland directly at the end of the shepherd’s flute. The soft, graceful forms of Flinck’s figures and the earth-toned palette reflect the lyricism of the pastoral tradition and the evocation of Arcadian themes.

The subject and character of the Leiden Collection painting are also consistent with the broader classicizing interests and style of history painters working in Amsterdam around 1650. Artists such as Jacob Backer (1608/9–51), Ferdinand Bol (1616–80)Jacob van Loo (1614–70), and Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (1621–74), turned increasingly to subjects drawn from or inspired by Dutch and Italian pastoral literature and mythology. For example, in Bol’s Portrait of Leonard Winnincx and Helena van den Heuvel as Jason and Medea (), from 1664, the couple’s exchange similarly occurs in the foreground beneath a dense cluster of trees. Although the eroticism of Bol’s image is made more explicit by the woman’s exposed breast, the large, solid figures and warm palette suggest the commonalities between Flinck and Bol’s compositional and stylistic approaches. Flinck’s broad, sweeping brushstrokes and looser handling of paint, however, distinguish this work from that of his contemporary and enhance its suggestive and elegant tone. These qualities would have made the Leiden Collection painting suitable as a chimneypiece in a sophisticated Amsterdam home, a setting that reflected the elite, intellectual circles in which Flinck operated in the seventeenth century.

- Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 2018
  • Possibly Jan Steen (1625/6–79), Leiden (his sale, Alkmaar, 12 August 1750, no. 8).
  • Anthonie H.G. Fokker (1890–1939), by 1938; thence by descent (sale, Amsterdam, 8 May 2007, no. 73 [Johnny van Haeften Ltd., London]).
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2007.
  • Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, 1939–45, on loan with the permanent collection [lent by the heirs of A.H.G. Fokker].
  • Kleve, Museum Kurhaus Kleve, “Govert Flinck—Reflecting History,” 4 October 2015–17 January 2016, no. 21 [lent by the present owner].
  • Amsterdam, Amsterdam Museum; Amsterdam, Museum Het Rembrandthuis. “Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck—Rembrandt’s Master Pupils, 13 October 2017–18 February 2018, no. 29 [lent by the present owner].
  • Von Moltke, Joachim Wolfgang. Govaert Flinck, 1615–1660. Amsterdam, 1965, 97, no. 147, plate 30.
  • Kettering, Alison McNeil. “Rembrandt’s Flute Player: A Unique Treatment of a Pastoral.” Simiolus 9, no. 1 (1977): 41–42, no. 24.
  • Sumowski, Werner. Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler in vier Bänden. 6 vols. Landau and Pfalz, 1983–94, 2: 1025, no. 635.
  • Schatborn, Peter, and Leonore van Sloten. Old Drawings, New Names: Rembrandt and His Contemporaries. Exh. cat. Amsterdam, Rembrandt House Museum. Amsterdam, 2014, 79, fig. 21b.
  • Van der Molen, Tom, and Valentina Vlasic. Govert Flinck—Reflecting History. Exh. cat. Kleve, Museum Kurhaus Kleve. Kleve, 2015, 127, 137, no. 21.
  • Sluijter, Eric Jan. “Out of Rembrandt’s Shadow: Govert Flinck and Ferdinand Bol as History Painters.” In Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck—Rembrandt’s Master Pupils. Edited by Norbert Middelkoop and David DeWitt, 110, fig. no. 132, 228, cat no. 29. Exh. cat. Amsterdam, Amsterdam Museum; Amsterdam, Museum Het Rembrandthuis. Zwolle, 2017.
  • Blanc, Jan. “Being Modern, Being Dutch: The Seventeenth-Century Invention of the Golden Age.” In Rembrandt, Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age. Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre. Edited by Blaise Ducos and Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 38. Exh. cat. Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi. London, 2019. [Exhibition catalogue also published in French and Arabic.]

The painting was executed on a plain, open-weave canvas of medium weight. The canvas had been lined previously with a wax adhesive. This lining was removed and replaced with a glue-paste lining in 2016. At some point in the painting’s history, the tacking margins had been opened up and incorporated into the picture plane, expanding the size of the painting slightly. During the relining in 2016, the tacking margins on the top and sides were folded back over the stretcher, and along the bottom approximately half of the tacking margin was folded over the stretcher. Therefore the painting is now close to its original dimensions, but remains slightly expanded along the bottom edge.

The fabric support was prepared with a dark reddish-brown ground. Infrared photographs show a fairly detailed underdrawing executed in liquid medium for the shepherd, but not for the shepherdess. Flinck left the underdrawing exposed in some areas, for example in the drapery. The infrared photograph also reveals several small artist’s changes, the most significant being an adjustment to lower the shepherdess’s garment on her proper right shoulder and breast.

The paint was applied thinly and has become more translucent with time. Flinck left the warm ground exposed, or covered it with translucent glazes in some areas, such as the blue drapery and the landscape in the upper-left quadrant. Impasto is limited to highlights in the foreground landscape, flowers, and flesh.

The painting is in good condition. There is a vertical tear in the upper-left quadrant above the sheep and an L-shaped tear to the right of the shepherd’s head. There are also two diagonal linear paint losses in the vessel in the right foreground, and other small, scattered losses throughout the composition. The paint has suffered some abrasion as well. The painting was treated in 2014 to resaturate the varnish and inpaint losses, and again in 2016 to remove the lining and replace it with a more suitable one, as well as to remove and replace the varnish and inpainting.


This summary is based on an examination report by Simon Howell and Rachel Carey-Thomas dated December 4, 2012; a treatment report by Kirsten Younger dated January 8, 2014; notes from Timothy John Watson on treatment dated December 6, 2016, and December 20, 2016; and undated technical notes by Annette Rupprecht.


  1. Abraham Blooteling (1634–90), after Govaert Flinck, A Couple of Young Shepherds, ca. 1655–90, etching and engraving, 283 x 355 mm.
  2. John Smith (ca. 1652–ca. 1742), after Govaert Flinck, Shepherd and Shepherdess with a Garland, ca. 1683–1729, 167 x 210 mm.
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