Vision of Naval Might
A Marine Painting for the Great Elector

02.12.2022 to 16.04.2023

After more than 170 years, a virtually forgotten jewel in the collection of the Gemäldegalerie of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin is being presented to the public once more: marine painting Dreimaster auf leicht bewegter See (Three-Master on Lightly Moving Sea) by Olfert de Vrij (1635–1699). This precisely rendered painting had become largely unrecognisable due to sections of flaked-off paint, severe yellowing and discoloured patches of overpainting, with its miserable condition keeping it hidden away in storage for decades. After extensive restoration work, the work can once again be admired in all its beauty – and to celebrate this event, it will be showcased in a dedicated studio exhibition.

A Vision in Black and White

This masterpiece is of significance not just for art history, but also for the history of the Margraviate of Brandenburg: it features a highly specialized technique that was characteristic of marine painting, and was most likely commissioned by the Great Elector. It was painted by Olfert de Vrij (1635–1699), an artist who is largely unknown today. He worked in the city of Hoorn in North Holland as a lawyer, city official and amateur painter. Though de Vrij was not a professional artist, he ranks among the most gifted and technically skilled marine painters of so-called “penschilderijen” (pen paintings) of the 17th century. This picture depicts two merchant frigates. Their clearly visible coats of arms enable them to be identified as the ships that were built in Amsterdam in 1662–63 for Frederick William, the Great Elector of Brandenburg.

Projected Ambitions

This exhibition present the only two publicly accessible works by Olfert de Vrij for the first time. It showcases his impressive painterly technique and the extensive efforts to restore the Berlin marine painting, which were only brought to completion in 2021. Drawings from the Kupferstichkabinett of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin help to situate the works in the broader context of Dutch marine painting. As well as this, the exhibition looks at the historical background to the tireless efforts of the Great Elector to establish Brandenburg as a naval power. This is also reflected in another Dutch marine scene from the 17th century by Lieve Verschuier from Oranienburg Palace, and by a number of gold ducats from the Münzkabinett of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. The latter provide not only evidence of the way that the Great Elector projected his image, but also of Brandenburg’s participation in the trade of precious metals and slaves. 

A special exhibition by the Gemäldegalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Giovanni Antonio Canal, The Canal Grande with a View Southeast toward the Rialto Bridge, detail, ca. 1758 – 1759
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie / Dietmar Gunne

Permanent exhibition

10785 Berlin

wheelchair accessible

U-Bahn: Potsdamer Platz
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Old Master Paintings Paintings from the 13th to 18th century
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Paintings from the 13th to 18th century
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Related Links

Museum and the City: „Preußens Träume vom Meer“ im Blog der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin

Forschungsprojekt „Olfert de Vrijs: Gemälde Dreimaster auf leicht bewegter See"