Italy exerted a powerful attraction on northern European artists from the 16th century on. Many of them travelled to Italy as part of their artistic training. They went there to study the art of antiquity, the Renaissance and of their own time. These painters were called ‘Italianates’. The first generation of northerners captured Italian folklife in genre scenes with marked contrasts of light and dark. Later Italianates concentrated on the surroundings and painted landscapes with mountains, ruins and groups of people or animals, all bathed in golden sunlight.
Most of the Dutch and Flemish Italianiates concluded their journey in Rome. There, in 1623, they founded an artists’ fraternity, the ‘Bent’ (band of painters). Its members, called ‘Bentveughels’ (birds of a feather), were subject to a rite of initiation and given a nickname. Well-known Bentveughels are Cornelis van Poelenburch, Jan Asselijn, Jan Both, Jean Baptiste Weenix and Herman van Swanevelt. Inspired by them, painters in the Netherlands began working in the same style without ever having set foot in Italy.