As I have written in previous blogs, I am always pleased to discover a “new” artist, one that I had never come across before even though they may have been well known to many of you. Today I have just such an artist.
I have always loved landscape paintings above all other genres of art but I am slowly coming to appreciate more and more a well executed portrait. Today I have such a portrait.
I am always enchanted by a painting of a beautiful face such as the painting by Gerald Brockhurst, entitled Jeunesse Dorée (May 16th). Today I have such a painting.
My Daily Art Display today is a painting by the Dutch painter Jan Van Scorel entitled simply Head of a Girl.
Jan van Sorel was born in 1495 in the small village of Schoorl, which lies 8kms north west of Alkmaar. Like many people of the time his surname is derived from the name of his birthplace. It is thought that he started his artistic journey of discovery in Haarlem studying under the likes of Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten, the Dutch Golden Age painter and Cornelis Buys also known as the Master of Alkmaar. It is also known that around the end of 1518, when he was in his early twenties, he studied under Jan Gossaert in Utrecht and was probably through Gossaert’s recommendation that van Scorel began travelling through Europe. He journeyed south from the Netherlands heading towards Italy, stopping off in a number of German towns including Nuremburg, where he met and stayed with Albrecht Dürer, before crossing the Alps into Austria. Historical records show that he was registered in Venice between 1518 and 1522. It was whilst he lived in Venice that he came across the works of Gorgione which were to have a great influence on his artistic career.
He left Venice with a group of Dutch pilgrims and set off on a pilgrimage passing through Malta, Rhodes and Cyprus before arriving at Holy Land and visiting Jerusalem and Bethlehem. His Holy Land experiences were to feature in many of his later paintings. Returning from the Holy Lands he headed for Rome and in 1522, aged twenty-seven, he became the painter to the Vatican under the rule of Pope Adrian VI, the Dutch pontiff, who was a native of Utrecht, and who himself sat for a portrait by van Scorel. He also became the curator of the vast collection of papal antiquities in the Belvedere and this allowed him to see the Vatican’s artistic treasures including the works of Michelangelo and Raphael and through this van Scorel gained great inspiration from their works of art. In 1524 van Scorel returned to his homeland and settled in Utrecht where he remained for the rest of his life and where he continued to paint and teach art. One of his students was the great Dutch artist Maarten van Heemskerck who is famous for his religious works and portraits. Van Scorel died in Utrecht in 1562, aged 67.
Van Scorel was a highly educated man. He spoke many languages and was not only a painter; he was also skilled as an engineer and architect. His journey to Italy was to become an essential ritual for the next generation of Dutch and Flemish artists and their coming into contact with the Mannerist circles in Rome and Florence allowed them to introduce the style in their own country. Van Scorel was considered by many as the artist who introduced High Italian Renaissance art to the Netherlands and was considered to be the leading Netherlandish Romanist of the time. Romanism was the style of painting of a group of Netherlandish artists in the late 15th and early 16th century who began to visit Italy and started to incorporate Renaissance influences in their work. The greatest proponent of this style of art was Jan Gossaert. The influence of Michelangelo and Raphael showed in their works in the way they would use classical imagery such as mythological scenes and nudes.
Four years after van Scorel’s death came The Iconoclasm, the Dutch name being Beeldenstorm, which literally translated means “storm of icons” and is the collective name for the destruction of catholic churches and possessions which had been raging in Europe for the past forty years but only came to Utrecht and the rest of the Netherlands between August and October 1566. During this Protestant Beeldenstorm, hundreds of catholic churches, chapels, abbeys and cloisters in the Netherlands were totally destroyed by rampaging Protestant mobs along with all their contents such as, altars, icons, chalices, paintings,and church books. Unfortunately during this turbulent time of religious fanaticism, a large number of Van Scorel’s works were destroyed. The Beeldenstorm marked the beginning of the revolution against the Spanish forces, which had occupied the Netherlnads and the Catholic Church which had asserted its authority over its people.
Unfortunately I have little to tell you about the painting itself. Head of a Girl was painted by Jan van Scorel between 1530 and 1535 and now hangs in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna. Before us we see just the head and neck of the girl. She fills the painting and the plain background helps us to concentrate on her face. There is no symbolism associated with this painting. Nothing needs to be interpreted. The title of the painting speaks for itself. What you see is what you have – the face of a lovely young girl. Her dark almond-shaped eyes avert our gaze as she peers to her left. The light comes from her right hand side and the left side of her face is in shade. She has a small mouth with full red lips. Her red hair is plaited on top of her head. I am taken by her gentle expression of contemplation. I can almost detect a hint of sorrow in her gaze or maybe it is a look of acquiescence. All in all, this young woman, whoever she may be, is truly beautiful and deserves to be in My Daily Art Display.
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