The Bentvueghels: birds of a feather

Young artists who travelled to Rome in the seventeenth century banded together to make merry, to provoke society, and to inspire each other. Far from home, their shared origin and a love of Rome and the art of painting created a bond.

Imagine, you’re a new arrival in an unfamiliar city and you’re looking for a group to help you feel at home.

To join the Bent you need to undergo an initiation ritual. The new member – depicted in this painting as ‘the greenling’ – is introduced to the other members and receives a Bent name. You also need to pay for a banquet. So if you don’t have any money, you don’t stand a chance.

Willem Doudijns, Bent name Diomedes. Collection Rijksmuseum

Rembrandt, geëtst portret van de schilder Jan Asselijn, alias Krabbetje.

The Bent members assign each other nicknames, referred to as Bent names. A bit of banter, some teasing or even bullying: it’s all part of the game. But how far can you go? The nicknames sometimes refer to striking or unusual physical features.

For example, Jan Asselijn is called ‘Krabbetje’ (that is, little crab), because of his deformed hand with which he could barely hold a painter’s palette.

Portrait of Jan Asselijn, Bent name Krabbetje. Collection Rijksmuseum.

‘Fools' names and fools' faces appear in public places’

Whenever the Bentvueghels get together, they like to write and draw on the walls. For instance on the wall of this inn where they have gathered to drink and smoke. This ‘graffiti’ can also be seen in other depictions of the Bent members.

Pieter van Laer, Bent name Bamboccio. Collection Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

Roeland van Laer?, De Bentvueghels en hun lofzang op Venus en Bacchus, 1626

Love and drinking are very important to the Bentvueghels. Hence this ode to Venus (the woman at the top of the pyramid), and Bacchus fit well in their repertoire.

The group also has its own songs. The text under the music score on the wall reads: ‘Chi nasc[e] matto nõ guarisce nõ gaurisce mai nõ guarisce m[ai]’. That is, ‘Who is born a fool is never cured’.

Roeland van Laer (?), detail. Collection Museo di Roma.

These artists certainly enjoy wild parties, but they also work hard. The Bentvueghels especially like to paint and draw outdoors, in the open air.

They would often go as a group to the Tivoli gardens, just outside Rome.

Jan Asselijn, Bent name Krabbetje. Collection Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

Bartholomeus Breenbergh, Capriccio met Romeinse ruïnes, beelden en een haven, collectie Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

In and around Rome, the Bentvueghels see lots of architectural and sculptural works from Classical Antiquity (or the remnants thereof). They like to make drawings of them, which they later use as a basis for their paintings. These paintings are sometimes made many years after leaving Rome, and the composition is often fused with fantasy, as in this painting here.

Bartholomeus Breenbergh, Bent name Fret. Collection Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.

Practical information

The Bentvueghels

A notorious art society in Rome.

This exhibition tells the particular story of a group of artists from the Northern and Southern Netherlands, who united in Rome around 1620 in the artist group 'The Bentvueghels'. The distinctive name of this group derives from how the members saw themselves; namely as a group of colorful birds. With their rites and customs, they parodied the two official 'sacred houses' of Italy: the Roman Catholic Church and the Accademia di San Luca. The compatriots partied and drank, but the binding factor was their painting profession.

Just like the great artists from the collection of the Centraal Museum; Van Baburen, Ter Brugghen and Honthorst, who could be admired in the exhibition Caravaggio, Utrecht and Europe, these painters were also inspired during their stay in Rome. The Centraal Museum is therefore the most logical place to tell this story about wanderlust, group formation, love for Rome and in particular artistry. Because whatever your background, where you come from or how old you are: everyone recognises the feeling of wanting to belong to a group, to explore and be inspired.

Centraal Laat

On April 6 and May 11, Centraal Laat will be held during The Bentvueghels. Click here for the events.

Media guide

Enrich your visit to The Bentvueghels with the free media guide. In the media guide, students reflect on the works of the Bentvueghels from their own experiences as a student. What do they see with their contemporary eyes when they look at the works of their peers from 400 years ago?

The media guide can be used directly on your smartphone by scanning the QR code. Or open the media guide via this link. Bring your own headphones or earphones.

Mediaguide_QR code.jpg

Thanks to


Image: Pieter van Laer, Self-Portrait with Magic Scene, ca. 1635-1637, The Leiden Collection, New York⁠ / Pieter van Laer, Landscape with Hunters, 1640, Mauritshuis, Den Haag⁠. Design by HouseTMM, commissoned by Centraal Museum, 2022⁠.


  • Archiefsprokkeling. Nog eens: Bodding (Van Laer), G.H. Kurz, (Oud Holland, 73, 4, 1958)
  • De Bentvueghels : Een berucht kunstgezelschap in Rome 1620-1720, Liesbeth M. Helmus, Het Spectrum (Amsterdam, 2023), 416 p.
  • Chi non vuol Baccho: Roland van Laer's burlesque painting about Dutch artists in Rome, Thomas Kren, (Simiolus, 11, 2, 1980), p. 63-80

Collection in this exhibition

  • No objects from the Centraal Museum collection were shown in this exhibition

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