The Bean King by Jacob Jordaens

The Bean King by Jacob Jordaens (c.1665)
(Kunsthistoriches Museum Vienna)

My Daily Art Display today features the Flemish painter Jacob Jordaens.  He along with Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck made up a triumvirate of great seventeenth century Flemish Baroque painters.  These three artists were in the forefront of the Antwerp School of painters, which was the artistic stronghold of Flemish Baroque art.

Jacob Jordaens was born in Antwerp in 1593.  He came from a very large family being the eldest of eleven children of his father Jacob Jordaens Senior, who was a wealthy linen merchant, and his mother Barbara van Wolschaten.  Coming from a wealthy family background it is assumed that young Jacob was afforded the best education.   This assumption is borne out by his clear handwriting and his competence in conversing in French.   In 1607, at the age of fourteen, he was apprenticed to the Antwerp painter Adam van Noort and he lived with van Noort and his family.  Fifteen years earlier, Rubens had been an apprentice of van Noort.   Adam van Noort was to be Jordaens only artistic tutor.  In 1615, aged twenty-two, and having completed his eight-year apprenticeship, Jordaens became a member of the Antwerp Guild of St Luke as a waterschilder.  A waterschilder was a painter of watercolours on canvas or paper which were then used as substitute tapestries.  A year later in 1616 Jordaens started to paint in oils.  His talent as an oil painter soon meant that he abandoned his watercolour work in favour of oil painting which was far more profitable.

In May 1616 Jacob Jordaens married Catherina van Noort, the eldest daughter of his tutor, and the couple went on to have three children, Elizabeth, Jacob and Anna Catharina.  Once married the couple moved from his father in law’s house to the Everdijstraat and two years later he had made sufficient money from his art to buy a house in the Hoogstraat, the very street in which he was born twenty five years earlier.   At the age of twenty-eight he was made the dean of the Guild of St Luke a post which he held for one year.

His father died in 1618 and his mother passed away in 1633.  On his mother’s death Jacob inherited Het Paradijs, the house in which he was born.  His artistic career at this point in time could not have been better.  Commissions for his work were flooding in and he became a leading light in Antwerp’s artistic circles.  Many of the commissions came from the authorities of the Catholic Church who wanted large altarpieces and he also designed several cycles of real, woven tapestries.

Between 1634 and 1638 he collaborated with Rubens on a number of commissions.  Jordaens continued to receive more and more commissions from wealthy patrons, including one for a series of twenty-two paintings from King Charles I of England in 1639.    His ever improving financial situation allowed him to have a new stylish home built next door to the one he had purchased in Hoogstraat and the two were combined to form one large residence affording him greater living space and studio work rooms.  Jordaens’ collaborator Rubens died in May 1640 and Rubens’ heirs approached Jordaens with a request for him to complete a commission for two paintings that Philip IV of Spain had given Rubens.  Jordaens fame as an artist grew throughout Europe and young aspiring painters came from many countries to study his techniques and work for him in his Antwerp studio.

In his later years, although a practicing Catholic, he clashed a number of times with the Catholic Church and his disagreement with some of the church’s beliefs.   In the 1650’s he was fined two hundred and forty pounds for publishing what the Catholic Church regarded as blasphemous and heretical writings.  In 1671, aged seventy-eight, Jordaens turned his back on the Catholic Church and was admitted into the Protestant faith, the Reformed congregation in Antwerp known as the Mount of Olives under the Cross.  As the Catholic Church was the only permitted religion in Flanders, which was under Spanish rule, the religious meetings of the Reformed Calvinist church were held secretly at worshipers’ homes, including the home of Jacob Jordaens.

Jacob Jordaens died on October 18th 1678, aged 85.  His death was from what has been termed a “mystery disease” and tragically, on that very day, this same disease struck and killed his unmarried daughter, Elizabeth, who lived with him.  Because Jordaens was now a Protestant he could not be buried in a Catholic cemetery in his home town of Antwerp and both father and daughter were buried together in the Protestant cemetery in Putte, a small village just north of the Dutch-Flemish border.  It is also in this cemetery that his wife, who died in 1659, was buried.

Have you ever heard the expression bean feast or beano?  My Daily Art Display featured painting today is all about the bean feast.  The term bean feast, often shortened to beano means a celebratory party with plentiful food and drink.  Today’s featured painting is entitled The Bean King and was completed by Jacob Jordaens around 1655 and was the fourth and last version he painted on this subject.  It is housed at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.  The subject is the traditional Netherlandish feast held on January 6, the Day of the Three Kings or Magi, who came, according to the Gospels, to worship the Christ Child. Traditionally, a pie or cake containing a bean was baked for the festivities, and he who found the bean in his piece of pie or cake became Bean King. In this picture Jordaens showed the most joyful and noisy moment of the feast. Rich colouring and dynamic gestures emphasize the air of festivity.

King for the day !!!

In the painting we can see a joyous and boisterous gathering sitting around a table, well stocked with food, and presided over by an old man with a crown on his head who, having found the bean in his slice of cake has been crowned the Bean King.  He has in turn chosen the prettiest lady in the gathering to be his Queen.  We see her as she sits demurely to the left of the king and seems to be overwhelmed by the whole occasion.  The rest of the group were appointed as the king’s courtiers by the newly crowned King.  The celebration meal would be punctuated at regular by the king raising his glass, as would the gathered merrymakers, and he would shout “The King drinks!”  at which time everybody else takes a swig of their drink.

There is an exuberant vitality about this work.  This painting is in the tradition of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and his tavern scenes, fairs and other over-indulgent festivities which were awash with unbridled merriment.  It is fascinating to look closely at the people in the gathering.   Take time and study the individual expressions on their faces.   On the left we see a man holding his head as he vomits.  Close by is a young child who has gained the unwanted attention of a large dog.  Whilst most of the men seem to be occupied in raising their glasses to the king, the one to the left of the queen grasps the chin of a young woman in a prelude to forcing a kiss upon her.   The cheeky looks we get from the women coupled with their low-cut neckline of their dresses would have us believe that they may be there to sell their wares to the highest bidders.  Old and young, sober and drunk are squashed together.  We are looking at a chaotic scene in a murky tavern atmosphere lit up solely by a shaft of light which streams through the window to the left of the painting.  This shaft of light seems to separate the revellers into distinct groups.   Jordaens has managed to depict an atmosphere of unrestrained emotion and merriment, giving each character expressive gestures and facial features.

In his interpretation, the everyday scene takes on a truly monumental character and can be read as an affirmation of life. The energetic composition with its warm golden-brown colouring marks out Jordaens as a follower of Rubens and one of the leading masters of the Flemish Baroque.  The final irony to this painting is a plaque on the wall above the heads of the revellers, on which is inscribed a moralizing Latin proverb:

 “No-one resembles the fool more than the drunkard”

The painting below is the version of The Bean King by Jordaens which he painted around 1638 and which can be found in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

The Bean King by Jacob Jordaens (c.1638)
(The Hermitage, St Petersburg)

Another version of The Bean King by Jacob Jordaens (below) can be found at the Staatliche Museen, Kassel.

The Bean King by Jacob Jordaens (c.1635-55)
(Staatliche Museen, Kassel)

Portrait of Susanna Lunden by Peter Paul Rubens

Portrait of Susanna Lunden by Peter Paul Rubens (c.1622-5)

My Daily Art Display today is an oil on oak painting by Peter Paul Rubens which he completed around 1625.  It was entitled Portrait of Susanna Lunden (?).   An alternate title Le Chapeau de Paille, meaning straw hat, was first used in connection with this painting in the early 18th century.  However looking at the painting one can see that the lady is not wearing a straw hat which leads some art historians to believe that the alternate title of the painting is more likely to have been Le Chapeau de Poilpoil being the French word for fur.

There is a relaxed attitude to this picture presumably because of the family connection of artist and sitter.  The hat which partly shades the face of the lady is a dominant feature of this painting.   It is believed that the sitter is Susanna Lunden who was the third daughter of the Antwerp tapestry and silk merchant Daniel Fourment for whom Rubens designed.  There was, besides a working connection, a relationship between Fourment and the artist as in 1630, Rubens was to marry Susanna’s younger sister Hélène.  Also his sister-in-law, from his first marriage to Isabella Brunt was married to Susanna’s brother David Fourment.  The picture, which was started by Rubens around 1622, was at the time of Susanna’s second marriage, this time to Arnold Lunden.  Her first marriage ended with the death of her husband when she was still a teenager.  Judging by the ring on Susanna’s right index finger it is quite possible that the painting was a betrothal or marriage portrait.

Strange as it may seem, the painting grew in size as it was being painted as we now know that an extra strip of wood was added to the right-hand side and further strip of wood added to the bottom.  These additional strips allowed Rubens to enlarge his background and create a greater spread of sky to which the artist was then able to add some dark clouds to the right-hand side of the background, which contrasted to the clearer blue sky to the left.  Maybe there was some meaning to this contrast in the skies.  Maybe the dark clouds symbolised the sadness of a young widow and the bright blue skies represented the coming of a new and happy life through her second betrothal.  The light from the left hand side of the painting falls across the lady’s body and hands but the right side of her face is partly in shadow owing to the large brim of the hat.  However even the shadow could not lessen the lustre of her skin and the intensity of her eyes. 

It is a sparkling portrait.  The smiling Susanna seems thoughtful.    Maybe it is a shy smile.  Maybe it is a coy smile.  I wonder if she realises the beauty Rubens has conjured up for this portrait.  I am not even sure she is aware of her loveliness or, if she is, maybe it causes her embarrassment.   Her felt hat, adorned with its downy peacock feathers, is so wide and floppy that it almost borders on the absurd but would, I am sure, be well received on Lady’s Day at Ascot races!  The lady, with her full Rubenesque breasts,  a trademark of the Belgian painter, stands demurely before us but, to some extent, avoids our gaze.  

Rubens portrayal of Susanna presents us with a beautiful and desirable woman.  Look at her eyes.  See how Rubens has made the eyes large and lustrous and note how he has chosen black as the colour of the iris.   This enhances the beauty of the subject and her slightly parted pink lips add to her sensuousness and offer a suggestion of eroticism to the painting.  Her pale skin glistens in the light.  She almost glows.  Her red and grey robes are both opulent and unusual with the detachable red sleeves attached to her bodice with ribboned gold-tipped laces.  The colour of the ribbons match that of her lips, nostrils and eyelids.

Could the artist not help but be seduced by the beauty of his sitter ? 

Are we not beguiled by her beauty?