Vanitas Still-life with a Portrait of a Young Painter by David Bailly

 

Vanitas Still-life with a Portrait of a Young Painter by David Bailly (1651)
Vanitas Still-life with a Portrait of a Young Painter by David Bailly (1651)

Vanitas is an explicit genre of art in which the artist uses gloomy and moody symbolic objects in order that the viewer becomes very aware of the brevity of life and the inevibility of death.   The origins of the term vanitas can be traced back to the Latin biblical adage from the Book of Ecclesiastes (1:2):

“…vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas…”

which when translated means:

“…vanity of vanities; all is vanity…”

This specific artistic genre was very popular in the 16th and 17th century especially in the Netherlands, Flanders and France.

My Daily Art Display blog today looks at one of the works by the great Dutch still life and vanitas painter David Bailly.   Bailly was born in Leiden in 1584.  His father, Pieter, a Flemish immigrant from Antwerp, was a writing master.  Being a practicing Protestant he had fled from the Catholic Spanish rule of his homeland to the safer, more tolerant Northern Netherlands, eventually settling in the town of Leiden.  It was whilst living here that he married Willempgen Wolphaertsdr. and the couple went on to have four children, Anthony,  Anna, Neeltgen and David.  In 1592 David’s father took up the position as writing master at the University of Leiden.  He remained there until 1597 at which time he changed careers and became fencing master at a school run by the mathematician Ludolph van Cuelen, which was an establishment set up to train aspiring army officers in the various facets of warfare.

David’s initial training in drawing came from his father and in 1597, at the age of thirteen, he trained at the Leiden studio of the Dutch draughtsman and copper engraver, Jacques de Gheyn II.  David Bailly soon came to believe that his future did not lie as a draughtsman but as a painter and he was somewhat fortunate to live in the town of Leiden which was the home of many established and aspiring artists.  The leading artist in Leiden at the time was Isaac van Swanenburgh, who with his three sons, had set up a thriving studio in the town.  However it was not to this family concern that young David sort employment and tuition but instead his father arranged his son to become an apprentice to the painter and surgeon, Adriaen Verburgh.   In 1602 David moved to Amsterdam and became an apprentice in the city studio of the very successful portraitist and art dealer, Cornelius van der Voort. 

At the end of 1608, then aged twenty-four, David Bailly, now a journeyman painter, set off on his own Grand Tour, all the time seeking out commissions.  He travelled around Europe visiting a number of German cities such as Frankfurt, Nuremburg and Augsburg before crossing the Tyrolean Alps into Italy where he visited Venice and Rome.  In all, his journey lasted five years and it was not until 1613 that he returned to the Netherlands.

Once back home his work concentrated on drawing and painting portraits and vanitas still-life works and would often, as is the case in today’s featured work, combine the two genres.  His portraiture at the time consisted of many works featuring some of the students and professors of the University of Leiden.  He built up a very illustrious clientele which was testament to his artistic ability.  Bailly also had a number of pupils, two of whom were his nephews Harmen and Pieter van Steenwyck, who rank amongst the best still-life Dutch Golden Age painters.  In 1642 David Bailly married Agneta van Swanenburgh.  The couple did not have any children.  In 1648, he along with other artists including Gabriel Metsu, Gerard Dou, and Jan Steen founded the Leidse Sint Lucasgilde  – Leiden Guild of St Luke.  David Bailly died in Leiden in October 1657, aged73.

The painting I am featuring today is entitled Vanitas Still Life with a Portrait of a Young Painter which was completed by David Bailly in 1651 when he was sixty-six years of age and six years before he died.  It is now housed in the Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden.    It is a fascinating painting full of symbolism.  To the left of the painting we have, what some believe, is a self-portrait of the artist himself, but of course as we know Bailly’s age when he painted the work we know this was a depiction of himself as a young man in his early twenties.    In his right hand he holds a maulstick, or mahlstick, which is a stick with a soft leather or padded head, used by painters to support the hand that holds the brush.  In his other hand he holds upright on the table a framed oval portrait of himself as he was at the time of painting this work.  So in fact the man sitting on the left of the painting and the man in the frame are one and the same and the inclusion of both images in the painting simply reminds us of the transience of life.    

Behind the framed self-portrait we have another oval painting, that of a young woman and this has always interested art historians.  It is believed to be a portrait of his wife Agneta in her younger days.  However at the time the painting was completed Bailly’s wife was gravely ill, in fact, it could well be that she had already died.  Look closely at the wall in the right background, just behind the half empty fluted glass, can you make out a ghost-like portrait of a woman, en grisaille, painted on it, across which drifts the smoke from the extinguished candle?  This is another classic vanitas symbolisation.  This could well be alluding to the fact that his wife had died from contracting the plague.  On the table we also see a standing figure of Saint Stephen bound to a tree, pierced with arrows.  So what is the connection with St Stephen and the other objects on the table?   One theory is that there was a link between Saint Stephen and the plague, which killed so many people in Europe, including Bailly’s wife.    The infections produced by the bubonic plague caused people to compare the “random attacks” of the plague with attacks by arrows and these folk desperately sort out a saint who was martyred by arrows, to intercede on their behalf and so prayers were offered up to St Stephen for him to intercede.   

This is a vanitas still-life painting and we see the usual vanitas symbolism amongst the objects depicted in the work of art.   Vanitas works allude to the transience of life.  Time passes.  It cannot be halted.  We all must eventually die.  Look at the background of the painting.  Look at the angle of the wall as it vertically divides the painting.  To the left, the painting is brightly lit and we have the young man, the aspiring artist, with his unused artist’s palettes hanging on the wall.  To the right of the vertical divide, the room is in shadow and we have the portrait of the old artist.  On the vertical line we have a bubble, which is a classic metaphor for the impermanence and fragility of life. 

There are many other items to note.   On the wall we see a print of Franz Hals 1626 painting, The Lute Player.  There is a plethora of objects on the table including a picture of a bearded man which could have been a portrait of Bailly’s father or maybe one of his teachers.  On the table, there are also many noteworthy items indicating death such as the skull, the extinguished candle, the tipped-over Roemer glass, the grains of sand of an hour glass running down and the wilting flowers.  There are also reminders of the luxuries of life which are of little use to us once we are dead, such as the coins and the pearls as well as items that have once helped us to relax and add to our enjoyment such as the pipe and the book, as well as the art in the form of paintings and sculpture. Sadly, pleasure and wealth are short-lived and ultimately unimportant.   This is about the temporality of life.    Overhanging the table in the foreground is a scroll with the words:

VANITAS VANIT(AT)VM

ET OMNIA VANITAS

which remind us of the words from the  book of Ecclesiastes I quoted at the start of this blog.

So the next time you decide to have somebody take your photograph, think carefully what you would place by your side or on a nearby table so as to convey a subtle and symbolic message to the people who will view the photograph in years to come.

 


Peter Paul Rubens and Hélène Fourment

Rubens, His Wife Helena Fourment  and Their Son Frans by Rubens (c.1636)
Rubens, His Wife Helena Fourment and Their Son Frans by Rubens (c.1636)

This superb portrait by Rubens of his wife Hélène and their three year old son, Frans can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.   Frans is the only one of their children featured which makes us think that Rubens did not see this work as a family portrait but had more to do with his desire to show off the beauty of his second wife.   Look how Rubens has depicted himself and his son in this work.  They both look lovingly at Hélène.  She is the wife to one and the mother to the other.  This in a way is Rubens’ intimate tribute to his wife.  In the background we see a caryatid, (the sculpted female figure which is serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar), which along with the fountain in the right background, symbolise fecundity

In my last blog I had reached the year 1626, a distressing time in Peter-Paul Rubens’ life for this was the year his first wife and true love, Isabella Brandt died.  Rubens was left alone with his three children, Clara Serena, Nikolas and Albertus.  He was still employed as court painter at the court of Archduke Albert VII, the Archduke of Austria and Governor General of the Habsburg Netherlands and his wife and consort, the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia.  It was in 1621, when her husband, Albert, died that the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia, became the Governor of the Netherlands on behalf of the King of Spain.  She was also keen to use Rubens’ ambassadorial skills and she sent him on a number of diplomatic missions to the Spanish and English courts to see if a solution could be found for the troubles besetting the Spanish Netherlands with the breakaway of the Seven United Provinces.  His skill as a diplomat was well appreciated by both sides and he was knighted by King Philip IV of Spain in 1624 and six years later received a similar honour from Charles I of England.  Notwithstanding his diplomatic brief, he continued to paint and received a number of royal commissions.

Hélène Fourment  with a Carriage by Rubens (c.1639)
Hélène Fourment with a Carriage by Rubens (c.1639)

In this 1639 painting Hélène Fourment with a Carriage by Rubens, which is housed in the Louvre, we see his wife Hélène leaving their palatial home in Antwerp followed by her six year-old son Frans, who was born in 1633. We view the scene from a low level which affords Hélène a more regal and majestic stance as she awaits her carriage.   Hélène, dressed like a lady of high society.  She is dressed in a long black satin gown, in the wealthy and lavish Spanish style.  She wears a small headdress with the pom-poms attached to large veil of black gauze.  Rubens has contrasted the black of the dress with the bright white satin which form the puffed sleeves which are in turn accentuated by the gold braid.  More colour is then added as we note the rosy pink of her cheeks and the purple sleeve bows and silk belt at her waist.    She waits in front of a porch of their home with its columns and pilasters. The building had been designed by her husband, imitating an Italian palazzo.   Hélène’sleft hand lies by her side whilst her right hand is raised in a gesture of modesty which belies her sumptuous clothes.  Frans follows his mother, dressed in a red suit with a flat white collar.    One must remember that Rubens at this time in his life was extremely affluent having been court painter at the Habsburg court and was also head of a thriving studio which was inundated with commissions from all over Europe.  At the bottom left of the painting we see a two-horsed carriage awaiting mother and son.  Besides a mode of transport the two-horsed carriage symbolised conjugal harmony.  This is probably the last known portrait of Hélène by Rubens.

In 1630, at the age of 53, and four years after the death of his first wife, Isabella, Rubens married the 17 year-old daughter of his friend and tapestry merchant, Daniel ‘Le Jeune’ Fourment.   His new wife, Hélène Fourment, went on to give him 5 children, two daughters, Clara Johanna and Isabella Helena and two sons, Frans and Peter-Paul.  A fifth child, a third daughter Constance Albertine, was born eight months after Rubens died.   My blog today looks at some of the many paintings by Rubens which featured his second wife, Hélène,   many of which were portraits but she also featured in some of his allegorical and classical works.  

Finally in August 1634, Rubens managed to relinquish his diplomatic work for the Habsburgs and in 1635 he bought himself a country estate, Het Steen, which was situated between Antwerp and Brussels.  It was here that he spent much of the latter part of his life.  Around 1636 Rubens completed a work entitled The Rainbow Landscape which was an imaginary artistic reconstruction of his own estate.  It was a maginificent estate which included a castle, draw-bridge, tower, moats, a lake and a farm and gave him the right to be known as Lord of Het Steen. One can just imagine the joy it must have brought  Rubens to spend his last quiet and tranquil years with his family at this idyllic place.    At Het Steen, Rubens finally managed to enjoy the fruits of his long and hard-working career, and it was during these last years that he spent time painting landscapes.

In his later years, Rubens was increasingly troubled by arthritis which caused a swelling of the joints in his hands, which forced him to reluctantly give up painting altogether.   Rubens died from heart failure on May 30th 1640, a month short of his sixty-third birthday.  He was buried in Saint Jacob’s church, Antwerp. The artist left behind eight children, three with Isabella and five with Hélène.

Het pelsken (the little  fur) by Peter Paul Rubens (c.1638)
Het Pelsken (the little fur) by Peter Paul Rubens (c.1638)

The final painting I am showing you by Rubens, featuring his wife Hélène Fourment, is probably one of the strangest depictions a man could make of his beloved.   The work was completed around 1638 when Rubens was 61 and Hélène was just 27.   It is a life size painting of his wife, entitled Het Pelsken (The Little Fur), which is the title given to it by Rubens in his will.   It is also sometimes referred to as Hélène Fourment in a Fur Coat.  In the painting, Hélène is depicted nude except for a fur coat, which could well have belonged to her husband.  This was a private work by Rubens.  It was one of his favourite works and he would neither give it away, nor sell it nor exhibit it.

Venus de Medici
Venus de Medici

It was simply done by him for his own pleasure.  It is an outstanding painted depiction of nakedness.  It could well be that Rubens modelled his depiction on the Venus Pudica (modest Venus) of the life-size Venus de Medici, the Hellenistic marble sculpture which depicts the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, and which is housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Hélène stands before us on a red cloth, almost naked.   She is portrayed with curly dishevelled hair.  She just about holds on to the wrap which seems to be about to fall from her body and leave her completely naked.  She clutches at it in a manner that both of her arms are wrapped around the front of her.  Her left hand covers her pelvic region whilst her right hand holds the fur coat in position on her left shoulder and by doing so her right arm cradles and uplifts her breasts.  Her nipples seem to have hardened and her face has a rosy glow to it which may indicate the pleasure she is experiencing as her husband stares out at her.  There is a look of defiance about her expression.  Is this look intended to be one of provocation as she exposes her body to her husband or is it that she is fed up with standing in such a pose and becoming cold?  In some ways we are fascinated by what we see before us and yet in other ways, because of the personal nature of the painting we feel as if we are intruding into a private husband/wife moment and we feel we should look away.  It is a truthful portrayal of his wife.  He has not tried to idealise his wife’s body.  She is a woman with a womanly figure and Rubens’ depiction of her is an honest portrayal of her and there can be no doubt that he found what he saw, very pleasurable.

In his will he left the painting to his wife with the stipulation that it should never be sold to pay for death duties.  Hélène carried out his wish and it was not sold until after she died in 1658.  The painting is currently housed in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna.

 

Peter Paul Rubens and Isabella Brant

Honeysuckle Bower by Rubens (c.1609)
The Honeysuckle Bower by Rubens (c.1609)

This painting, which is housed in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich is entitled The Honeysuckle Bower and was painted by Rubens the year he married Isdabella Brant.  It is a full-length double portrait of the happy couple who have the honeysuckle bower as the backdrop.  The honeysuckle symbolises devoted affection and is a symbol of love and generosity and this is a loving portrait of the couple as they sit hand-in-hand in the shade afforded to them by the bower.   Rubens has depicted himself as an elegant and chivalrous husband relaxing, legs crossed, perched atop of a balustrade.  He looks over his wife from his high position.  He looks thoughtful but at peace with his world.    His beloved wife sits close to him on a grassy bank, at a slightly lower level.  She is wearing a brocade bodice and a dark red skirt.  There is a ruff around her neck and atop her head is a Florentine hat.   Both husband and wife lean slightly towards each other in another sign of affection.  Life is good for them both and this is symbolised by the flourishing flora which we see all around them.  Life just couldn’t be better!

In my last couple of blogs I looked at the artistic collaboration between Rembrandt von Rijn and his wife Saskia von Uylenburg and later the artistic collaboration with his mistress Hendrickje Stoffels.   In my next two blogs I want to look at the artistic partnership between artist/model, husband/wife,  of the great Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens and his two wives.  Today I will tell you a little about Rubens’ early life and examine portraits which depicted his first wife Isabella Brant.  In the following blog I will show some of his works featuring his second wife, Hélène Fourment.

Peter Paul Rubens was born in Siegen in Germany in June 1577.  He was one of seven children of his father Jan Rubens, who was an Antwerp lawyer, and his mother Maria Pypelinckx.   Jan Rubens was a practicing Calvinist and because of his strong Protestant beliefs the family were persecuted during the Catholic rule of the Spanish Netherlands under the Duke of Alba.  For their own safety Jan, Maria and their family left Antwerp in 1568 and travelled to Cologne.  Whilst there, Jan Rubens acted as a legal adviser to Anna of Saxony, the second wife of William the Silent, Prince of Orange.  Their close business relationship culminated in an adulterous affair and Anna gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Christina.  Her husband banished her and her daughter Christina to Beilstein Castle.  Their marriage was annulled in 1571.   As a result of his affair, Jan Rubens was incarcerated in Dillenburg prison for two years.   His wife must have been very forgiving for it was through her constant pleading to the authorities that her errant husband was released but exiled to the town of Siegen.   It was whilst the family was staying in Siegen that Maria gave birth to her sons, Filips and Peter-Paul.  In May 1578 Jan and his family had their Siegen exile rescinded and they returned to Cologne where Jan Ruben died in March 1587, when Rubens was ten years of age.  Jan Rubens was buried in the Church of Saint Peter in Cologne and for one to understand the love Maria had for her wayward husband one has just to look at an inscription she had carved on the headstone of the grave.  It read:

“…Sacred to the Memory of Jan Rubens, of Antwerp, who went into voluntary exile and retired with his family to Cologne, where he abode for nineteen years with his wife Maria, who was the mother of his seven children. With this his only wife Maria he lived happily for twenty-six years without any quarrel. This monument is erected by said Maria Pypelings Rubens to her sweetest and well-deserved husband…”

In 1589, aged twelve, Rubens went back to Antwerp with his mother and siblings, where he was brought up in the Catholic religion.   Rubens attended a Latin school in Antwerp where he was taught both Latin and Greek and studied classical literature.  He also became proficient in English, Spanish, Italian, French, Dutch and German.  At the age of thirteen he became a court page to a noble-woman, Marguerite de Ligne, Countess of Lalaing. It was an important position for one so young and it gave him a taste of court life and life in noble and court circles.  The Countess, who had no children, used to refer to herself as his “other mother,” and gave him all the attention that was possible.   Rubens’ life at the court was split between school work which was given to him by a Jesuit priest in the mornings, while in the afternoons another priest would come in order to teach the ladies of the court foreign languages and young Rubens was always present during these lessons.   After a year at court, his mother had him return to the family home.   His mother wanted the best for him and thought that her son would be best served if he should have a career in the Church but was also mindful of the stories relating to the great Italian artists and the power they wielded due to their connections with their country’s leaders and so she and her son settled on the idea that he should become a painter.  His early artistic tuition came when he worked for three leading Flemish painters of the time, the landscape painter, Tobias Verhaecht, the Mannerist, Adam van Noort, and the Latin scholar and classically educated humanist painter Otto van Veen, sometimes referred to by his Latin name, Octavius Vaenius.   Following a four year apprenticeship, Rubens, in 1598 aged twenty-one, was accepted as a Master in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke, the city’s painters’ guild and this allowed him to work independently and receive pupils.

Portrait of Isabella Brant by Rubens (c.1620-5)
Portrait of Isabella Brant by Rubens (c.1620-5)
Cleveland Museum of Art

In 1600, Rubens travelled to Italy. His first stop-over was Venice where he encountered the paintings of the triumvirate of Venetian Masters, Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto.  From there he moved on to Mantua where he received painting commissions at the court of Duke Vincenzo I of Gonzaga who had seen his artistic work when he had visited Venice.  Thanks to financial backing from the Duke he was able to journey to Florence, stopping off at Rome.  In Florence he came into contact with the works of art of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael Sanzio.  He was also impressed and greatly influenced by the works of Caravaggio.   The Duke of Mantua had asked Rubens to make copies of some of Raphael’s works and bring them back to the court.     Rubens returned to the Mantua court and in 1603 he was sent on the first of many diplomatic missions, this one to the court of Philip III in Madrid, bearing gifts from the Gonzagas.  Now living at the court in Madrid he was able to examine the extensive collection of art work which the ruler’s father, Philip II had amassed, including numerous works by Raphael and Titian.  Rubens remained in Madrid for a year before returning once again to Mantua.  He was soon on his travels again, visiting Rome and Genoa.

In 1608, whilst in Rome, Rubens received a letter from his family telling him that his mother Maria was gravely ill.  He immediately left Italy and unbeknown to him, he would never return to that country.  He set off for Antwerp but sadly his mother passed away before he reached her.   Although Rubens was keen to return to Italy he received an offer he couldn’t refuse.   In September 1609, Rubens was appointed the court painter by Archduke Albert VII, the Archduke of Austria and Governor General of the Hapsburg Netherlands and his wife and consort, the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia.  It was not just as a painter that the rulers had employed him but for his talent as a diplomat and ambassador.   His recompense for such a position was a salary of 500 livres plus all the perks that came with the job of somebody working in the royal household.  Another benefit was that he was exempt from all the regulations and bureaucracy arising from the regulations of the guild of St Luke.

Isabella Brandt by Rubens (c.1626) Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Isabella Brandt by Rubens (c.1626)
Uffizi Gallery, Florence

The Portrait of Isabella Brandt, which is housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence was completed by Rubens around 1625.  It is one of a number of portraits of his wife that he completed during their seventeen years together.  It is a half-length portrait against the dark background of a red curtain and a column.  Isabella smiles out at us.  It is an engaging yet hesitant smile.  This portrait of his wife is considered to be one of Rubens’ masterpieces of portraiture.  In 1705, the painting, along with others, was donated by the Palatine Elector of the Rhine, Johann Wilhelm, to his brother-in-law, Grand Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici.  Of the Rubens portrait of his wife, Ferdinando wrote to his brother-in-law:

 “…it surpasses the imagination and is a prodigy of that famous brush…”

Rubens, although at the royal court in Brussels, was also allowed to set up his own studio in Antwerp and it was whilst in Antwerp that he met and married Isabella Brant.  Isabella, who was fourteen years younger than her husband, was the daughter of Jan Brant, an important Antwerp city official, and Clara de Moy.  The wedding took place on October 3rd 1609 in Saint Michael’s Abbey, Antwerp and in 1610, they moved into a new house and studio that he designed.  This Italian-styled villa in the centre of Antwerp , which is now the Rubenshuis museum, was designed by Rubens and also housed his workshop, where he and his apprentices worked on various works of art. One of his most famous apprentices was Anthony van Dyck, who would later become the leading Flemish portraitist of the time and both Master and pupil collaborated frequently on works of art.  Other collaborators with Rubens were the animal and still-life painter Frans Snyder and Jan (Velvet) Brueghel the Elder the flower painter and son of Pieter Bruegel the Elder.   Rubens and his wife went on to have three children, a daughter Clara Serena and two sons, Nikolas and Albertus.

Portrait sketch of Isabella Brandt by Rubens (c.1621)
Portrait sketch of Isabella Brandt by Rubens (c.1621)

My final offering is a portrait drawing of Isabella Brant completed by her husband around 1621 and which is held at the British Museum.   This portrait of Rubens’s first wife, Isabella Brant is drawn in coloured chalks with a pale brown wash and white heightening.   The artist used the red chalk in an effort to highlight the warm flesh of his wife’s face and ears. Again a subtle hatching using both red and black chalks he has cleverly produced the shadows on her face. The sketch concentrates on Isabella’s head and face and her shoulders and the high collar of her dress have just been sketched as a sort of afterthought.  Isabella smiles at us, as she no doubt smiled at her husband as he sketched her.  She has a radiant smile which somehow gives us the impression she would have been a likeable person to have met.  Her marriage to Rubens was one of love and mutual respect and her death due to the plague in 1626, at the age of 35, deeply saddened him.  In Ruth Saunders Magurn’s  collection of translated letters of Rubens, entitled The Letters of Peter Paul Rubens, she highlights the extent to which Rubens mourned the death of Isabella in an extract from a letter he wrote to his friend, the French scholar, Pierre Dupuy, dated July 15th 1626, a little over three weeks after Isabella died.   Of his late wife, Rubens wrote:

“…Truly I have lost an excellent companion, whom one could love – indeed had to love, with good reason – as having none of the faults of her sex.   She had no capricious moods, and no feminine weaknesses, but was all goodness and honesty…”

I think it is a delightful sketch but not everybody agrees.     In Jeremy Wood’s 1998 book entitled Some Early Collectors of Rubens Drawings in England, he quotes a one-time owner of the sketch, the notable portrait painter and art theorist, Jonathan Richardson, who described Rubens’ sketched portrait of his wife:

“…[her] face is one of the most disagreeable I have ever seen and I am sure it is more so than was necessary for the likeness, however ugly she really was…”

 I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder !!!

Virgin and Child with Saints by Rogier van der Weyden

Sketch of Madonna and Child with Saints
Sketch of Madonna and Child with Saints

Do you like jigsaw puzzles?  Do you like a mystery?    I hope so as today my featured paintings are just part of an artistic and mysterious jigsaw puzzle.  I will be looking at the three remaining pieces of an original oil on wood work of art and a sketch which may give a clue as to what the original complete painting may have looked like.  From the three remaining pieces which still exist, one can tell it must have been a truly beautiful work of art.  The artist who painted the work was the great early Netherlandish painter Rogier van der Weyden.  I featured one of his best known works entitled The Descent from the Cross in My Daily Art Display on November 15th 2010 and today I am pleased to feature another of his fine works.

Rogier van der Weyden was born in, what is now, the Belgium town of Tournai around 1399.  His name at that time was actually Rogier de le Pasture which literally translated meant Roger of the Pasture.   His father Henri de le Pasture was a knife manufacturer.  At the age of 26 he married Elisabeth Goffaert, the daughter of a Brussels shoemaker, and they had four children.  In 1436 he was given the position of stadsschilder, (painter to the town), of Brussels, a post especially created for him.  It was whilst living in Brussels, which was then a Dutch-speaking town that he began to use the Dutch version of his name: Rogier van der Weyden.

The complete painting I am featuring today was entitled Virgin and Child with Saints, but it does not exist anymore.   However three parts of the work have survived.  One of these is entitled The Magdalen Reading and is housed at the National Gallery in London.  The other two pieces entitled Head of Saint Joseph and Head of Female Saint (St Catherine?) are to be found in the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon.  It is believed that all three pieces were once part of a large Sacra Conversazione painted by Rogier van der Weyden some time between 1435 and 1438A Sacra Conversazione is an Italian phrase which literally translates to “holy conversation”.  The phrase is designated to works of art, normally altarpieces, which depict the Virgin and Child flanked by attendant saints, who are grouped in a single panel, rather than a multi-panelled polyptych.  From the fifteenth century the sacra conversazione began to replace the polyptych.   The word “conversazione” alludes to the characters in the painting being in intimate conversation with one another.  This depiction of the saints communing with each other was unusual as normally in religious works of the time the saints would be shown simply meditating or reading and it was not until a century later that they took on a more animated quality.

Although the original and complete painting does not exist any longer we have some idea what it looked like as there exists a drawing of the almost complete work in the National Museum of Fine Arts in central Stockholm which was drawn by a follower of Rogier van der Weyden.  Although it is an incomplete sketch, it gives one an idea of what the original finished painting looked like.   In this drawing we see standing on the left a bishop saint with a mitre on his head.  In his left hand he holds his crosier, his pastoral staff, and his right hand is raised as he makes a blessing.    If you look to the right of this figure you can see there is a narrow vertical gap with a few curved but faint vertical lines and it is in this gap that art historians believe was the lower part of the kneeling figure of the female saint, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a fourth century martyr, whose head and shoulders appear in the Lisbon painting. 

Head of Female Saint (St Catherine?) by Rogier van der Weyden ? (before 1438)
Head of Female Saint (St Catherine?) by Rogier van der Weyden ? (before 1438)

However, some art historians, who have studied the three pieces of the painting, have come to the conclusion that the depiction of Saint Catherine may not have been painted by van Weyden himself.  The Scottish art historian, Lorne Campbell, an expert on early Netherlandish paintings, wrote in his 2004 book, Van der Weyden, that the depiction of the head of Saint Catherine was “obviously less well drawn and less successfully painted than the figure in the Magdalen “and as far as he was concerned the image of Saint Catherine may have been painted by one of the members of van Weyden’s workshop. 

The next figure along in the sketch is a bearded barefooted figure holding an open book.  This is thought to be John the Baptist.  Seated to the right of him is the Virgin who holds the Christ Child in her lap.  The Christ Child is wriggling himself out of his mother’s grasp as he tries to look at another book which the kneeling man, on the right, is showing him.  This man is believed to be John the Evangelist.  As I said earlier, this drawing seems to be an unfinished sketch of the original painting, not just because of the empty space between the bishop and John the Baptist but more importantly because it does not show what is believed to have been the complete right hand side of the original painting, part of which forms the work held in London’s National Gallery entitled The Magdalen Reading.   Because the sketch does not show the right hand section of the original painting it is believed that this was the first section to have been cut from the original.

The Magdalen Reading by Rogier van der Weyden (before 1438)
The Magdalen Reading by Rogier van der Weyden (before 1438)

So let us examine both the sketch and the Magdalen Reading painting and see if we can envisage the two being joined.    Look at the robes of the figure kneeling in the extreme right of the sketch.  See how they lie along the floor but suddenly stop at the edge of the sketch.   Look carefully at how the folds of this robe in the black and white sketch compare with the folds of the red robe on the floor to the left in the Magdalen Reading, close to where we see the bottom of a stick or cane which is being held by somebody who is not fully shown in the painting.  The stick touches the red flowing robes which are almost certain to be the robes of the kneeling John the Evangelist of the sketch.

So now we have what we believe is the bottom right hand part of the original painting in the guise of The Magdalen Reading.  This fragment of the original painting depicts a woman with pale skin and high cheekbones.   This is Mary Magdalen.  She sits piously reading a holy book, the cover of which includes a chemise of white cloth, which protects the precious tome.  We see her deep in contemplation as she reads. According to art historian, Lorne Campbell, the book she is reading looks similar to a 13th century French Bible.   She seems quite oblivious to those around her.  Her head is tilted so that her eyes are shyly turned from us, the viewer.    She sits on a red cushion and leans back slightly and relaxes against a kind of wooden sideboard.   On the floor by her side is a white alabaster jar.  This is her traditional attribute in Christian art as the Gospels tell of her bringing spices in it to the tomb of Jesus.  Look how beautifully van Weyden has portrayed her.  She wears a long green robe which is pulled tightly below her bust by a dark blue sash.  From beneath the robe we catch a glimpse of the gold brocade of her underskirt which is hemmed with many jewels.  Van Weyden has spent much time in depicting detail, such as the many folds of her green robe, or the rosary beads dangling from Saint Joseph’s hand. 

In the background we have a view through a window which overlooks a canal in the distance.  On this side of the canal positioned on the wall of the garden there is an archer and across the canal we catch sight of a figure walking along the opposite canal bank.  The background and the headless torso are visible to us today but that was not always the case as the background of the painting had been over-painted with a thick layer of brown paint.   It was not until the painting was cleaned in 1956 that the figure behind Mary Magdalen, the red robe of the kneeling figure on the left and the landscape view through the window were revealed. 

 

Head of St Joseph by Rogier van der Weyden (before 1438)
Head of St Joseph by Rogier van der Weyden (before 1438)

But what about the top right hand part of the original painting.   For this we must go to the painting held in Lisbon’s Museu Calouste Gulbenkianand study their painting entitled Head of Saint Joseph.   If you place this painting above the Magdalen Reading painting you can see that the head and shoulders of the man in the Lisbon painting fit perfectly with the lower torso of the “head-less” figure shown standing to the side of Mary Magdalen in the London painting.  The man in the Lisbon painting has been identified as Saint Joseph and if you look carefully at his right shoulder you will see a slight hint of a red sleeve which can be clearly seen continuing on the “headless” torso in the Magdalen Reading painting.  In one hand he holds a walking stick or cane and in the other he holds rosary beads made of rock crystals.   So we now have managed to place the three individual paintings into the one work…….or do we?

I raise the hint of doubt as not all art historians agree that the three are part of one whole, especially when it comes to the head of Saint Catherine.  Let us look more closely at the Lisbon painting, Head of Female Saint (St Catherine?).  Look carefully at the background and the window opening behind her and that of the one shown in the background of the Magdalen Reading painting.  They are different in design, one is plain and one is bevelled and this to some art historians, such as Martin Davies, who wrote about the painting in his work Rogier van der Weyden’s Magdalen Reading and John Ward, who wrote an article about the painting entitled A Proposed Reconstruction of an Altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden in the Art Bulletin (vol. 53, 1971. 27–35), means that Head of the Female Saint was not part of the original work. 

Notwithstanding whether I believe the three paintings once formed part of one original work, I only wish I could have seen the work as a whole before it was split up.

The Misers by Followers of Marinus van Reymerswaele

The Misers by the Followers of Marinus van Raymerswaele (1548-51)

Whenever one picks up a newspaper nowadays, or switches on the television or radio, one is regaled with tales of dastardly deeds done by bankers.  Story upon story is written about their misappropriation of our money.  We sit and read or listen to these tales which coincide with the deterioration of our own financial situation and we seethe with anger.  Over time we are convinced that our own personal financial woes can be directly traced back to and laid at the doorstep of the bankers.  In our minds, the government is also to blame as we are taxed to the hilt and our wrath is also levelled at the role of the tax collectors.  We would rather cling to this belief than question why our credit cards and stores cards are “maxed-out”.   Soon it is not just the bankers and tax collectors whom we despise but we begin to focus our attention on those who are financially sound and before we know it,  they too become targets for our dislike, our jealousy and our envy.   Why should we suffer pecuniary embarrassment when others seem to be untouched by the money problems of the country?  Now we read newspapers, listen to radio reports and watch television stories with glee when we see bankers are being bashed and rich people suddenly lose their fortunes.  We revel in this feeling of schadenfreude.  The media of course knows what we want and they continually feed us with such stories.

The Banker and his Wife by Quinten Massys (1514)

So is this a new phenomenon?   Actually it isn’t.   The portrayal of greedy bankers, money-lenders and tax collectors often with anti-Semitic connotations has been around for a long time and may have derived from paintings such as Jan van Eyck’s 1440 work entitled Banker and Client, which unfortunately has been lost.  Later, in 1514, the Flemish painter, Quentin Metsys, would carry on the theme in his work entitled The Banker and his Wife.   Just as the present day media are aware that we want to witness the vilification of these people, the artists of the past also knew what would strike a chord with the people of those days when it came to disparage those who had “taken” our money from us, whether it is bankers and money lenders or tax collectors.   In My Daily Art Display today I want to feature another 16th century painting on that very subject.

The Moneychanger and his Wife by Marinus van Reymerswaele (1539)

If you care to look back at my blog of January 2nd 2011 you can read about a 1539 work by Marinus Claeszoom van Reymerswaele entitled The Moneychanger and his Wife in which one sees seated at their table a married couple in 16th century Flemish dress totally absorbed, almost spellbound, as they count their money. Both husband and wife are gripped equally by this act and in some ways it maybe this common love of money which brings them happiness and cements their relationship.   However one should observe that they focus their attention on the coins on the table and seem to ignore each other.  It is also interesting to note that in the paintings, The Banker and his Wife by Metsys, The Moneychanger and his Wife by van Reymerswaele and today’s offering there is also something else in common in the depictions besides the two characters and that is behind these people there is a shelf which forms part of a still life depiction of items which add to the story behind the main theme of money.

Two Tax Gatherers by Marinus van Reymerswaele (c.1540)

My featured painting today is entitled The Misers and was completed between 1548 and 1551.  It is attributed to the “Followers of Marinus van Reymerswaele” and is part of the Queen’s Royal Collection.  It is a variation on a number of paintings by van Reymerswaele himself, one of which, entitled The Tax Gatherers, he completed around 1540 and is in the National Gallery in London.

In today’s featured painting we see the man on the left writing out a list of taxes and exchange rates on commodities such as wine, beer and fish,  which will then be given to private individuals to collect.  This was a common practice in those days.   The setting for the painting is one of congestion.  In it we see two figures positioned tightly together with their desk positioned ridiculously close to the door but, in a way, this has given the scene a claustrophobic and unsettling atmosphere. On the green baize table in front of the two men are piles of coins which are being counted and registered in a ledger.  There is also a four-bag money pouch with a handle, some jewellery and an ink pot.   The title of the painting, The Misers, is probably a misnomer as in fact these two men are simply tax collectors going about their every-day business. The man on the right points at the ledger being written in French by his colleague.  The exchange rates listed in the ledger gives us a valuable clues to the dating of the picture, as these rates first came into use on 11 July 1548 and were superseded on 16 December 1551.  The fact that the French language was used could mean that either this painting was commissioned by a French patron or the artist lived in the French-speaking region of the Netherlands.  The man on the right stares out at us.  He sneers.  He gloats.  His face is grotesquely distorted.  The artist has, through his depiction of this man, presented us with a “hate figure”.   There is an undoubted air of affluence about the clothes two men are wearing.  The man on the left wears a sumptuous red turban pinned to which is a large jewelled brooch.   He wears spectacles and in a way the artist may have wanted us to interpret the wearing of these as symbolic of moral shortsightedness.  However whoever chose to paint their rich garb decided to clothe them in 15th century costumes which at the time would have looked rather old-fashioned and maybe the artist had decided that by dressing them in such a manner,  he was subtly ridiculing them.

Look at the shelf behind them.  Art historians believe that this still-life depiction was probably painted by a different artist to the one who painted the two figures.  On the shelf there is a lit candle which is slowly burning away and this can probably be interpreted as a warning against greed, and questioning our attitude with regards wealth, because, like the candle, which will soon burn out, life is short and there is a futility about the desire to  accumulate wealth.

This painting which I saw last week when I visited the Queen’s Gallery is a beautiful work of art.

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)

A View of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam by Jan van der Heyden

Today I am going to leave 19th century French art and Impressionism, which has featured in my recent blogs, and look at some 16th and 17th Dutch and Flemish art and artists.  Dutch art has always been very popular and admired for the realism it portrayed of everyday life and it has always proved to be highly collectible.  Before I look at some of the art of that time it may be interesting to look at a brief history of the region which has a bearing on the style of art.   I am probably laying myself open for criticism from Dutch historians for my understanding of this period of the history of the Netherlands and Holland but all I am trying to do is give you a brief insight into Flemish and Dutch art of the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Netherlands back in the fifteenth century was a conglomerate of the Seventeen Provinces often referred to as the Burgundian Netherlands, which included part of today’s Germany, Belgium, France and Luxembourg.  It was controlled from 1506 by Charles V who was the Holy Roman Emperor and also the King of Spain.   In 1556, Charles V abdicated and the power passed to his son, Philip II.  With Spanish rule came the imposition of the Catholic religion on the people of the Netherlands.  This policy of strict religious uniformity was imposed by the Inquisition with enormous amounts of brutality.  However the rise of the Protestantism in the forms of the Lutheran and Anabaptist movements and Calvinism were starting to gain ground with the populace.   The beginning of the break-up of Philip’s control of the Seventeen Provinces started with the Dutch people being unhappy at the high level of taxation levelled on them by Philip and his brutal repression of anti-Catholic movements.  To subdue the unrest, Philip sent his Spanish troops to the area under the leadership of the Duke of Alba and their presence and their cruelty further fanned the flames of rebellion.  Control of the vast area was becoming more of a problem for Philip, added to which there was now a threat coming from the French along the southern borders.  Philip II’s troops were moved from the north to the south leaving the north less well controlled and this led to the start of the Eighty Years’ War often termed as the Dutch War of Independence.   After the initial stages, Philip II deployed his armies and regained control over most of the rebelling provinces. However, under the leadership of the exiled William of Orange, the Northern provinces continued their resistance and managed to oust the Spanish armies, and established the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, Holland, in 1609. The Dutch Revolt had officially ended and the Dutch republic of Holland was officially recognised by France and England. The end of the Eighty years War however did not end for another forty years.

The Netherlands was now split along an almost North/South divide.  The north, Holland, became a haven for Protestantism with Calvinism becoming the main religion.  There were no Catholic churches in this northern territory.   It soon became one of the world’s most economically powerful and wealthy maritime nations in the world and Amsterdam became its capital.   As far as far as art was concerned there was also a north/south divide.   The Spanish Catholic south, Flanders, with its capital Antwerp, still had most of its art commissioned by the Catholic Church or the Spanish Catholic rulers and would more often than not therefore depict religious scenes, whereas now the Dutch north where religion was mainly a Reformed Calvinistic one would not allow church’s money to be spent frivolously on the commissioning of art.   Dutch art had new patrons.  Now works were commissioned by the territory’s wealthy merchants and ship owners.  Often the subjects they commissioned had little to do with religion and more to do with their wealth and their status in society.

Today I want to feature an artist from the southern region, Flanders.  Jan van der Heyden was born in 1637 in Gorinchem, which now lies in south west Holland.  In 1650, when he was thirteen years old, the family moved to Amsterdam and lived in a house on Dam Square.   Sadly however, his father, who was a follower of the ethno-religious Mennonite group, died the year of their move.  Jan’s early artistic training began in Gorinchem with drawing lessons at his elder brother’s studio.  He also learnt, from a local artist, the reverse technique of glass painting.  Although we are looking at van der Heyden as an artist his overwhelming love was not art, although he continued to paint all his life, it was his love of engineering and inventions.   He was an artist but he also was an inventor and an engineer.  He designed many things such as the street lighting system in Amsterdam.  Shortly after he and his family moved to Amsterdam he witnessed a fire at the old town hall and the futile efforts that were made to hold back the flames.   He probably never forgot that incident for later, along with the help of his brother Nicolaes van der Heyden, a hydraulic engineer; he invented a fire engine fitted with pump driven hoses which was to change the effectiveness of fire fighting.

In 1661 Jan van der Heyden married and he and his wife moved to a house along the Herengracht, a fashionable area of Amsterdam.  As a painter, Jan van der Heyden, will always be remembered for his beautiful townscapes and his architectural designs certainly dominate these works.   Although he painted many townscapes he also painted scenes featuring village streets and country houses.  He loved to paint old and new buildings and paid particular attention to their facades.  He also completed more than forty landscapes although his landscape art was never in the same league as his contemporaries, Meindert Hobbema and Jacob van Ruisdael.   He worked in partnership with Adriaen van der Velde,  the Dutch animal and landscape painter, and Johannes Lingelbach, a Dutch Golden Age painter, who would often add figures to van der Heyden’ architectural scenes and add landscape effects as a finishing touch to the paintings.   His main subjects were Amsterdam and the region surrounding the Dutch-German border where he and his family visited on many occasions.

In 1672, Adriaen van de Velde died and Jan van der Heyden artistic output dwindled as he concentrated on his main employment that of superintendent of the lighting in Amsterdam and he also devoted much of his time as the director of the Amsterdam Fireman’s Guild.  He died a wealthy man in 1712, aged 75.

View of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam by Jan van der Heyden (c.1660)
(National Gallery, London)

My featured painting today is entitled View of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam.    The building work on the protestant church commenced in 1620 and was designed by the foremost architect of the time, Hendrick de Keyser, the father of the Dutch painter Thomas de Keyser.  The construction was completed eighteen years later and at the time its tower was the highest in the city.  Jan van der Heyden painting is of the church, seen from the east, across from the Keizersgracht, the new Emperor canal.  Buried within the church are the painters Nicolaes Berchem, Rembrandt and his son Titus.

There are two versions of this paintings housed in galleries in London.  Both were painted between 1660 and 1670.   In both cases these are, like many of his townscapes and landscapes, only loosely based on actual views as topographical accuracy was not in the forefront of his mind when he started to work on his paintings.  It was almost as if he wanted to bring into his painting all that was beautiful about the town, whether it be its landscape or its architecture.  It was simply an idealised townscape which I believe does not lessen the beauty of the finished work.  The difference between these paintings and others he did was that in View of Westerwerk, Amsterdam he has paid great attention to the detail of the buildings whereas in other townscapes the main buildings may look half finished with the emphasis being placed on surrounding structures and open spaces.

Let us look at the version which is at the National Gallery in London.  Look at the clarity of this work.  Marvel at the detail van der Heyden has put into this painting.  In the foreground we can see four wooden casings which protect the young tree saplings.  One can almost read the writing on the torn posters which have been affixed to the casings.   This version is much larger than the one in the Wallace Collection, measuring 91cms x 114cms and almost three times the normal size of van der Heyden’s previous works.  It is believed that it was commissioned by the governors of the Westerkerk, for their meeting room, where it remained until 1864.   I love the details of the red-brick buildings but look at the contrast in colour of them with how the artist has depicted the blue sky with all its luminosity, the yellow cobblestone path in the foreground which runs parallel to the stretch of the canal and the glass-like stillness of the water.  It is probable that another artist painted the people and animals shown in the work.

View of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam by Jan van der Heyden (c.1665-1670)
(Wallace Collection, London)

I went to the Wallace Collection last week and saw this other version of the painting.  It is much smaller in size, measuring just 41cms x 59cms.  The artist’s signature can be seen in the lower right on the coping of the canal wall.  To the left of the church is the Westmarkt and if you look carefully between the trees you can just make out the Westerhal, which housed a meat market on the ground floor and above it was a guard house.   The house which we see to the right of the church is Keizersgracht no, 198 and was at that time the residence of Lucas van Uffelen a wealthy Flemish merchant and art collector.  What is very striking about this small painting is the sharp contrasts of colour, light and texture with shadows slanting across the front of the church.  Look at the contrast between the angular roofs and the luminous blue sky.  See how the artist has contrasted the trees heavy in leaf with the red brick buildings and in the case of the house on the right of the painting, its whitewashed frontage.  In this painting, unlike the one at the National Gallery, the artist(s?) have depicted reflections in the still water of the canal.  It should be remembered that this painting was completed after the one which now hangs in the National Gallery and is probably a re-working of the scene.  It could be that Jan van der Heyden was not completely satisfied with his first effort and wanted to make some artistic improvements.

If you are in London, why not take a chance to visit both galleries and compare the two paintings and decide which you like the best.

The Procession to Calvary by Pieter Brueghel the Younger

 

The Procession to Calvary by Pieter Brueghel the Younger

The elder son of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s was also named Pieterand was just five years of age when his father died in 1569.   The death of his father left Pieter, his young brother Jan and sister, Marie to be brought up by their mother Mayken Cooke van Aelst.  After their mother died in 1578 the two boys went to live with their maternal grandmother Mayken van Hulst, who was an accomplished miniaturist and watercolour painter in her own right.  It is from her that the boys received their initial artistic tuition.  Very little has been written about Pieter Brueghel but Karel van Mander a Flemish-born Dutch painter and poet, who is mainly remembered as a biographer of Netherlandish artists and was a contemporary of Pieter Brueghel the Younger, records that when Pieter was nine years of age the family moved to Antwerp and it is believed that here, Pieter received his first formal artistic training under the tutelage of the Dutch landscape painter, Gillis van Coninxloo III.  When he was twenty years old he became a member of the local Guild of Saint Luke and was registered as an “independent master”.  In comparison to his younger brother, Jan, Pieter was less successful as an artist.  He ran a studio, which had many apprentices, including Frans Snyders, who was to become one of the foremost Netherlandish painters of animals and still-life.  The problem for Pieter was that his paintings although they sold well, were sold cheaply.  The main reason for this was the fact that a lot of his works were copies or imitations of his father’s works.  Art critics have pointed out that his works had neither the depth of his father’s works nor the refinement of the works of his younger brother Jan.

At the end of 1588 when he was twenty-four he married Elisabeth Goddelet and the couple went on to have seven children.  Pieter Brueghel the Younger painted landscape and religious paintings as well as his fantasy paintings in which he liked to depict hobgoblins, fires, and other grotesque figures and it was his love for this sort of work which made him known as “Hell Brueghel” in stark contrast to the nickname, “Velvet Brueghel” given to his brother Jan for his concentration on still-life flower paintings.  Pieter Brueghel and his apprentices spent a lot of time copying his father’s works of art.  He and his studio produced more than sixty copies of his father’s 1565 painting entitled Winter Landscape with Skaters and a Bird-trap.   Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting entitled The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow, which he completed in 1567, was copied by his son in 1600 and was just one of almost thirty copies of the painting which came from the studio.   A painting simply entitled Proverb,s which can be found at the Rockox House museum in Antwerp is a copy of his father’s 1559 painting Netherlandish Proverbs which is housed at the Staatliche Museen in Berlin.  A great number of his paintings featured peasants and their daily lives, just as his father had done years earlier.

My featured painting today is one which Pieter Brueghel the Younger completed in 1607 entitled The Procession to Calvary.  It is a prime example of young Pieter Brueghel attempt to copy one of his father’s great works of art of the same name which was completed in 1564.  The painting which was owned by Lord St Oswald had hung at the family seat of Nostell Priory in Wakefield, West Yorkshire for over two hundred years.  However although the building is now owned by the National Trust the contents belong to the St Oswald family and they wanted to sell the work.  Through the auspices of the Art Fund, The National Heritage Memorial Fund and various monies received from the public, trusts and other foundations the painting was bought for £2.7 million and will now remain at the Priory.

The painting is deemed to be one of Brueghel the Younger’s best works.  His setting for the biblical scene illustrating Christ’s journey to his own crucifixion atop Mount Calvary is a Flemish landscape and is full of fascinating details. The background of the painting is a vast landscape with a river estuary slowly meandering towards the open sea which we can just see on the horizon.  In the left mid-ground we see a city with all its multi-storeyed buildings.  This is not a mystical biblical city from the Middle East but a European cityscape.  I love the details the artist has given the buildings.  People of Flanders who saw the painting could relate to the scene.  Brueghel has not only painstakingly depicted the city but he has spent much time depicting the people and the everyday objects that he has included in the painting.

Look to the right and you can see a troop of soldiers leading the procession up the hill , escorting Christ on his last journey.  Note their armour.  It is modern.  This is not a depiction of Roman cavalry.  This is a depiction of the troops of the Spanish army similar to the ones who had sacked Antwerp in November 1576 when Pieter Brueghel the Younger was just twelve years of age.  Maybe the atrocities of the war between the Catholic Spanish and the Protestant Netherlands affected the young boy and his painting is not just a tale of Christ’s suffering at the hands of the Romans but a tale of his people’s suffering at the hands of the Spanish.

If we look to the top of the hill we do not just see the three traditional crosses which were part of the biblical tale.  What we see is a mish mash of gallows and gibbets.  These would not be unusual sights set outside the city walls at the time of Brueghel.  Public executions were quite common at the time in the Netherlands and as in the days of Christ’s crucifixion, such executions were often attended by the local population.  Ahead of the Spanish troops we can just make out the two thieves being transported in a cart towards the top.  Unlike the biblical tale of the two thieves carrying their crosses like Christ, Brueghel has shown them being moved in carts, which was how those who were to be executed in Brueghel’s day were moved towards their place of execution.

It is also interesting to note how Brueghel has depicted Christ bearing his cross.  He is just a non-descript figure dressed in grey and hardly stands out from the crowd.  He is not the centre of attention in this sprawling painting and yet he has the leading role in the story.  What of the onlookers?  Are these all depicted as wracked with grief mourning the imminent death of Christ?  I would suggest that Brueghel has portrayed the scene differently from what we are used to seeing.  I believe there is a passive air about the crowd which maybe reflects more the contemporary Netherlandish life when executions were commonplace and caused little outpourings of grief except from the immediate next-of-kin.   This is more of an everyday scene than a portrayal of the events of Good Friday.

Take a look at this painting and compare it with the one done by his father which I featured in My Daily Art Display of March 7th.  See which you prefer.

Winter Scene by Joos de Momper

Winter Scene by Joos de Momper (c.1630)

“…Why, sir, Claude for air and Gaspar for composition and sentiment; you may walk in Claude’s pictures and count the miles. But there are two painters whose merit the world does not yet know, who will not fail hereafter to be highly valued, Cuyp and Mompers…”

Richard Wilson

In an earlier blog about the Welsh landscape painter, Richard Wilson, I told you how he believed that although the landscape works of Claude Lorrain and Gaspar Dughet were lauded, he spoke about the, as yet, unknown talents of Aelbert Cuyp and Joos de Momper and so I thought it was time to take a look at the life of Joos de Momper the Younger and one of his greatest works.

Joos de Momper also known as Josse de Momper was born in 1564 in Antwerp.  He was just one of an outstanding artistic dynasty.  His great grandfather, Jan de Momper I,  was a painter in Bruges; his son, and our featured artist’s grandfather, Josse de Momper I, was also known as an artist and dealer who moved from Bruges to Antwerp, where his son, and Joos’ father,  Bartolomeus de Momper , inherited both occupations, as well as being an engraver. Bartholomeus’s sons Josse de Momper II and Jan de Momper II were both landscape painters, but Josse the younger, today’s featured painter, was the exceptional artist of the family.

He received his initial artistic training under the guidance of his father, Bartholomäus de Momper.   In 1581, when he was seventeen years of age, de Momper’s father, who was at that time Dean of the Antwerp painters’ guild, The Guild of St Luke, enrolled him as a vrijmeester (master) into that association.   It is believed that around this time Joos travelled to Italy.  Records show that an artist in Treviso, Lodewijk Toeput, was his teacher .  Another reason for believing that the young artist had visited Italy is that so many of his paintings featured mountain scenes and as he spent most of his life in Antwerp, to have such a knowledge of mountains, almost certainly meant that he had at one time crossed the Alps into Italy.   So did he go to Italy?   A further clue to whether de Mompers was ever in Italy came in 1985  when the frescoes in the church of San Vitale in Rome, previously attributed to Paul Bril, were attributed to Joos de Momper the Younger.

Records show that in 1590, the twenty-six year old artist was back in Antwerp as it was in this year and in this city that he married Elisabeth Gobyn.  The couple had ten children.  The painting dynasty was to continue with two of the  couples’ sons, Gaspard and Philips both becoming notable artists.  Gaspard de Momper and Philips de Momper I,  both became painters although little is known of their work, except that Philips executed the figures in some of his father’s paintings; he also spent some years in Rome, where he had travelled with Jan Breughel the Younger

 In 1594 De Momper collaborated with two other Flemish painters Adam van Noort and Tobias Vwerhaecht as well as the Flemish architect Cornelis Floris on the decorative programme to celebrate the entry of the Archduke Ernest into Antwerp.   Shortly after this de Momper was invited to become one of the Archduke’s court painters, a position he took up at the court of the Archduke and Archduchess Albert and Isabel Clara Eugenia, the sovereign rulers of the Spanish Netherlands. In 1611, de Momper was made Dean of the Guild of St Luke in Anterp.

Most of de Momper’s paintings, like the one we are going to look at today, featured landscapes and his work was very well received. His landscapes were sometimes topographically accurate whilst others would be idealised fantasy ones, but all sold well.    His work was highly regarded and he is considered to be the most important Flemish landscape artrist of his time.  The timeline of great Flemish painters puts him coming after Pieter Bruegel, whose works greatly influenced him, and before Peter Paul Rubens.  

My Daily Art Display today features a painting simply entitled Winter Landscape and was painted by Joos de Momper the Younger around 1630 and can now be seen in the North Carolina Museum of Art.  This is a winterscape with a number of figures,  which were believed to have been painted, not by de Momper, but by Pieter Bruegel’s son Jan.  I love this work as it is so “busy”.  Besides the beauty of the landscape in winter we have a dozen people depicted carrying on with their daily duties.  Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s influence is clearly evident in this winter landscape.    Joos de Momper was known for his use of Mannerist colors in many of his landscapes, but in the more realistic pictorial representations, such as today’s painting, he used more natural colors.   Momper’s has managed to deliver a scene with such aesthetic appeal. 

Woman by cart

In this village landscape before us, the houses and people, which in his mountain landscapes were mere accessories, are now in some way the main focus of our attention.   Look at the woman in red who stands by the cart.  Look how the artist has depicted her struggling and straining with an arched back to lift the barrel on to the cart.  Look how her face is reddened by the physical effort.  To the right of her we see a mother and two children in a line.  The mother is carrying a bundle of firewood on her head whilst her son tags behind with a token few sticks of kindling.  Following up at the rear is the young daughter, with her arms outstretched shrieking, as she is being left behind.

Man with baskets

It is a scene full of activity and I love to cast my eyes around the painting to discover what is happening.  At the barn we see a man repairing a cart whilst the white horse stands passively to the side.  In the left midground we see a man bent over surveying what looks like two large wicker baskets.  I am not sure what he is doing but whatever is going through his mind, he seems fascinated by them.  Besides the people in the painting, look at the way the artist has elegantly painted the trees which have shed their leaves and which stand tall and unbowed in this cold but still winter’s day.

In the background on the right we have the nearby town.  It is separated from our main scene by a river, the water of which seems partly frozen over.  Fishermen are at the river trying to catch something for their meal in the small parts that have yet to be frozen. 

Town and bridge

The way to the town is accessed by a small wooden bridge and we see a man with his dogs making his way over it and heading into town..

I hope you have enjoyed this painting and thanks to Richard Wilson, I have discovered a new Flemish artist and one day I will return to him and look at another of his works.

Finally my thanks go to Universal Pops’ Photostream on Flickr for the details of the painting.  His photographic site is quite amazing and well worth a visit.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/universalpops/

King Edward VI by William Scrots

King Edward VI by William Scrots (c.1550)

Let me start  by tantalising you and declaring that today My Daly Art Display is about three people, a young English king who came to the throne aged nine and died six years later, a Netherlandish portrait painter who became the King’s painter and finally a former chairman of an English Premier League football club.   Has that wetted your appetite to read on?

The king in question, who we see in the painting, was King Edward VI, the son of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour.  Edward was born in October 1537 just over nine years before his father died and the crown passed to him.  Although he was the first son of Henry he was the third child of the monarch.  Henry VIII’s first child was Mary, born in 1516, whose mother was his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.  His second child was his daughter Elizabeth, born in 1533, his mother being Henry’s second wife Anne Boleyn.  However Henry didn’t want a girl to succeed him so he got Parliament to pass three Succession Acts, the First Succession to the Crown Act of 1534 disbarred Mary becoming Queen of England on the grounds that she was a bastard leaving the yet unborn Elizabeth the true successor.  However in 1536 with the execution of Anne Boleyn, the mother of Elizabeth, Elizabeth was declared also to be a bastard and Henry’s parliament passed the Second Succession to the Crown Act of 1536 which barred her from succeeding him to the throne of England.  At this time Henry had no heir although he had just married his third wife Jane Seymour and Edward had yet to be conceived.  In 1543 it all changed again when Henry had his Parliament pass a Third Act of Succession which made his son Edward the legitimate successor to his throne with Mary and Elizabeth reinstated as second and third in line.  Henry VIII died four years later and the nine year old Edward became King Edward VI.  His reign lasted just six years as at the age of fifteen he contracted tuberculosis and died.

The second person involved in this painting was the painter himself, William Scrots.  Little is known of his early life but he came to light as the court painter to Mary of Habsburg, the Regent of Netherlands in 1537.  We also know that Scrots travelled to England around 1545 where the following year he became the court painter of Henry VIII in succession to Hans Holbein.  It is believed that his annual salary for this position was £62. 10 shillings, double what Holbein had been receiving.  After Henry’s death in 1547 he remained as court painter to the young Edward.  Scrots painted a number of portraits of Edward VI, one of which is today’s featured painting.

Anamorphic portrait of Edward VI by William Scrots

It is interesting to note that Scrots painted an anamorphic profile of Edward VI, which is a painting which looks totally distorted unless viewed from a certain angle when what is depicted becomes clear.   His predecessor Holbein had painted The Ambassadorsin 1533, in which he included a distorted shape of a skull lying diagonally across the bottom of the painting and which can only be recognised as such if viewing it from a very acute angle.

Anamorphic portrait as seen from an acute angle

My Daily Art Display featured oil on panel painting is simply entitled King Edward VI and Scrots is thought to have painted it around 1540.  It is an unusual portrayal of the monarch as it is one in which the sitter is seen in profile.  It is awash with detailed iconography.  We see in the painting both a red and white rose which symbolised the Houses of Lancaster and York respectively, the two great English dynasties, which were united by Edward’s grandfather, Henry VII.   The Latin inscription below the portrait speaks of Phoebus, the sun, and Clytia, the sunflower, both of whom feature in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Ovid relates how Apollo turned the Princess Clytia into a sunflower as punishment for exposing his romance with her sister Leucothea.  Look at the sunflowers in the painting.  Normally they would turn and face the sun but in this portrait they have their “backs” to the sun and face the boy-king, which was probably meant to symbolise the power and influence of the young man.  It is believed the portrait was commissioned by the Stanhope family who were related to Edward’s uncle and chief minister, Edward Seymour who was for a time also the Lord Protector.  The painting remained in the Stanhope family until 2004.

And so to the third person connected to this painting, the former Premier League football chairman.  As I have just said the painting remained in the Stanhope family for over four hundred and fifty years until 2004 when it was auctioned by Sothebys.  This painting was considered to be one of the most significant sixteenth-century paintings ever to have come up for sale.  It was purchased for £700,000  by the Peter Moores Foundation for Compton Verney.  Sir Peter Moores is a British businessman, art collector and philanthropist, a former chairman of the Liverpool-based Littlewoods football poolsand retailing business in the UK and was briefly the Chairman of Everton Football Club.

So there you have it – a fascinating oil on panel painting, a tale of three men;  a boy-king, an artist and an ex football chairman.   What more could you ask for?