Granida and Daifilo by Gerard van Honthorst

Granida and Daifilo by Gerard van Honthorst (1625)

As I research paintings and artists for my blog, I delve into various books which I have and of course use the internet.  One of the best art history magazines about is The Burlington Magazine which is published monthly.  However although I have, in a rush of blood to the head, almost signed up for it, the cost of a few pence under £20 per issue I feel  is just too much.  However the other day I bought the Centenary Anthology of the magazine from eBay and although I have just skimmed through some of the 250+ pages I am pleased with my purchase.  It was as I flicked through the pages I came across a beautiful work by Gerard van Honthorst and I thought it was time to feature this Dutch painter and one of his works.

Gerard or Gerrit van Honthorst was born in Utrecht in 1592.  His father was a textile painter and his younger brother Willem also went on to become an artist.  His first taste of art came when he was apprenticed to the great Dutch painter Abraham Bloemaert.  Bloemaert, who resided in Utrecht, was an outstanding teacher and virtually all the aspiring young Utrecht painters of that time, who went on to become famous, had at one time studied under this artistic master.

In his early twenties, Honthorst travelled to Italy and during his stay in Rome where he lived in the palace of a patron of Caravaggio, Vincenzo Giustiniani, he was influenced by the works and style of the famous artist who was at the height of his popularity.  Whilst in Italy, Honthorst developed a similar artistic style to Caravaggio in the way he often portrayed his figures in the darkness of night lit by candlelight and this style acquired him the Italian nickname Gherardo delle Notti (Gerard of the Night).   His paintings were very popular and he managed to acquire a number of wealthy patrons including the powerful Scipione Borghese the Italian Renaissance cardinal who was a great patron of the arts and an avid art collector.  He was also patron to Caravaggio.  Another of his patrons was Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani an aristocratic Italian banker and art collector

Honthorst returned to Utrecht around 1620 and that same year married Sophia Coopmans.  Along with his fellow artist, Hendrick ter Brugghen, they set up an art school in Utrecht.  Due to the influence of Caravaggio  on the works of the two Dutch painters and the way their paintings showed strong and bold contrasts between light and dark known as chiaroscuro,  they were looked upon as representing Utrecht Caravaggism.

In 1622 van Honthorst joined the Guild of St Luke in Utrecht and three years later was made president of the society.   Van Honthorst fame as a painter spread and he was much sort after as a teacher so much so that in 1627 he moved to a much larger house and turned part of it into his workshop.  The following year, following his rising artistic reputation reaching the English court, he was invited to work at the court of King Charles I.  He remained in England until the end of 1628 at which time he returned to Utrecht.

In 1637 Van Honthorst moved to The Hague when he became the court painter to the Princess of Orange and received a number of commissions for portraits from the Dutch ruler Frederick Hendrick, Prince of Orange and his family and during this period he also worked on the decoration of the royal residences.  His fame spread and he received many royal commissions from the likes of the French Queen Maria de Medici, mother of King Louis XIII, King Christian IV of Denmark and Elizabeth of Bohemia, Charles I of England’s sister.

With success came great wealth and he was fortunate enough to live a luxurious lifestyle.  Gerard van Honthorst died in Utrecht in 1656, aged 64.

The featured painting in today’s My Daily Art Display is entitled Granida and Daifilo which Gerard van Honthorst completed in 1625 and was commissioned by  Stadholder Frederick Hendrick  for his residence at Honselaerdijk and was to form part of a number of paintings of pastoral scenes.

The title of the painting refers to the characters in a pastoral play written by Pieter Hooft, the Dutch historian, poet and playwright entitled Granida.  The story of the play was that Granida and Daifilo were lovers.   Granida, the daughter of an eastern king, was betrothed to Prince Tisiphernes but one day became lost while out hunting.  She came upon a shepherd Daifilo and his mistress Dorilea who had just quarrelled.  Daifilo fetched water for the princess to drink and fell in love with her. He followed her to court and, after several twists and turns in the story, they fled to the woods together to live a pastoral life. However, Daifilo was taken prisoner by one of Granida’s several suitors. The play had a happy ending and the couple were finally reunited after the intervention of Tisiphernes who took pity on the young pair and gave up his claim to her.

The colours of this painting are bright and the details of the two protagonists in this amorous scene set in this idealised woodland setting give it a touch of classicism.  Nevertheless, there is a touch of realism, which was associated with the Caravaggists as we see the dirty soles of Daifilo’s feet.  In the background to the right we see the soldiers approaching the lovers with the intent to arrest them.

The play set a fashion for pastoral idyll in the Netherlands where Granida and Daifilo became iconic symbols of love. The play was noted for the delicacy of its poetry and the simplicity of its moral.  The moral to this tale was that individuals and nations can be at peace only when rulers and subjects alike shun ambition and seek only to serve. Though not well known today, it was a very popular work in early 17th century Netherlands, and Granida and Daifilo were the subject of many important paintings by Dutch masters.

The painting can be found in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht