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An interesting characterization of the
different ways of life in
of those seventeenth-century masters who are now numbered among the most
distinguished artists of their time has undergone considerable fluctuation in
the course of the last two hundred
years. Early criticism of baroque art in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, was at
first directed less towards painting than towards architecture. In his study Renaissance
und Barock (1888), Heinrich Wolfflin expressed
criticism of the preference
of that era for 'massive effects, the colossal, the overpowering,' and found fault with its apparent
violation of renaissance concepts of harmony. Later, in his Kunstgeschichtliche
Grund-begriffe [Basic Concepts in Art History]
(1915), he appears to have discovered a relationship between the baroque and
modern world of forms.
Between these two works came Alois Riegl's Die Entstehung der Barockkunst in Rom [The Origins of Baroque Art in
The work of Italian baroque painters has received a variety of responses over the past two centuries. Caravaggio's oeuvre, which had already divided his contemporaries into two camps, with his opponents taking exception to his apparent disregard for decorum and the lack of historia, was interpreted as a forerunner of modernism as early as the last century. Poussin was hailed by his contemporaries as peintre philosophe and highly regarded by David and Ingres. The evaluation of Guido Reni reads as a story of brilliant fame, which was marred only by the commercial exploitation and trivialization of his paintings.
of the Spanish painters has had a mixed reception: masters such as Diego Velazquez,
Francisco Zurbaran, and, above all, Jusepe Ribera strongly appeal to the modern observer, but Bartolome Esteban Murillo has made
less of an impact. Velazquez was discovered in the mid-nineteenth century by French painters such as Courbet and Manet, who had an
unrestrained admiration for
the peintre des peintres. Only later did art historians begin to take him more seriously: numerous
monographs were produced, among
which Carlo Justi's early Diego Velazquez und sein ]ahrhundert [Diego Velazquez and his Century] (1888) has remained a worthwhile discussion of the
subject. In the eighteenth century,
Murillo's paintings were already so popular that their export was prohibited under Charles III
in 1779. However, since the end of the nineteenth century Murillo's work has
been dismissed in increasingly
critical terms for what is seen as its saccharine sentimentality. Only in the last two
decades of the twentieth century has there been a reassessment of this painter which has
attempted to do justice to the status of his art. Zurbaran's work has also been
reassessed only in
recent years. Mainly preserved in the monasteries of
course of the seventeenth century, the arts were increasingly used to promote political purposes and
either taken into the service
of the Counter-Reformation by the Church or adopted by the absolutist courts
for the programmatic glorification of the ruler. At the same time, panel
painting became a particularly desirable collector's item for noblemen, courtiers, and kings as
well as for the bourgeoisie,
which was going through a process of emancipation. Even more markedly than
during the Renaissance, artistic life was now concentrated in the large
centers, either the seats of courts—
time a powerful change was occurring between the various centers of art. Influenced by political and
economic factors, the
painter's contractual situation changed in individual cities, and many were forced into frequent changes
of residence. Caravaggio left
Lombardy and went to
The plentiful surviving information, in addition to the works of art, on the individual painters and their work and on the theory and practice of art as well as the aesthetic values of the seventeenth century, is mainly derived from archive material. There are also a number of documents which record contemporary views on art and artists. The painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari created a prototype in 1550 with the first edition of his work on the lives of Italian and particularly Florentine painters, Le vite de' piu eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architetti, which was to be taken up in the course of the following century by a number of authors, some of them artists. Among the outstanding Italian art historians of the seventeenth century are Giovanni Baglione (Le vite de' pittori, scultori, ed architetti, dal pontificato di Gregorio XIII del 1572 fino a' tempi di Papa Urbano VIII nel 1642, Rome 1642), his successor Giovanni Battista Passeri (Vite de' pittori, scultori ed architetti che anno lavorato in Roma morti dal 1641 fino al 1673, Rome 1642), and the learned librarian and antiquarian of Queen Christina of Sweden, Giovanni Pietro Bellori (Le vite de' pittori, scultori, ed architetti moderni), Rome 1672), as well as the Florentine abbot Filippo Baldinucci (Notizie de' professori di disegno da Cimabue in qua, Rome 1672), from whom we can discover much about the artists who were active in Rome, both indigenous and foreign masters. The painter and literary man Bernardo de Dominici (Vite dei pittori, scultori, ed architetti napoletani, Naples 1742-43) provides detailed information about artistic life in Naples.
The lives and works of Spanish painters are reported in
detail by the Seville
painter and art historian Francisco Pacheco (El arte de la pintura, Seville 1649), the historian and
musician at the court of Philip
IV, Lazaro Diaz del Valle (Origen y illustracion del nobilis-simo y real arte de la pintura y
dibuxo, 1656-59), and
also the painter and art
historian Antonio Palomino (El parnaso espaiiol pin-tor esco laureado, Madrid 1724). Finally, French painters
are addressed in the
writings of Andre Felibien (Entretiens sur les vies et
les ouvrages des plus excellents peintres anciens et modernes,
Biographies of individual artists were still a rarity in the seventeenth century. Of the artists mentioned here, only one biography is known, a life of Velazquez produced by his pupil Juan de Alfaro (1640-80), long since out of print.
triumph of the Counter-Reformation, the new incumbents of the Holy See had abandoned
their predecessors' dream of world supremacy for the papacy, and now
transferred their bid for power
to a spiritual realm, to whose wealth the capital city of
metropolis was thus very attractive, for it promised not only well-paid commissions but also
the possibility for an enhancement of social rank. A further attraction lay in its overwhelming wealth of superb classical and modern
works of art.
After Pope Julius II had initiated the
rebuilding of St. Peter's and its transformation into the foremost church of the Catholic world, during the pontificates of Urban VIII
and Alexander VII the completion and decoration of the church became the focus of attention, as did a number of town-planning measures
of vast proportions. A
The relationship between painter and
client was a complex one. In
some cases an artist might be regularly employed by a particular client, living
in his palace and receiving a monthly salary as well as the customary fees. Thus, we know that
Andrea Sacchi lived in the palazzo
of Cardinal Antonio Barberini between 1637 and 1640. However, it was more
common for a painter to be independent and have his own workshop. If an artist
received an important commission, a contract was usually drawn up which included a written record of the agreed extent and
destination of the work, its subject, the date by which the work was to be
completed, and the fee to be paid. In these cases, the subject was often formulated in very general terms. For example, Urban VIII
commissioned an altarpiece for the
It was from
Zampieri, known as Domenichino (1581-1641), also came from
Bologna. He worked with
Annibale Carracci on the painting
of the Galleria Farnese, creating not only a number of images of saints, but also the frescos
of S. Andrea della Valle. Domenichino is regarded as the
earliest representative of a consistent classicism in
Cortona (1596-1669) came to
The Bamboccianti had good
connections with the French painters in
most important painters active in
The second academy on Italian soil was
In addition to the Accademia di San Luca,
One of Caravaggio's most important commissions in
The painter has chosen the moment
when Saul, who, as governor of
In these two paintings for the Cerasi chapel, Caravaggio emphasizes the discrepancy between the earthly and the spiritual and mystic spheres, showing the saint's unconscious state in the Conversion of St. Paul, or execution in the Crucifixion of St. Peter, without reinforcing our sense of the saint's own religious experience through the conventional depiction of a visible heavenly apparition.
ceiling fresco of the Galleria Farnese, commissioned by Cardinal Odoardo Farnese, is considered the masterpiece of the Bolognese artist Annibale Carracci; he
executed it with the assistance of Agostino
Carracci and Domenichino. The Galleria
is a space twenty meters long and six
meters wide and is surmounted by a semicircular barrel vault in which the Farnese sculpture collection was stored. The essential idea behind the scheme was the glorification of the house of
Farnese through mythological association.
The cardinal's father, Alessandro Farnese,
commander to Philip 11, and later
governor of the
divided the barrel vault lengthwise into three distinct areas. The lateral panels contain a number of
smaller mythological scenes, while the four
corners contain personifications of the virtues and the two large paintings on the front sides show scenes from the Perseus legend.
The five monumental paintings in the
central panels in the vertex of the ceiling are particularly important. In the center can be seen the
triumphal procession of Bacchus and Ariadne and next to them are scenes
showing Pan and Diana, and Paris and Mercury; finally in the last sections are representations of Ganymede and Hyacinthus. The triumphal procession
shows the couple sitting in a chariot, accompanied
by joyful nymphs and satyrs. Bacchus,
the god of wine and ecstasy, had
rescued Ariadne after Theseus had
abandoned her on
The frescos impressively document Carracci's main artistic aim: to reclaim the naturalistic ideal of renaissance art. Figures of Atlas and herms painted as stone-gray statues support the central section. Real and painted architectural and sculptural elements, garlands, cartouches, and medallions stand beside quadri riportati, tondi, and unframed figurative scenes which take place behind the caryatids and nudes. In many areas of the design there is a deceptive element to the closure of spaces, for example at the corners, where the whole is open to the heavens. Often there is no clear dividing line between architecture and painting.
In spite of this complex system of ornament, the images on the ceiling remain easily 'readable' due to the stepped axial symmetry of the scheme beginning at the center. The mythological scenes show either the loves of the gods or love between gods and chosen mortals. The central theme of the paintings is the elevation and transformation of the human soul through the power of divine love.
Domenichino and Reni were both Bolognese pupils of Annibale Carracci who came to work in
painters depict different stages
in the saint's martyrdom. Domeni-chino's fresco shows the scene of the scourging of St. Andrew, while Reni's
illustrates the saint on
his way to his crucifixion at the moment when he catches sight of the cross and—remembering Christ—falls to his knees.
Domenichino's painting is
clearly structured. The action takes place in front of a Roman temple. On the right-hand side of the painting the saint is being scourged by four
torturers, while on the left a group of women fearfully observe the proceedings; more observers are visible in the background and the governor is seen seated on his throne between the two groups. Domenichino sets the scene in the mar-tyrium of
Guido Reni, on the other hand, composes his scene with a number of figures in a turbulent landscape. In the center, Andrew, surrounded by three henchmen, falls to his knees and raises his hands in prayer in the direction of the cross which can he seen on a hill in the distance. The procession accompanying the saint— Roman soldiers, women with children and men as observers—is thus brought to a disorderly halt. Yet on closer examination it is possible to discern the way in which the various groups of people are set in relation to each other through looks and gestures. The artist draws the observer into the scene: the line of accompanying figures is so broken up in the center that it appears to allow participation in the main events.
The two paintings by Reni and Domenichino, positioned opposite each other in this manner, gave rise to heated discussion. Bellori speaks of a duello between the two artists, which can be summed up by the so-called vecchiarella [old woman] anecdote. According to this story, Annibale Carracci, asked which of the works of his two pupils he preferred, responded that he himself had understood the essential difference between the frescos because of the behavior and commentary of an old peasant woman or vecchierella. This woman—so Bellori relates—was visiting the Oratorio with her nephew, and first gazed at Reni's fresco attentively and presumably with approval, but then turned away from it without a word. But in front of Domeni-chino's Scourging she had shown a lively interest and had explained to the child all the details of the events shown. According to this account, preference was not to be given to Reni's work, in which there was nothing to 'read.' On the other hand, even a person unable to read, like the old woman, could 'read' Domenichino's painting, so that the observation of the painting replaced the reading of a text.
Reni's work appeared to provide his opponents with evidence that the artist was not capable of the maniera grande [grand manner] essential to history painting. Despite these critical voices, however, Reni's work soon came to be valued by many as a masterpiece of baroque painting. The art of the following years was to demonstrate the extent of the influence of Reni's work in general. The critique of the two representations of St. Andrew and the vecchiarella anecdote graphically illustrate the two disparate artistic styles that were established during the seventeenth century—the storia, invenzione, and istruire as suggested by Reni's painting on the one hand, and the grazia, delicatezza, and piacere demonstrated by Domenichino's design on the other.
of the Innocents at Bethlehem
is one of the works
already hailed as a
masterpiece by Reni's contemporaries; it was painted towards the end of
his second stay in
Reni reduces the event to its essential elements and portrays it in an almost silhouetted style. The principle of the composition is an inverted triangle, the vertex of which is balanced on the lower edge of the painting. At the same time, the two halves are structured with strict symmetry. Each figure in the left-hand half of the painting corresponds to one on the right. In the upper zone, two figures on each side—two women and two soldiers, represented in pairs, in each case one facing forward, one turned away—are contrasted by their gestures. The somber architecture is effectively set-off by the light which floods the background. The focus of the scene is the anguish of the women. While only two soldiers are observed pursuing their brutal task, extensive space is devoted to the suffering of the six women with their pathetic desperate gestures, almost fainting as they try to protect their children from death.
The only ceiling fresco created by Guercino is this
A shooting contest is in progress here, with Diana's nymphs shooting at a bird tethered to a perch. Three female archers, seen to the left in the picture, have each already completed their master shots; one arrow is stuck in the post, the second has loosened the binding, and the third has hit the bird as it flies away. Diana, acting as judge of the contest, holds in her right hand a golden circlet which is to be bestowed on the victorious archer, seen left, with the upper part of her body exposed.
Domenichino relies here on Virgil's description in book V of the Aeneid
where he reports on
the championships held
by Aeneas, exiled to
The works of Pietro da Cortona and Andrea Sacchi also demonstrate the different ways in which great paintings achieve their effects. While Pietro favored the multi-figure history painting, with main and subsidiary action, Sacchi argued for fewer figures in order to achieve a more concentrated impact. Pietro's
painting was executed on the commission of
Cardinal Sacchetti, whose choice of theme was intended to portray his
family as established, although it had in
fact only recently settled in
theme of the rape of the Sabine women is based on the legend of
Pietro places the events in front of
rather different approach becomes clear in the
monumental painting the Vision of St.
Romuald for the high altar of the
church of S. Romualdo in Rome, since
demolished. St. Romuald first lived
as a Benedictine monk at
Sacchi emphasizes the supernatural event by contrasting the dark, almost threatening landscape, in which the trunk and branches of a tree frame two sides of the painting, casting a strong shadow on the gleaming white garments of the monks, with the vision, which is depicted in very light and delicate tones.
Among the few genre paintings produced in
Flagellation, which had already been condemned by the Church during the middle ages and had in fact almost disappeared by about 1400, experienced a revival in the seventeenth century among certain groups of disciplinati. The painting illustrates several forms of religious devotion which were propagated by brotherhoods and other religious associations. Piety is denoted by the praying pilgrims, self-chastisement by the flagellants, and charity by the alms-giving passers-by. In the background, in the interior of a room fish are being sold, possibly an allusion to Christ. The numerous references to the austere, self-denying aspect of the Christian faith suggest that the painting should be interpreted as an allegory of the period of fasting.
Diego Velazquez stayed twice in
Little is known about the exact circumstances of its creation. It may
well have been a commissioned work, for Velazquez'
fame as an outstanding portraitist had
long since reached
Velazquez here falls back on the tradition established by Raphael for the three-quarter portrait of a seated figure, which Titian also employed in his portrait of Pope Paul III. The distinctly unflattering rendering of the features of Innocent X, described by his contemporaries as unattractive and disagreeably delineated, is said to have induced the subject to exclaim: 'Troppo vero!' [Too true!] In this portrait, Velazquez dispenses with such elements as room settings and concentrates entirely on the psychological moment, treating the facial features and hands of the subject with particular care. The coloring is dominated by various shades of red. The loose brushwork, which requires the painting to be observed from a distance, is Velazquez' tribute to the Venetians and above all to Titian. The portrait met with strong approval and resulted in the admission of the painter to the Accademia di San Luca.
The theme of these images is the last phase of the wanderings of Aeneas,
who, after the destruction of
Pietro structures the ceiling
into several adjoining areas, with
boundaries that become slightly
blurred; the scenes are partly distinguished as quadri ripor-tati, images
within an image. A narrative thread leads the observer from scene to scene, and the large square painting in the central field of the vault showing Jupiter reconciling the disputing goddesses Juno and Venus plays a central role. Juno had taken the side of the Greeks in the Trojan war,
while Venus, Aeneas' mother,
protectively accompanied the hero on his wanderings, finally leading him to
Pietro's frescos are based on a differentiated iconographical scheme: Aeneas' journey is seen as an itinerarium mentis, a journey of the soul or process of psychological development, which leads from the vita
Another direction in painting is represented by the two French artists
The flower goddess Flora is shown
dancing at the center of a charming landscape, surrounded by recumbent and standing figures. These are Greek heroes and demigods who met their deaths through various misfortunes and were turned
into flowers. In front of a herm of the god
of nature stands
The lively, delicate coloring, a uniform light which unites the whole scene, the harmonious dance-like movements of the figures, the well-balanced composition, and the ornamental enlivenment of the surface by means of rhythmically connected, clearly accentuated( forms all provide evidence of Poussin's debt to classical antiquity. The arrangement of the figures, which appear on a narrow area in the foreground, is intended to give a natural impression and at the same time to bring out the role of each individual figure. The only movement in the distance is denoted by the glance of Clythia, who is watching Apollo's progress in the firmament.
In choosing his theme, Poussin has relied both on Ovid's Metamorphoses and on a poem by Giambattista Marino. The painting illustrates the idea that life as a whole is eternal, but its forms are caught up in a process of constant change.
Quite different intentions lie behind the painting of Pyramus and Thisbe created by Poussin for his friend, the scholar and antiquarian Cassiano dal Pozzo. It was produced at a time when the artist was predominantly concerned with the problems of landscape painting. This is one of few large-format works by this artist. Poussin places the story of Pyramus and Thisbe in a broad impressive hilly and stormy landscape which extends widely into the background, with a lake in the center and a town on the right.
The story of the two unhappy Babylonian lovers is derived from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Pyramus had arranged to meet Thisbe by a spring in order to run away with her as their fathers had forbidden their relationship. Pyramus arrived late, when Thisbe, waiting at the spring, had already taken flight from a thirsty lioness. In fleeing she dropped her veil, which the lioness tore, her jaws still bloody from tearing the flesh of an ox. When Pyramus reached the scene, finding the tracks of a lion and the torn veil, he assumed that his beloved was dead, and in his guilt fell despairingly on his sword. Thisbe, finding her lover dying, also took her own life. Poussin portrays the moment of the greatest desperation of the two lovers: Thisbe is seen in the foreground, hurrying with frantic gestures towards Pyramus as he lies dying.
Nature participates in the dramatic events: a wild storm is raging, with a fierce gale and bolts of lightning, while the tempestuous sky breaks up in a narrow strip to the left. Dominating the tragic event, which takes place almost casually in the foreground, is the landscape, marked by the outbreak of elemental natural forces. By his own admission, Poussin was primarily concerned here with the mastery of the artistic problems associated with the depiction of a stormy landscape, and only secondarily with the tragic fate of the two lovers. The central idea of the painting is the helplessness of humanity against the capricious power of Fortuna.
produced the Embarkation of St. Ursula in
Claude shows the saint with her companions on their departure from the
Harbor at Sunrise in
Neither the time nor setting for the scene is identifiable, and there is thus something timeless about the whole piece. Clearly the painter is primarily concerned with the illustration of a natural phenomenon, the sunrise, which penetrates the veil of the early morning mist over the sea.
Landscape with Noli Me Tangere is among Claude's late works. It shows the meeting of St. Mary Magdalene with Christ, as described in the gospel of
meeting is set in a wide landscape, opening out into the background. Claude designates the garden with Christ and the kneeling Magdalene, who has a jar of ointment, as a holy place by the wooden fence which separates it from the rest of the landscape. The mountain on the right is identified as
Maratta painted the Death of St. Francis Xavier for the altar of the right transept of the Gesu. St. Francis Xavier, one of the chief saints of the Jesuit
order, joined Ignatius Loyola as early as 1533
and was active as a missionary in Asia, particularly in
painting, together with another
by Gaulli for S. Andrea al Quirinale,
is among the first images of the saint. Maratta shows the death of Francis Xavier, who according to
legend died on the
The painting is divided into two areas. In the lower part Maratta shows the saint lying on the point of death surrounded by several people. In the upper part a number of angels attend the missionary's death, perhaps in expectation of his ascension to heaven. The presence of the figure of an Indian refers to Francis Xavier's missionary activity in general, and specifically to Goa; he is intended as an individual attribute of the saint, and here raises his hands in prayer at the sight of his death.
In Maratta's work (he was a pupil of Sacchi), the emphasis is on classical compositions with few figures and impressive gestures, and with particular value laid upon the three-dimensional quality of the bodies.
Fra Andrea Pozzo was summoned to
The content of the ceiling fresco, Allegory of the Missionary Work of the Jesuits, relates to one of Christ's sayings (Luke 12, 49). In the center of the picture hovers the Holy Trinity, from which a ray of light passes to St. Ignatius, who is borne on clouds by angels. The ray divides into four beams which fall on the four continents known at the time which are represented on the highest level of the trompe-l'oeil architecture. The divine fire is thus passed from Christ to Ignatius, who carries it to all parts of the world. Further Jesuit saints, placed closer to or further away from Ignatius according to rank, as well as a great number of praying devotees, populate the heavens. The personifications of the continents, transfigured, turn towards the saint, for the efforts of the Jesuit orders to convert heathens have freed them from heresy and idol-worship. Real architectural elements blend into painted architecture, while the barrel-vaulted ceiling is transformed by the fresco into a dome flooded with light.
The artist negates the boundaries between the actual space of the church and the painted heavens so ingeniously that it is almost impossible to see how he has achieved it. Pozzo himself indicated with a marble panel in the center of the nave the position to be taken up by the observer who wished to take in the central perspective of the construction of the painted trompe-l'oeil architecture.
history of the city in the seventeenth century is marked by a number of
catastrophic events. For a start, in 1624
The most important clients for artists,
apart from the Church and the
religious orders, were the viceroys, the Spanish and local nobility at the court, the major landowners such
as the Colonna, Maddaloni, and
Montleone, and also the merchant nobility. But despite the concentration of
wealth and power in
connections with other European countries, as well as with Asia and the Spanish rulers, meant that
Caravaggio (1573-1610), for example,
during his flight from
As in many other Italian centers of
art, such as
There were a
great number of artistic personalities in seventeenth-century
Among the painters who were to have the most lasting effect on artistic life there was Caravaggio. His Madonna of the Rosary is first documented in 1607, when it came up for sale. It was probably intended for the Dominican church. Legend recounts that the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Dominic and gave him the rosary. She taught him how to use it for prayer and charged him with disseminating the use of the rosary among the people. The subject became popular during the Counter-Reformation after the victory at Lepanto in 1571, in which the Christian West held off the advance of the Turks, ascribed to the effect of the rosary prayer. Above all, however, the rosary was one of the new forms of piety propagated by the Church. These demanded self-discipline and individual initiative, but on the other hand also contributed to the structuring of everyday life through ritual, thus binding the faithful more closely to the Church.
In the center of the painting, fully facing the observer, slightly shifted to the left of the longitudinal axis, the Madonna is enthroned with the infant Jesus standing on her lap. To her left, St. Dominic, with an ecstatic expression, assisted by other monks to her right, is distributing rosaries to the people. At the left-hand edge of the painting the figure turning his gaze towards the observer is probably the donor. Another figure looking out of the picture is the counterpart of St. Dominic, St. Peter the Martyr. The shabbily clad people turn towards St. Dominic with strongly dramatic gestures.
Caravaggio dispenses with the strict division into a heavenly and earthly realm which was traditional in the depiction of this scene—the event takes place in a room and the figures are grouped closely together—but nevertheless he has taken care to preserve a strict hierarchy. The Virgin is not only placed at a higher level but is also the only figure completely visible to the observer. The powerful influx of light and the robust modeling of the bodies through the use of chiaroscuro which casts a strong light on some parts of the body are striking. Here Caravaggio deploys a characteristic early baroque color composition with intensely glowing pigments, each of which appears only once, and divides the painting into three sections, the upper and lower being strictly enclosed fields of color, while black and white predominate in the central section.
The Madonna of the Rosary is one of Caravaggio's most traditional works, yet it was to have an enormous impact, for in it the painter develops the archetype of the baroque altar panel. The painting alludes to the strict hierarchy of the Church, newly propagated during the Counter-Reformation, according to which the people have no direct access to the Virgin, but have need of the mediation of the saints.
Artemisia Gentileschi created a whole series of large-format paintings with
biblical and historical
themes in which women play a central role. In
numerous paintings such as Susanna and
the Elders and Judith and Holofernes she deals with the problem of
the sexual threat posed to women by men.
She tackled the apocryphal story of Judith, who beheaded Holofernes, in
several paintings; one version was
produced in 1630, either in
Judith was an exceptionally beautiful widow who lived in
the Israelite town of
chooses to illustrate the
The painter clearly owes her use of strong contrasts of light and dark to the influence of Caravaggio, as well as her glowing range of colors and her silhouette-like elements which concentrate the composition on a central statement. Primary colors predominate: the dark background contrasts with the glowing hues of the blue garment of Judith, the red one of the maid, and the white blood-spattered sheet. The drama of the brutal scene is heightened by the stark light that illuminates the upper part of Holofernes' body, the hands of the women, and Judith's head.
While Holofernes is shown by many painters as the victim of a cruel, cold-hearted woman, Gentileschi's version interprets the story somewhat differently. Her Judith is not a symbol of dangerously provocative, unpredictable womanhood, and neither, therefore, is the beheaded Holofernes shown as a victim of female castration mania. Artemisia Gentileschi's theme is the disempower-ment and punishing of the male, but more emphasis is in fact laid on the strength of women when they act in collaboration.
Women and power are
also the subject of Jusepe Ribera's
The figures are presented in a manner similar to that of late Roman reliefs on the theme of Amazons: in the center of the action are the life-size, three-dimensionally represented figures of the two women. The witnesses of the tense battle, remaining in the background, are of only secondary importance and are therefore only sketched in. Ribera's subtly graduated combinations and harmonies of color and, above all, the predominant golden tones reveal him as a great colorist in the tradition of the Venetian masters Titian and Veronese.
Apart from the portrayal of a historically documented event in Neapolitan society, the battle between the two women has also been interpreted as the battle between virtue and vice.
Jusepe Ribera is mainly known today for those paintings in which he describes in a crude, savage manner the martyrdoms of saints and mythological characters. He treated the theme of Apollo flaying Marsyas in a number of versions intended for private collections.
The Phrygian satyr Marsyas had achieved such mastery on the flute that he dared to challenge Apollo to a competition. The victor was to do what he wished with the loser. The two were at first on equal terms, until Apollo, who was playing the lyre, challenged Marsyas to play his instrument the wrong way around, which was not possible with the flute. Apollo thus became the victor and punished Marsyas by hanging him from a pine tree and stripping off his skin.
In the Christian world this myth corresponded to the martyrdom of St. Bartholomew. Ribera chooses for his painting the scene of punishment: Marsyas, naked and manacled, lying on the ground, is seen being tortured by Apollo. Only the lyre in the left-hand corner of the painting refers to the competition which has just taken place. In the background, horror-struck observers are witnesses of the dreadful event.
Ribera succeeds in emphasizing the dramatic moment with a powerful diagonal composition which he achieves by allowing Marsyas' body to project, as it were, out of the painting. The drama of the scene is further heightened by the contrast between the face of Marsyas, contorted in pain, the floating red garment of the god, and the turbulent sky on the one hand, and the calm features of Apollo, carrying out his cruel deed with a restrained gesture, on the other.
Her wish was granted, but as she continued to refuse Apollo's wooing, the god took his revenge. The Sibyl had forgotten to ask for eternal youth, and from then on continued to age. She lived in misery for more than seven hundred years and her only wish was to die.
The figure of St. Gennaro, the patron saint of
Giordano organizes his painting, which was in fact to adorn the high altar, into two sections. In the heavenly realm, St. Gennaro is shown kneeling on clouds and surrounded by angels gazing upwards towards Christ and the Virgin Mary as he pleads for mercy for the plague-stricken city. With his left hand the saint indicates the many corpses of plague victims lying on the ground. Giordano succeeds in representing the cruelty of the plague with great sensitivity: to the left, a weeping child tries to awaken its dead mother.
Giuseppe Recco's monumental painting Still Life with Fruit and Flowers is among the artist's late works. It shows a lavish arrangement of various kinds of fruit and flowers, with some spread out on the ground and some in baskets. The whole piece is set in a landscape with a rich foliage of blossoming shrubs and trees. There is a powerful contrast between the dark coloring of the natural scene and the bright hues of the individual fruits and flowers which appear to gleam out from it.
While Recco's painting appears at first glance similar to Dutch flower still lifes, on closer observation a number of differences become evident. The coloring is inspired by the work of Caravaggio and the composition is asymmetrical, with flowers and fruit arranged in less ornamental fashion; the Neapolitan's painting is further distinguished from Dutch works by its monumental size.
By placing the arrangement of
flowers and fruit in a landscape, the
artist puts the two main features of
the painting on an equal level. The
many still lifes of the period which
show fruit have sometimes been interpreted as a reflection of the increasingly
abundant supply of goods. They are
also seen as representative of the growing interest in the scientific
observation of nature which inspired the
voyages of research during this period.
In addition, the medicinal properties of plants, vegetables, and fruit were
being explored. Thus scientific discovery and the spiritual assimilation of the everyday can be seen as the main impetus for this still life
rather than higher levels of symbolic
meaning. This particular genre was extremely popular in the merchant
In the seventeenth century
reign of Philip III (1598-1621)
It was only
during the reign of Philip IV (1621-65) that several large artistic projects
were undertaken. These included the decoration of the
The most important clients for
turn of the century, the successors of the Escorial painters summoned from
Many painters came from
from religious paintings, portraits and still lifes were the most sought-after works. Paintings of
mythological subjects were, however, considered indecent and were not bought
for fear of the Inquisition,
since the Church regarded them with mistrust: the clergy saw them chiefly an excuse to
represent nudity. In
The educational standard of these painters was, except in a few cases, not particularly high. Some were even illiterate, as was reported of Antonio Pereda. From the inventories of several artists' estates we know how many books a painter owned, and which ones. While the painter and art historian Vicente Carducho owned 306 books, Velazquez' estate included only 156. The majority of painters lived in impoverished conditions. They earned their daily bread with pictures of saints for private devotions, which they sold at the markets. However, some painters were also active as art dealers and owned their own shops. An important element of some painters' incomes was the painting of the polychrome sculptures which at that time predominated in the decoration of churches. A court artist such as Velazquez, with a fixed income and many extra payments for various official positions and special commissions, of course enjoyed a higher standard of living. He employed a servant, owned silk garments and a carriage, and led the life of a nobleman. However, neither the successful Velazquez nor Murillo left property to their descendants and both died in debt.
While portraits of painters and sculptors
were common in
Still lifes, along with portraits,
are among the few
paintings on secular subjects which were produced in
One of the
leading still-life painters of
The two paintings in vertical format produced around 1625 flanked a door in the
house of the courtier Jean de Croy, Count
of Solre, in the Calle de Alcala in
As suggested earlier, mythological
painting was poorly represented
The Triumph of Bacchus was
painted shortly before
his first stay in
It has been demonstrated that Velazquez' painting relies on a sixteenth-century Flemish print. According to the inscription on the print, the peasants begged Bacchus to make them forget their troubles. The god of wine granted their request and allowed mere mortals to participate in his pleasures and forget their misery. More recent interpretations have seen the painting as referring to the reign of Philip IV: just as Bacchus washes away the cares of humanity with wine, the king was supposed to alleviate the sorrows of his subjects.
The complicated iconographic scheme was designed for the glorification of
the reigning house of
Twelve monumental battle scenes on the longer walls of the hall between the French windows celebrated the most recent victories of the Spanish army in various theaters of war. They were intended to glorify Philip IV's military successes, and at the same time to justify the high costs of waging war which had been the inevitable result of the expansionist policy of the king and Olivares. The commissions for the battle scenes went to the most important painters in the court circle: Diego Velazquez, Vicente Carducho, Antonio de Pereda, Felix Castelo, Francisco Zurbaran, Eugenio Cajes, and Jusepe Leonardo. While most painted battle scenes follow a predictable formula, with the general posing in the foreground as a confident victor while the events of battle are played out in the background, Velazquez and Maino chose instead to emphasize the inhumanity and terrors of war; the clash of weapons can hardly be heard here.
The most famous painting in the Salon
de los Reinos is
Velazquez' Las Lanzas. It recreates the
moment after the capture of
Nevertheless some differences are subtly established: while the victorious army is presented as an orderly group with upright lances—which give the painting its Spanish title—the defeated troops stand around in a resigned, disorderly throng. Velazquez refrains from the allegories commonly ascribed to battle and victory scenes which are generally inserted for the glorification of the victor. He thus breaks the pattern of triumph and humiliation which dominates similar paintings, and at the same time introduces a new dimension, one of humanity and generosity in the spirit of the victor, and thus of the Spanish monarchy.
Velazquez used Flemish prints as the basis for the landscape in the background; in his composition he follows a model from the Quadrins bistoriques de la Bible, published in
Like the famous Meninas, the Spinners belongs to the late work of Velazquez; both paintings were produced in 1656. Both are based on complex themes which are not initially evident to the spectator. Each picture considers the status of the arts and the social position of the artist in Spanish society. In Las Meninas Velazquez portrays himself openly in the company of the royal family; in the Spinners this message is conveyed in a somewhat more obscure way.
In a manner similar to that of some early bodegon scenes (see p. 413), the action
takes place on several planes: the manufacture
of Gobelin tapestries is shown with
several women spinning and winding
yarn in the foreground. Accordingly
the picture is interpreted in the
first instance as a workshop picture, a scene in the royal carpet
As in the Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Mary and Martha (see p. 413), the scene in the foreground has been interpreted as a reference to the one in the background. The weaving women can in fact be associated with the legend of Arachne, since Ovid relates that the goddess disguised herself as an old woman when she sought out Arachne. In the theme of Arachne's tapestry, Velazquez recalls Titian's painting of the Rape of Europa in the royal collection. Arachne's tapestry therefore refers to Titian's artistic invention, and thus to the renaissance concepts of disegno and idea—to the creative genius of the artist which is found in every work of art. The gifted painter Titian is compared to Arachne, who could weave divinely. In the sketchily rendered, light-filled, colorful scene in the background, we may see an allusion to painting as a divine art. In contrast, the figures in the dimly lit foreground are following a lowly occupation.
This late painting by Velazquez intentionally refers to the painter's masterly technique, for example in the skillfully suggested turning of the wheel. In this mythological painting Velazquez once again demonstrates his ability to work in this most difficult and also most highly valued of genres.
One of the most important paintings by
Alonso Cano of
The painting found great favor with the artist's contemporaries and was seen as a 'true miracle' mainly because of its coloring—warm brown and green tones are delightfully complemented by orange and red. Here Cano turned to a manner of painting in which harsh contours are abandoned in favor of modeling loosened by light and shade, with many highlights and surface reflections.
In the painting, two moments from the legend are combined: the rescue of the child and the recognition of Isidore's saintliness by the women. In the composition the saint is isolated and conveys a certain grandeur as the only figure in the painting who is visible from head to foot and standing up. Nonetheless, Cano's painting hardly has the effect of an altar-piece, for the scene has a silhouette-like quality and the figures, as in the work of Murillo, are realistically portrayed in a manner which lends the character of an everyday event to a miraculous occasion.
In addition to scenes from the lives of the saints, vanitas paintings, which point to the transitory nature of earthly things through symbolism and allegory, play an important part in Spanish painting. In The Cavalier's Dream by Antonio Pereda a nobleman is shown asleep at a table. A number of objects are piled up in front of him: jewelry and coins, books, a mask, a burnt-out candle—a warning of the possibility of sudden death—as well as flowers, a skull, weapons, and armor, all emblems of power, wealth, and the transience of life. In the background an angel, with a banner with an inscription referring to unexpected death, turns towards the sleeping man. Pereda reminds the spectator that the path to salvation lies only in turning away from the temptations of earthly things and towards prayer, penance, and chastity.
Maino also produced a painting
for the Salon de los Reinos. After the
Maino's painting is characterized by sympathy for the wounded and tenderness towards the children. Thus the subject becomes not only the triumph of the victor but also the misery of the defeated. Like Velazquez' painting, the Recapture of Bahia is far from an unreflecting glorification of the misfortune and suffering brought by war.
The decoration of the Salon de los Reinos included ten paintings of Hercules by Zurbaran which were hung above the French windows. The choice of Hercules was clearly not arbitrary, for he represented the embodiment of virtus, the virtue and strength of a just ruler, an allegory of the capable regent; he was also considered a forerunner of the Habs-burgs, who traced their ancestry back to the legendary hero. The mythical hero as subject points to the fact that the Spanish kingdom was engaged in constant Herculean struggles with external threats, specifically unorthodoxy and heresy. Nine paintings depicted the Labors of Hercules, the tenth his last battle and the earthly death of the hero.
Hercules is shown here kneeling with his right arm outstretched, his features contorted in pain. His torture derives from the garment soaked in the blood of Nessus,
which his jealous wife Deianira had
sent him and which is now burning his
flesh. In Zurbaran's painting, Hercules,
obeying the command of the oracle of
The Hercules cycle alluded to the Spanish dynasty, since Hercules was considered to be its ancestor and founder, and to its physical and spiritual virtues; it was also intended to emphasize the almost superhuman ability and godlike quality of the regent, Philip IV.
painter, Velazquez' main task was to produce portraits of the royal family. Among the portraits of Philip IV painted on the occasion of a particular event is the
so-called 'Fraga portrait'. After
the Catalan revolt of 1640, the French
army had occupied parts of
portrait was painted during their stay in Fraga, originally occupied by the French, after it had been liberated by
the Spaniards. According
to Palomino's report, Velazquez
painted the portrait within three days in order to send it to the queen in
The work shows the apotheosis of St. Hermengild of
Jose Antolinez' Workshop Scene effectively illustrates the everyday life of the artist in the capital. The room shown is characterized as an artist's workshop by the presence of artist's tools and paintings. An elderly man in ragged clothes, probably a picture dealer, presents a painting of the Virgin to an imaginary client, or to the spectator. A second man appears in the background, younger and well-dressed, also looking towards the spectator and pointing to the old man with his left hand. The young man is presumably Antolinez himself, receiving the picture dealer in his studio. The coins on the table also indicate a financial transaction.
The impoverished surroundings suggest that the painting
includes a critical reference to the low
status of the artist in
Francisco Rizi's Auto da Fe of 1680 has particular historical and documentary value in its depiction of contemporary events. An auto da fe was a ceremony organized hy the Inquisition which was generally combined with some other solemn occasion such as the king's accession to the throne or the birth of a royal heir. The aim of these occasional rituals was to celebrate the triumph of the true faith, and also to arouse fear and horror in its enemies. People arrested for heresy, accompanied by the familiares, those close to the members of the Inquisition, therefore took part in a solemn procession, followed by monks as well as secular and spiritual dignitaries, right up to the bishop. This procession passed through the streets of the city to the festival square. An altar was erected in the center of the square, behind which sat the representatives of the Church; those under sentence were placed opposite them. The trial, during which the accused were sentenced either to death, to serve in the galleys, or to prison, was followed by many observers.
de fe depicted by Rizi took place in 1680 in the reign of Charles
II in the Plaza Mayor in
Claudio Coello's La Sagrada Forma also
refers to a particular
event during the reign
of Charles II. Coello, with Rizi and Carreno, is considered one of the most important painters in
The scene of the event is the chapel in which the king hands over the host to the bishop in the presence of triumphant angels. A number of accurate likenesses, including that of Charles II, give the painting the character of a group portrait. The warm coloring, with dominating yellow and gold tones, enhances the triumphal character of the event. The representation of space in the painting seems to continue the architecture of the sacristy. Coello reveals here his mastery of illusionistic painting, which he further demonstrated in his frescos and ceiling paintings.
During the seventeenth century
however, were only belatedly affected by this decline. As a result of the efforts of the
Counter-Reformation which followed the Council of Trent (1545-63), in which
Spain took the lead, the first
half of the seventeenth century saw a boom in the foundation of monasteries in Seville: the
thirty-seven monasteries and convents already in existence were augmented by fifteen new
foundations, and a number
of hospitals were also built. The decoration of these monasteries, their
churches, sacristies, refectories, and cloisters, as well as the many hospitals with
altarpieces and large cycles of paintings, opened up
a rich field of employment to the painters and sculptors of
1600 Pacheco was one of the most important representatives of the
obtained their education in the craft-oriented setting of the workshops. After seven
years' apprenticeship in Pacheco's workshop, Diego Velazquez (1599-1660) obtained his master's diploma from the
were active not only as producers of oil paintings however. Often polychrome sculptures
played a more significant role
than panel paintings in the decoration of church and monastery altars. In the
preparation of such splendid sculptural schemes the painters were closely involved as doradores
[gilders] and policroma-dores [sculpture painters], activities which represented an important source of
income for them. The Hermandad de S. Luca, the
In 1660, on the instigation of such
major painters as Murillo and Herrera the Younger, an Academy was founded; however, it was forced to close as early as 1674
because of financial problems. The Academy was a private initiative by the
artists, who aimed to extend their inadequate training in drawing. Teaching in the workshops concentrated on the purely practical
aspects of a painter's activities, while theory, which included drawing, was somewhat neglected. The
The artistic as
well as material success of the important
early decades of the century, the work of the young Velazquez and Zurbaran, as well as of
Murillo, appeared to be heavily indebted to the influence of Caravaggio and his followers. In their paintings human bodies and objects are
defined by precisely delineated contours and appear to possess a certain
sculptural hardness created through a contrived deployment of light and shade,
which is strictly divided
and highly contrasted. The composition in general has a two-dimensional effect,
and a coolness of tone is evident in the predominantly dark coloring; this style of painting in
Murillo's work has been described as estilo
frio. In the second half of the century the influence of Titian and other Venetians, as well as
Rubens, van Dyck, and the Flemish painters, became dominant in
Among the most significant of these is the Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Mary and Martha from his
So far there has been no satisfactory explanation of the content of the painting. One plausible interpretation, however, is that the older woman is didactically pointing out
to the maid in the foreground the different
ways of life, the vita activa and the vita contemplatwa represented
by Martha and Mary in the scene in the
background. This interpretation is
placed in the context of the controversy
as to which is better, strong faith and
pious seriousness, or hard work and diligence.
At the same time the painting might
contain a reference to the remark of
St. Teresa of
Cycles depicting the lives of saints were rich in images and proved to be an important source of work for artists. In the 1620s,
Francisco Zurbaran painted three large
series for churches and cloisters: two cycles
for the Dominicans, depicting the lives
of St. Dominic and St. Bonaventura, and
one for the order of the Mercedarians, based
on the life of St. Peter Nolasco, canonized in 1628. Peter Nolasco, who
One painting shows a vision of St. Peter Nolasco with the crucified apostle Peter. When the saint had persisted in praying for days for permission to undertake a pilgrimage to the tomb of the apostle Peter, Peter suddenly appeared to him and told him that there were other more urgent tasks for him as a Christian, in particular the liberation of the peninsula from the Moors.
Zurbaran sets the visionary event in an undefined space in which Peter Nolasco kneels to the right, receiving the message of the crucified apostle with half-closed eyes and humbly outstretched arms, and bending slightly forwards. The apostle, enveloped in a cloud of light, is presented in such a way that fastened to his inverted crucifix he is almost in direct eye-contact with St. Peter Nolasco. Zurbaran lends a realistic quality to the event by avoiding any distinction between the heavenly and earthly spheres.
Among the representations of saints during this period, the portrait-style image occupies a special place. In pictures of saints who resemble ladies of the nobility, Zurbaran created a portrait type which has become known as retrato a lo divino. Zurbaran delivered twenty-four Standing Virgins to a convent in Lima, now lost but which perhaps were in the style of the painting of St. Margaret shown here, which was produced in
the saint to the spectator
at full length in an appealing attitude wearing shepherdess's dress and with a Bible in her hand. The halo
indicating her sainthood
is not shown. St. Margaret, a virgin from
With its severe outlines and the sharp contrasts of light and shade in the manner of Caravaggio, this painting achieves a powerful sculptural effect.
Murillo also dispenses to a considerable extent with the distance between the earthly and the heavenly realms in his many religious paintings. His saints are depicted as kindly and sympathetic human friends. His approach to religious themes is well exemplified by one of his early works, the Holy Family with a Little Bird, The Holy Family is shown in a dark, poorly furnished room. The Virgin Mary sits at the distaff, lovingly watching the Child who holds a bird in his right hand and is teasing a dog. A strong chiaroscuro which outlines the figures as in a relief is characteristic of the artist's early style. There is not a single indication of the holiness of the people represented. Clearly Murillo is chiefly interested in describing emotions like parental love, tenderness, and pride. It should be noted that the figure of Joseph is closer to the center of the picture than that of Mary. This indicates the re-evaluation of Joseph during the reforms of the Council of Trent.
Murillo dedicated several paintings to the life of St. Thomas of Villanueva (1488-1555). With St. Teresa of
The scene refers to caritas, the
saint's love for his fellows, a theological virtue which characterized the saint from his
childhood. Thomas was
court preacher to Charles
V and in 1544 was appointed archbishop of
To illustrate the event, Murillo
makes use of a practice widespread in the middle ages: he depicts two scenes simultaneously, thus rejecting the unity of place and time more common in the seventeenth century. The foreground shows the scene of the healing of the lame man.
In the presence of two pupils,
The contrast between the monumental, sinister scene, painted in dark, somber colors, with the supernaturally tall saint in his black habit in the foreground, and the cheerful scene in the background with a bright, glowing play of colors, is evidence of the painter's exceptional talent as a colorist.
Murillo collaborated with Valdes Leal
on several paintings for
the church of the Hospital
de la Caridad in
The hospital was founded by the wealthy
Charitable work as the only chance of salvation from eternal damnation is the theme of Valdes Leal's paintings. In the first painting death is shown as the destroyer and annihilator of everything that human beings have amassed in the course of their lives—knowledge, office, dignity, and possessions. Death appears in the form of a skeleton, extinguishes the light of life, and brings time to a halt. Even power and scholarship are useless to mankind in the face of death.
The second painting is a view of the inside of a vault full of corpses in various stages of decay; in the foreground the remains of a bishop and a knight of Calatrava are particularly noticeable. Above, the hand of Christ holds a set of scales. In one bowl are the symbols of the Seven Deadly Sins and in the other are the symbols of the Christian faith: charity, prayer, and penance. Both allegories remind the spectator that death seizes all equally and without discrimination and that their good and bad deeds will be judged at the Last Judgment.
Around 1600 a unified French state was
formed, and the absolute monarchy
which gradually established itself put an end to the feudal fragmentation of the country, the
internal unrest, and the religious conflicts of the preceding century. These changes were to be of decisive significance for French painting
of the seventeenth century. With the conversion of Henri IV (1589-1610) to Catholicism in 1593 and the Edict of Nantes in 1598
the Wars of Religion ended and
freedom of religious thought was granted in
By the end of
the sixteenth century,
In addition to
the court, which commissioned a number of works of art, the Church also had many projects to distribute
It is not until the generation of the
painters born around 1600, Le Nain, Vouet, and La Tour, however, that one can speak
of a French school of
painters. Simon Vouet (1590-1649) spent twenty years in
Champaigne (1620-74) came from
Charles Le Brun (1619-90), a pupil of
Vouet, was also drawn to
(1612-95) first studied with Jean Boucher in
Academie Royale did not take over the full professional training of the artist, but only the
theoretical part of it which included drawing from life and lectures. The lectures were intended
above all for the instruction of students, whereas in
During the last thirty years of the seventeenth century a violent debate took place at the Academie Royale. Two movements had developed in contemporary painting, each championed and represented by prominent painters. The so-called Poussinists were in no doubt as to the supremacy of dessin, outline, over color. In opposition to this approach, the Rubenists saw color as the most important element of painting. The discussion between the Poussinists and the Rubenists was continued in the Querelle des anciens et des modernes. This controversy among the Academicians began in the years 1671-72 and was to persist until 1699. Charles Perrault's treatise of 1688, the Parallele des anciens et des modernes, gives an account of the basic elements of this debate. Two fundamental approaches to painting were discussed, based on the relationship between classicism and modernism on the one hand and on the contrast between Poussin and Rubens on the other. The Poussinists and their spokesman Le Brun saw in classical antiquity an unsurpassable artistic model and considered its rules to be still binding. They regarded Poussin as the greatest painter of their time and gave absolute preference to form, the principle of drawing, and thus to classicism. For Poussin, as for many members of the Academy, classical antiquity remained the standard. Even nature was to be corrected where it did not conform to the Greek or Roman ideal of beauty.
The opposing party, the Rubenists, led by Mignard and with Roger de Piles as spokesman, prized the coloristic qualities of Rubens and gave preference to color over drawing. In his dialogue on color, Roger de Piles places the Venetians above Raphael and Rubens above Titian. The Rubenists mocked the Poussinists' trust in authority and believed that in the siecle Louis le Grand [the century of Louis the Great] a pinnacle of artistic perfection had been reached.
Thus the opposing forces in this polemical debate were Poussin and Rubens, old and new art, form and color, classicism and baroque. Not least, however, this was a quarrel between two generations of artists. That this quarrel also involved political elements is evident from the fact that Louvois, the successor to Colbert, supported the Rubenists and Mignard was therefore appointed head of the Academy. From an aesthetic point of view, this meant equality between couleur and dessin. At the same time a step was taken which would initiate new directions in eighteenth-century art: works of art were no longer judged solely according to a rigid catalogue of rules, but the emotions arising on contemplating them were also taken into account. A certain stylistic pluralism began to establish itself, and the works of Venetian and Flemish masters could now take their place beside Roman and French paintings.
Vouet's numerous religious
paintings is the Presentation of Jesus in the
Vouct places the event in the setting of a splendid temple architecture, showing it from an aerial perspective. The Virgin kneels on steps and presents the peacefully sleeping child to Simon. Next to her stands Joseph, gazing lovingly at the child. Other observers behind Simon also appear to be moved by the event. Several repoussoir figures on both sides separate the action from actual space. All the figures are strongly outlined with sculpturally draped garments. The painter does not particularly emphasize the supernatural or emotional content of the scene.
Here Vouet seems to have moved beyond the Caravaggism of his early work: the composition contains hardly any baroque elements and should be viewed rather as directly anticipating neo-classicism. One of La Tour's most important works is St. Irene with the Wounded St. Sebastian. La Tour does not, like most painters, choose as a representative scene from the legend of Sebastian the saint's martyrdom, but depicts Irene and her companions mourning the martyr's death. Sebastian, the commanding officer in the Emperor Diocletian's bodyguard, had converted to the Christian faith. He was betrayed and as punishment he was tied to a tree and shot with arrows by archers. Left for dead, he was found by Irene, the widow of the martyr Castulus, who nursed him back to health. The saint, who had thus miraculously survived his execution, confronted the astonished Diocletian, reproaching him for his senseless persecution of Christians. However, he was then beaten to death with clubs.
La Tour chooses to depict a night scene lit only by a torch held by a maiden. To her right stands Irene in an attitude of mourning, and behind her two other women, one praying, the other drying her tears with a cloth. The figures of the women express dignified, restrained sorrow. The saint is pierced by only one arrow and his perfect body already suggests neo-classical elements. The martyr's nakedness is reminiscent of depictions of dead heroes and Sebastian is thus represented as a hero of his faith. The light of the torch held by one of the women enigmatically illuminates the gentle, quiet grief of the women and emphasizes the supernatural quality of the scene. There is an unreal calm, with no sign of movement in the picture. La Tour's painting is characterized by simple, clear forms and masterly color composition. Ugliness, which could well have been introduced into the wounded body of the saint, and drama, as they are found in Caravaggio, evidently have no place here.
One of the favorite subjects for artists during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was the amorous adventures of Venus, the goddess of love. Venus had several times deceived her husband, Vulcan by consorting with Mars, the god of war. Most popular of all was the scene in which Vulcan surprises the adulterous couple, throws an invisible net over them, and exposes them to the mockery of the gods.
The Le Nain painting shows Venus, accompanied by Cupid, in Vulcan's forge. The god of metalworking and crafts is seated, oddly inactive; only his assistants, the Cyclopes, are occupied in making armor for the gods. It is not clear why Venus is visiting her husband at the forge, although the armor on the right at the feet of the seated god, towards which both Venus and Cupid are looking, could be the armor of Aeneas which Venus ordered from Vulcan in order to help the hero in his victory over the Latins. The heads of the two Cyclopes in the background are brightly illuminated by the furnace fire. The physical disability of Vulcan, who was born lame, is evident from his bent back and the legs crossed in an unnatural position.
No communication can be observed between the figures in the group. They are shown almost motionless and strangely rigid; only the Cyclops in the background gazes at Venus. The relationship of the two gods is established by posture but not through eye contact; their alienation is underlined.
The painter presents himself, a portfolio in front of him, half-length in a dark green garment covered by a stole, gazing with a serious expression at an imaginary spectator. Three picture frames in the background characterize the location as a workshop.
On the basis of several details Poussin's self-portrait has been interpreted as 'painted art theory' while several signs of respect for the recipient have been discovered. As we know, the artist occupied himself intensively with questions of theory and was working on a treatise on painting. The canvas at the front, which is empty but for an inscription which dates the painting and describes its subject, is a reference to the disegno interno, that is, idea and concetto, which—before the practical execution of the painting—are the prerequisites for the creation of any picture.
With the particular emphasis on the
significance of disegno in painting,
the special creative activity of the artist was contrasted with the practical (disegno estero). As early as the fifteenth century a positive theory of disegno had already been developed in
A further reference to Poussin's friendship with Chantelou is to be found in the ring worn by the subject, which has a diamond cut in the shape of a four-sided pyramid. The pyramid is an emblem of Constantia, or constancy. The ring probably, therefore, referred to the durability of the artist's feelings of friendship, but might also allude to his adherence to the doctrine of strict classicism in art.
Philippe de Champaigne created several versions of his portrait of Cardinal Richelieu. Richelieu, Louis XIIPs prime minister, came from the lower echelons of the nobility of officialdom; at the age of twenty-one he had already become bishop of Luijon, and shortly afterwards Marie de' Medici appointed him secretary of state. The full-length portrait, the impressive posture, the red of the cardinal's robes, the ceremonial folds in the garments, and the splendid carpet in the background are all intended to convey a sense of grandeur.
The composition is notable for
its monumentality and severity.
From 1646 to 1647 Eustache Le
Sueur produced a series of mythological
scenes for the Cabinet de 1'Amour of
the Hotel Lambert in
Alexander's Entry into
Babylon is part of a cycle made by Le Brun for Louis XIV between 1662 and 1668. In 1661 he received a commission from the
king to paint a scene from the life of
Alexander the Great, and decided in
favor of the Family of Darius. The extraordinary success of this work inspired Le Brun to create
a monumental cycle of four paintings. These
are the Crossing of the Granicus,
The entry into
treats the event in the manner
of a relief. In the background are seen the hanging gardens of
The Martyrdom of St. John
at Porta Latina is one of Le Brun's early works which he produced at the
age of twenty-three for the church where it
still hangs. It depicts the martyrdom
church of Val-de-Grace is among the most important baroque ensembles in
the ceiling painting for the magnificent dome based on the model of St. Peter's. God is seen in
surrounded by saints and martyrs, as well as important dignitaries of the church. This is a circular composition with a view of more than two hundred figures. Below, the founder of the
church, led by
Mignard painted Perseus and
Andromeda for the
Grand Conde (as Louis II, prince of Bourbon was known), and it hung in his collection at
scene depicted is from the legend of Perseus which Ovid describes in his Metamorphoses.
Perseus, the son of Zeus and Danae, after beheading Medusa, reached the shores of
The painting, in which Rigaud
portrays Louis XIV at the age of
sixty-three, was originally intended as a present for the king's nephew, Philip V of
In a slight contrapposto, Louis XIV leans with his right hand on his military scepter, while he braces his left arm on his hip. The king is shown in full state regalia. He wears a cloak of rich fabric with the Bourbon lily on a blue ground and with an ermine lining. The throne is seen behind him on a rostrum, surmounted by a baldacchino. The crown lies to the left on a cushion and behind it stands a column symbolizing dignity, power, and endurance. The exposed legs of the king correspond to the pose of a ruler from the classical era.
Louis XIV is portrayed by Rigaud as a shining example of royal power, but ultimately as the embodiment of the French monarchy. The features of the elderly king are realistically rendered by the artist. While in his Portrait of Richelieu (see p. 423) Champaigne was chiefly concerned to convey the character of the cardinal, Rigaud's main aim was to establish the status of his subject.
During the baroque age the emblem exerted a specific and pervasive influence on culture. It generated all sorts of references which touched on writing, rhetoric, painting, and festival ritual. The emblem is essentially an image which can be interpreted on a number of levels and is based on allusion, allegory, and symbol. Its curious language of signs can be traced back to the hieroglyphs popular in the Renaissance. It was during this period that supposed Egyptian hieroglyphs were rediscovered. Florentine humanists believed that behind the mysterious language of signs found in these ancient objects the original wisdom of humanity was concealed and encoded in order to preserve it from profane intrusion.
Horapollo's Hieroglyph'tea, a
compendium of Alexandrine knowledge from the fifth century AD, was used as a source; a Greek version of it was brought to
An emblem is composed of the pic-tura, the image, the inscriptio, the motto, and the subscriptio, a Latin epigram. The image, also called imago or symbolon, includes almost every conceivable motif, whether from everyday life or the animal or vegetable kingdoms. The motto, which is placed above the image, refers to the subject of the emblem. Finally, the subscription clarifies and interprets what is illustrated. Often a wise saying or a piece of moralistic advice is incorporated. The German baroque painter Georg Philipp Harsdorffer observed in his Poetical Funnel: 'Poetry is called a speaking picture but painting a silent poetry.' Here the spoken word is required to be graphically represented, for the 'silent word' (the picture) explains what the 'speaking picture' (the word) is unable to convey.
For Harsdorffer these so-called 'picture-poems' are important elements of poetry and drama. Daniel Casper von Lohen-stein's tragedy Epicharis, which appeared in 1665, is concerned with the fall of the Emperor Nero. Gaius Piso is to be declared ruler in his stead. However:
Does not every vice already come from
The poison may yet be healed/ wherewith
On earth injures us; but when he injures/
He who is transferred to the high throne
His poisoned torch often infects whole
This enigmatic aphorism is inspired by an emblem which is solved by the riddle. It comes from the book of emblems Idea de un principe politico christiano by Diego de Salver of 1640 (see above). The motto reads 'More harmful than on earth' and refers to the scorpion which is seen in the heavens. Below is an earthly landscape. The motto is explained in the subscriptio: the scorpion, although distant in heaven, exerts a more terrible influence on mankind on earth than if he were still there. A king whose conduct is morally dubious, having once ascended the throne and thus ruling 'from above,' is capable of corrupting mankind and nations.
The use of visual metaphor was far more widespread during the baroque period than today. Emblem books were widely circulated and there was a broad general knowledge of the allusions made in them.
The decoding of seventeenth-century Dutch genre paintings is particularly fascinating, since almost all hidden allusions or symbols can be traced to emblem books or folk literature of the period. In Jan Steen's Leaving the Tavern (see right) of about 1660, a small boat with a party of revellers can be seen. Three men and four women are preparing to depart, while a further high-spirited drinker is shaking out the last drops from the barrel for a farewell drink. This young man, who stands in the center of the painting, appears repeatedly in Jan Steen's paintings. The artist links events which occur simultaneously: on the left are the lively people getting ready to leave and on the right are the tipplers crowding out of the tavern, while in the foreground are a group of figures who have evidently sunk into a blissful alcoholic stupor. A small splinter group at the right-hand corner of the painting are squatting behind a tree playing cards. The man's posture is schematic and suggests the deeper meaning of the picture, demonstrating the essential purpose of the collective conviviality: pouring out, drinking, and enjoying. Such motifs were widely distributed at the time but were not merely intended to describe the superficial jollity of a drinking party.
There is a cryptic message here, a mischievously conveyed moralizing
which in the last instance
was ignored. The painting
incorporates the theme of the five senses, a
subject frequently entertained in Dutch
painting—drinking (taste), smoking (smell), embracing (touch), and singing (hearing), as well as the play of glances and facial expressions of the occupants of the boat (sight) can be clearly identified, but only by means of corresponding models in the literature of
emblems. In 'Vader Cats' popular collections of emblems, that is,
Jacob Cats' Mirror of the Times of 1632 (Spiegel van den Ouden ende Nieuwen Tijdt, see below),
the five senses turn up as a travelling
group in a ship intended as an allegory of life. At the stern and bow stand a skeleton (Death) and a spirit (Life) pointing the way. The man with the barrel might symbolize the 'overflowing desire of youth.' In an emblem with the motto 'Defervere necesse est'
[It is necessary to restrain exuberance]; (see above right) we see a wine-barrel in a cellar dripping with wine. In the subscriptio the fermentation process of the young wine is compared with
the awakening desire of youth. It is also
possible that the typical
The emblem can be seen as an aid to the interpretation of the baroque culture of images. The transfer was simple, since the model image could be
decoded without difficulty from the
motto and the subscriptio. Thus the court culture of festivals made use of
emblems in order to directly convey
the message of, for example, a firework display on the occasion of a
wedding or the visit of a dignitary. In addition to the craftsmen and
technicians who prepared the celebration,
the inventor was responsible for the settings and images. Often he would design well-known emblems and had frameworks, decorations, and illuminations made. The Elector
Johann Georg II of Saxony was known for his extravagant celebrations in
The use of the book of emblems in the cultural activity of the baroque era was thus reflected in a variety of media.
PAINTING IN THE NETHEDERLANDS,
The seventeenth century is always
described as a golden age for the
provinces of the
The rise of
Art was at first closely connected with
the tradition of Flanders, which
had been introduced by the many emigrants into the cities of
This would, however, have been
unthinkable during the seventeenth century. 'Nothing is without meaning in anything,'
wrote Roemer Visscher,
one of the most famous Dutch writers of emblem books. In such books the meanings underlying objects were
revealed and conveyed in
mottoes and verses (see pp. 428-29). The sermon on the transience of all earthly things was hardly to be
evaded in Calvinistic
Holland. In the face of the eternal values of God they must be counted worthless and
'vain.' This concept of vanitas can in fact be seen as the leitmotif of
the baroque age. But it appears to have been particularly volubly expressed in
are also important themes in the art of the southern
Like the Church, the nobility were
not prominent as patrons of art in
The dominating structures of city and bourgeoisie decisively characterized the arts, and the works of the painters conformed to the interests of the citizens. Under these conditions, completely new genres of painting were established: landscape and still life, until then merely tolerated as decorative concomitants of history painting, became emancipated and were adopted as independent themes. In addition, representations of everyday scenes, which had hitherto been considered genre works, became viable for. the first time as large-scale paintings.
Since classical antiquity, art theorists had considered the ability of a painter to narrate stories as they were found in literature a particular challenge, although only one moment could actually be illustrated. The subject was presented in the foreground, and the manner in which it was depicted was considered to be of secondary importance. In the new categories, landscape, still life, and genre, on the other hand, it seemed to matter very much that the subject was well represented. For the Dutch, landscape paintings displayed the fruit-fulness of the land while the precious objects in the still lifes and the domestic interiors mirrored prosperity and the abundance of goods available from exotic parts of the world. Dutch seafarers made this trade possible and marine painting therefore acquired particular significance (see left).
Most artists specialized in one of
these categories and frequently even in a
particular genre: the phenomenon of specialist painting was more marked in the
objects, compositions, and the manner of execution were strongly influenced by the
preferences of the city where an artist lived. This situation can be largely attributed to the guild system, which was more powerful in the
painters, however, could not live by painting alone. Vermeer was an art dealer on the side,
van Goyen speculated in real estate and tulip bulbs, Jan Steen was a licensed publican, and Philips Koninck operated a ferry between
Prices for paintings rose enormously with the popularity of the artist, and some works achieved sensational prices. For this reason works of art were also regarded as objects of speculative investment. The production of painting was no longer mainly based on fixed commissions, and what can be seen as a modern art market began to emerge. Gallery-owners obtained commissions for their artists, but bookshops and print shops as well as annual fairs also served as commercial centers for art. Even at the ordinary weekly markets paintings were sold among the fruit and vegetables. The Golden Age introduced a remarkable expansion in painting.
The portrait served as a vehicle for
the self-representation of the citizens. Anyone with any sense of their own significance had themselves painted. As with
aristocratic portraits, Dutch artists understood the importance of conveying the status and
dignity of the subject.
But more than ever before, a new value was placed on a directness and faithfulness to life.
As in landscape, genre studies, and still lifes, portrait artists also sought to achieve a realism which destroyed the imported formulas. The
pioneering steps were taken at the beginning of the century by artists in the wealthy coastal city of
Portraits were often commissioned for special occasions, for example as a memento of a wedding. This could be a double portrait, like the one by Rubens (see p. 438), but usually there were two separate panels. The picture of the woman was always intended as the right-hand piece since she traditionally sat to the man's left. Unfortunately the panels were sometimes separated, a fate that is particularly unfortunate in the case of Hals' companion pieces Stephanus Geraerdts and Isabella Coymans (see below, left and center). No other work in the history of portraiture radiates such a natural attraction between the partners. Isabella expresses the joy-fulness of youth in her lively posture as she turns towards her husband, while he, seated, unlike his wife, embodies a stately dignity. The couple's gaze has met; she offers him a rose which he is about to take from her. Separated from each other, neither the gaze nor the gestures of the couple can be understood. Hals has here captured a moment from a sequence of events even more skillfully than in The Laughing Cavalier, and which is extended in the imagination. Again the static quality of the portrait has been subverted. In order to achieve this in his work, as early as the 1620s Hals developed a new type of portrait, establishing a style which is also represented in the Man with Slouch Hat (see below right), one of his last portraits. The subject turns towards the spectator as though the latter had spoken to him. Leaning his arm on the arm of the chair, he adopts an uncomfortable position which can only be temporary. He gives the impression that he is about to turn away again so that he can lean back in his chair. This understood movement is preserved in the enormous sweep of the big hat, but is conveyed above all by the extremely dynamic brushwork. This is typical of the artist's late style, one which Edouard Manet was to discover for himself in the nineteenth century. The brushwork of the portrait of The Laughing Cavalier at the beginning of his artistic career, had already demonstrated a high level of confidence in his technique. But now the face consists of juxtaposed spots of color and is no longer carefully modeled. The hand is indicated by only a few brushstrokes, so that it is not clear whether the painting is to be seen as finished. But these bold slashes of the brush are deployed to establish liveliness of expression. This was a particular challenge in the case of a picture like this one which consists largely of black areas. The few white accents on the collar and sleeves or the highlighted areas of the face and hands would not suffice on their own. But in the black areas themselves, there is a certain fascination in the lively interaction between the different materials.
Rembrandt's work underwent a similar stylistic development. In the 1650s and 1660s he gave up the smooth style of painting and careful modeling which distinguish, for example, his self-portrait of 1640 and the portrait of his wife Saskia (see p. 441). In the Portrait of Mar gar eth a de Geer (see p. 436, above), painted during the last decade of the painter's life, Rembrandt modeled the paint in certain areas to the level of relief, either using a palette knife or working directly with his fingers. In other places, the color is applied quite thinly and transparently, and a broad, liquid brushstroke remains visible. Thus an interesting tension is created in the surface of the painting, although Rembrandt almost completely renounced color contrasts and concentrated on nuances of brown tones. By variations in modeling he was able to emphasize certain elements: hands and faces are worked up with dense volumes of paint, while the background and cloak are applied thinly over broad surfaces. Nevertheless, the cape is recognizable as fur and the fine weave of the deep black garment is carefully suggested. The broad surface painting contrasts with the millstone ruff, worn in highly starched folds, which Rembrandt renders with delicate, careful brushstrokes. The handkerchief, however, is dashed on crudely, almost gracelessly with thick white paint. In these two light-colored passages of the painting two opposing sides of Margaretha de Geer's personality seem to be evident. She is alert and vital, but also disciplined and decorous, obviously well used to prosperity and luxury, but at the same time—observe the hands—rooted in the soil and accustomed to an active working life. In the portrait of this seventy-eight-year-old woman, who belonged to one of the most influential families of the country, Rembrandt uncovers a variety of qualities which characterize the founding generation of the republic.
The young modern generation as
represented by Stephanus Geraerdts and
Isabella Coymans behaved quite differently. Decent black did nothing for them and they are dressed in
the latest fashions. The demure
ruff is discarded and Isabella reveals a low neckline without embarrassment. Such exposure was
just as much a political issue as
Stephanus' long hair. In 1652 church councillors in
After the middle of the century, when this young generation was taking over power, the loose, dynamic style of Rembrandt and Hals became unfashionable and was dismissed as daubing. The young patricians, who were able to succeed to their inheritances without a care, cultivated a neo-classical taste in art which met their demands for explicit elegance and grandezza. The new model for portraiture was the aristocratic style of Anthony van Dyck and a fine application of color. This change in taste meant that the two great portraitists Hals and Rembrandt had difficulty in obtaining commissions towards the end of their lives. They had been the founding painters of the new generation.
and devout Calvinists the requirement of moderation was central to their lives. Boastful
behavior was outlawed, and respectable
people were required to distance themselves from the splendidly dressed landsknechte [mercenary
foot-soldiers] and dandies
like those seen in a painting by Buytewech (see p. 460). The black fabrics that seemed so modest
were in fact more costly than the most shimmering of garments; the ruffs were sewn from the finest batiste into artful constructions.
Even with a modest appearance and decent behavior there was no way of denying
that a portrait mainly served
to represent the individual. Thus it was easy to lay oneself open to reproaches of vanity and
surrender to sensual pleasures and worldly possessions. Correspondingly, the
method of self-denial for the subject of a portrait was to have themselves
depicted in a social or political function as the holder of an office. As such, a person was rarely
portrayed as an individual
but was seen in the company of other important post-holders actively demonstrating their
selfless commitment to the community. There were guilds in the medieval tradition, societies based on academic professions, or the
citizens' militia, the so-called Schuttersgilden. The acquisition of official status in one of these societies was an expression of high
social status. This explains the exceptional importance of the group portrait in
For the painter, the challenge of the group portrait consisted of making a loosely organized, lively arrangement of the many individuals, rather than lining them up stiffly in a row. Rembrandt achieved this in his Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp (see below) so convincingly that the painting hardly appears to be a group portrait at all. It seems more like a historical painting illustrating an anatomy lesson. This was in fact a significant event which took place over a period of three days, for the city council allowed a cadaver to be supplied only once a year; usually it was the body of an executed criminal. The lesson is being held by Nicolaes Tulp, the praelector of the guild of surgeons, surrounded by members of the guild. The situation appears as life-like as if Rembrandt had actually painted it during the anatomy class. Each of the figures represented responds individually to the lesson, and even the viewer participates in a sense, for a free space has been left for them in the circle. It is quite possible to imagine that Rembrandt attended an anatomy class for study purposes. His portrait is a sophisticated construction: the men are ranged behind each other in such a way that in reality there would have been nowhere for them to stand. It was the only way for him to show so many large figures in the painting. Each subject paid a certain amount to have himself immortalized in art. The portrait was hung in the assembly hall of the guild with other paintings.
The same purpose was served by what is
probably Rembrandt's most
famous work, the Night Watch (see right). This is a group portrait of some members of a company of
During the armistice, however, the citizens' militia had only a nominal function and even after it ended there were no battles on the northern terrain; mercenary forces were contending in the actual theaters of war in the south. It was ultimately a matter of honor to belong to one of the guilds of the civic guards. Rembrandt suggests a historic moment here only as a way of lending a noble aspect to his bourgeois clients, as the latter were well able to appreciate. It is a myth that they were not satisfied with the painting. But this artistic subterfuge was also an excuse for the painter to illustrate a lively situation.
Incidentally, this is not in fact a night scene; this error, which gave the picture its name, is probably due to the heavily darkened varnish which was later cleaned. Rembrandt set the event in shadow so as to allow the figures to emerge brightly and festively from the dark. A girl in a shimmering gold garment, perhaps a supplier to the camp, is the most brightly lit figure, reinforcing her central role in the scene. She carries, in a sense, the symbol of the company on her belt: the hen's claws derive from the same root as the Kloveniers, the armed militia. It is this motif that identifies the group in the first place.
Rubens and Rembrandt
Among the many important Dutch painters of the seventeenth century, Rubens and Rembrandt stand out as the two giants whose status is comparable to that of Velazquez or Poussin. Both dedicated themselves primarily to the traditional genres of historical and portrait painting as well as producing important landscape works. In spite of several similarities between the two, there are striking differences which essentially determine the artistic relationship between the two painters, who never came to know each other personally. Background, training, milieu, and career, but above all their positively antithetical personalities marked the diverse character of their artistic achievements. Rembrandt began his career thirty years after Rubens. When he was still a pupil, Rubens was already a famous artist and in the 1630s, while Rembrandt was trying to find clients, Rubens was having difficulty in fending off commissions.
Peter Paul Rubens
Rubens had traveled extensively.
completing his studies he set off for
Rubens quickly became spoiled by success and his new social status was soon reinforced by his marriage to Isabella Brant, the daughter of a respected patrician and state secretary, barely a year after his return. In his marriage portrait, the Honeysuckle Bower (see above), Rubens demonstrates love and pride in equal measure. He evidently adored his wife throughout her life, and an intimate affection is undoubtedly clear in this painting. Such representations of emotional attachment were not commonly represented in formal portraits intended for display, since love between the couple was not generally established as the basis of marriage. As Rubens and Isabella turn almost imperceptibly towards each other, a harmonious interplay is staged, and the honeysuckle twining around the bridal couple, as if by chance, expresses their sense of unity on a symbolic level.
At the same time, however,
this is decidedly a show portrait, despite
the intimate, natural surroundings of
the bower. An awareness of rank is indicated not only by the strikingly rich clothing but also by the confidence of the full-length type of portrait.
The superior position of the man is firmly
established; Isabella sits at his feet, a posture that cannot be
disguised even by her tall hat. The dagger as part of the insignia of the aristocracy in the man's left hand is almost as important to Rubens as the woman
to whom he offers his right hand. Rubens was
showered with official honors: in 1624
the Spanish king elevated Rubens to the ranks of the nobility, in
Reason and Discipline
This sort of
career had not been inevitable. The painter's
father, Jan Rubens, as a Protestant lawyer
and adviser to the Duchess had to flee
In his painting of the Drunken Silenus (see right) Rubens graphically illustrates the animal-like qualities of man that are released through the excessive consumption of wine. The helpless state of the old man, who is part of the entourage of the wine god Bacchus, is explicitly portrayed. 'Drunkenness disables the use of the limbs and the intellect,' as the story of Silenus teaches us. 'It wastes money, stimulates the blind passions of Venus and Mars, and brings about premature death,' we are warned by a print after another depiction of Silenus by Rubens. But in both works the painter describes human weakness with a degree of amused sympathy which acknowledges that carnal impulses are part of the human personality and no one can entirely overcome them.
Reason and discipline were iron rules in the artist's own life and they made it possible for him to acquire wealth to a degree that was almost unheard of for a painter. With a keen head for business, he organized his workshop as though it were a factory. His status as court painter enabled him to exceed the limit of the number of pupils prescribed by the guilds. He approached the Spanish king with a plea for ennoblement, well aware of the guild-free and tax-free status that would be assured to him as a nobleman. Soon Rubens acquired extensive real estate property in his hometown, and as early as the 1620s moved into a grand town house (see left below) which, in addition to his residence, housed his studio, sales premises, and important art collection. Rubens had the house furnished so that he could receive important visitors there.
A further element in the artist's success, however, was his diplomatic talents. This ability was first demonstrated in the early 1620s, when Rubens received from Marie de' Medici, the widow of the French king, the commission to produce a twenty-one-part cycle of paintings about her life. This project, although apparently very promising from a financial angle, was soon revealed as a decidedly delicate undertaking. After her husband's murder, Marie had taken over the regency on behalf of her son, then a minor, who subsequently became Louis XIII. This difficult assignment could hardly be mastered by the artist's natural flair, since Cardinal Richelieu, with his increasing influence over Louis, was planning to remove Marie from power. When she ordered the cycle of paintings, Marie had already been obliged to surrender power. She was barely tolerated at court and was later forced into exile. While struggling for the restoration of her position, she required Rubens' painting to represent nothing less than the justification of her actions as regent.
In a frenzy of
splendid garments, and supported by armies of mythological characters, Rubens contrived to portray
Marie's reign as a
These had been the traditional means of glorifying a would-be divine ruler
since the Renaissance and
such iconography reached its
After the twelve-year armistice between the
Meanwhile his first wife had died,
and in 1630, four years after her death,
Rubens married Helene Fourment. The aging painter
was plagued by gout and longed for a private
life far from the international
stage and aristocratic circles. The sixteen-year-old
Helene gave the fifty-three-year-old
painter new zest for life: 'I have
taken a young wife from a good though bourgeois house, although all the world tried to persuade me to set up a household in court circles. But I feared the
notorious weakness of the nobility, arrogance, particularly with the opposite sex, and therefore I preferred to take a wife who
does not blush to see me take up the paintbrush. And to tell the truth,
it would have seemed hard to me to exchange the precious treasure of freedom for the caresses of an old lady.' Helene was his model for several portraits,
and even in the mythological and biblical
scenes of these years her features are repeatedly represented. Rubens
now painted most of his work himself, including
carefree tributes to love such as the Festival
of Venus (now in
In 1635 the stadholders finally yielded to Rubens' plea to be liberated from the diplomatic service, and Rubens could, as he wrote, 'cut through the golden knot of ambition.' He had 'no further aim in this world but to live in peace.' He carried out this intention in retirement at Het Steen, a property in the country (see p. 459), where he could reflect on his Flemish home and his life together with his young wife.
The complexity of Rubens' personality at the end of his active life can be grasped through an examination of three pictures from his final years. Two years before his death, in 1640, he painted probably his most risque portrait of Helene, the so-called 'Little Fur', a unique testimonial to his admiration of vitality and the joy of life. The Self-Portrait of 1636, however, expresses his official side: highly respected, well-heeled, supplied with all the honors that could be bestowed upon a painter. The three-quarter-length or so-called knee-length portrait was one which Rubens otherwise reserved for official state portraits. There are numerous motifs implying the dignity of the subject: the column is a standard component of the aristocratic portrait, just like the glove carelessly held in the hand, and the dagger draws attention to the subject's knighthood. Impressive volume is provided by the big hat and splendid robe. The dignity is not merely external, however: wisdom and experience speak from the alert but serene gaze. One eye flashes inquisitively, open to the world, the other is dark, serious, turned in on itself.
tireless efforts for peace were
finally disappointed—he was not to live to see the end of the war in
Rembrandt van Rijn
If Rembrandt had anything in common with Rubens apart from outstanding artistic gifts, it was enormous ambition. The thirty-two-year-old Rubens had demonstrated an aristocratic self-confidence in his wedding portrait, and at thirty-four Rembrandt also displayed himself as someone who had arrived: in velvet and silk, furs and jewels, he depicts himself as a dignified, self-confident man. To an expert it would also be evident that he not only presented himself in the costume of the early sixteenth century, but he also took up a particular posture, with which he alluded to well-known portraits by Titian and Raphael representing Ariosto and Castiglione. Rembrandt thus surrounded himself by an aura of exceptional culture and sophisticated manners as represented by these two renaissance figures. And like Titian, the prince of painters, from 1633 Rembrandt signed his works only with his Christian name, self-consciously placing himself in a great tradition.
By about 1640 Rembrandt had indeed reached the peak of his career. Nine
years earlier he had left
his home town, Leyden,
where he had completed his studies
in art and run his first workshop, and moved to
He came from a modest background, however; his father was a miller in
Like Rubens, Rembrandt ran his workshop in great style: over the decades he took on some one hundred and fifty pupils and assistants. They produced copies of his own works which he then signed; original works by his pupils were also sold under his name. This was permissible under the guild statutes, but no one took the custom quite to the extremes that Rembrandt did. For some years this workshop practice has been the subject of considerable debate. The master's enormous output, which during his lifetime established his fame, is now being evaluated in a manner that does justice to the work of his pupils.
Rembrandt's promising rise to fame, like that of Rubens, involved a suitable marriage. In 1634 he married Saskia van Uylenburgh who came from a Friesian patrician house and was furnished with a substantial dowry. Soon Rembrandt was able to consider himself a prospective patrician also; after all he was the favorite painter of the generation which set the new standards in art. Like Rubens, he moved into a large town house. His young wife often modeled for him.
In the year of their marriage he began one of the most ostentatious of his many portraits of her, demonstrating splendor and wealth (see left). But, unlike Rubens' wedding portrait, it was not their own wealth he was showing off, for Saskia is playing a historical role in a splendid portrait btstorie, a historical costume portrait very popular among their contemporaries. She is wearing renaissance dress, which matches the strict profile portrait that was quite rare in the seventeenth century. Rembrandt did not complete the portrait of his wife until after her early death in 1642; the feather on her cap alludes to the transience of life.
Saskia's death marked the point at which Rembrandt passed the height of his success, and a decline began which had become inexorable by the early 1650s at the latest. He had taken up with Geertje Dirckx, who had entered his household as nurse to his son Titus. But he soon tired of his liaison with this woman of nearly forty, and instead took the young Hendrickje Stoffels into his house as a maid. In 1649, however, Geertje sued Rembrandt over his verbal promise of marriage, and as a result he was forced to make regular maintenance payments to her. Hendrickje, on the other hand, was excluded from holy communion by the council of the Reformed Church in 1656 because she was living in an unlawful relationship with Rembrandt; the artist himself was not accused, since it seems that he did not belong to the Church.
About the same time Rembrandt painted a picture of Hendrickje paddling in a river, her simple garment carefully lifted (see left). The broad surface painting, with its fresh and dynamic sketchy technique, is representative of the master's late style. Tentative, but with a playful delight at the same time, Hendrickje has a very youthful look. One can imagine that the forty-eight-year-old Rembrandt prized the same qualities in the woman twenty years his junior as Rubens did in his Helene. But Rembrandt did not want to marry Hendrickje since he would then have had to repay Saskia's fortune to her family. He was no longer in a position to do so. In 1656 he had to declare himself officially bankrupt and his possessions were impounded.
Rembrandt, quite unlike Rubens, was not good at handling money; he speculated unwisely, acquired a large art collection which was beyond his means, and carelessly spent whatever money he happened to have. In 1660 Hendrickje and Rembrandt's eighteen-year-old son Titus founded a company which took over the financial responsibility for the artist's affairs in order to protect him from his creditors. Hendrickje died in 1663, probably of the plague, followed by Titus in 1668, a year before his father. His unseemly affairs had put a strain on Rembrandt's reputation among respectable citizens.
Rembrandt did not have Rubens' ingratiating and diplomatic manner when dealing with potential clients. At the outset of his time in
During the last twenty years of his life, during which he had to struggle against many hardships, Rembrandt again painted several self-portraits. Altogether he portrayed himself more than eighty times. This suggests a certain self-confidence and self-regard, but it was only partly narcissistic. Above all, Rembrandt used his own image as a model which was always available to him, and an object of study for the empirical psychology on which his creative work is based. It is difficult to determine how far he is revealing his character and psychological makeup in his portraits and the extent to which he is posing in order to be able to study variants of possible expressions.
He painted himself in all sorts of costumes: as a soldier, a beggar, an oriental, a representative of various levels of society—and with many different facial expressions. At the beginning of his career such self-portraits certainly served as promotional samples of his artistic abilities, but they soon became desirable as collectors' items in their own right. These portraits also open up to us the unstable, unsettled personality of the artist, who, unlike Rubens, found no support in the rigid regulation of life, but discovered the freedom of development in shifting situations. At the lowest point of his financial difficulties, far removed from prosperity and fame, Rembrandt paints himself in a powerful self-portrait (see above) like a king: he sits as though on a throne, clothed in garments that appear to be of gold. Benevolent and wise, he looks down on the spectator. This is equivalent to Rubens' late self-portrait. But while Rubens confidently wears the knightly dagger, Rembrandt is playing a part, posing as a king with his maulstick as a scepter.
Rembrandt rarely represented himself as a painter. In one of his last self-portraits he sits with his maulstick in front of a canvas on which he is painting the portrait of an old woman. But here too he is playing a part, that of the classical painter Zeuxis, who was supposed to have died from excessive laughter which caused him to choke while he was painting a comical wrinkled old woman from life. Perhaps this is a last, sarcastic comment on the many portraits which Rembrandt created from life with unsurpassed realism.
'The most noble deeds and
strivings of rationally thinking beings' were presented to the eyes by history painting, wrote
Rembrandt's pupil Samuel
van Hoogstraeten in 1678 in his Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst. It therefore deserved to be ranked most highly among all the categories
of painting. Nonetheless, artists and collectors in
One of the forerunners of Dutch
history painting was the
themes traditionally corresponded to the tastes of the aristocracy and were
therefore not produced in very great numbers in
In his painting Christ Before the High Priest, Gerrit van Honthorst makes dramatic use of a single
candle which illuminates the
interrogation of Christ in the dark room. Christ's white robe reflects the light over a broad
surface, as if it were emitted from his own person. The effect is unavoidably reminiscent of the
words of Christ: 'I
am the light of the world. He that follows me shall not remain in darkness but
shall have the light of life.' Thus the figure of Christ is idealized, his inner calm
standing in contrast to the seething anger of the high priest, who urges him to justify himself in the face of the accusations of the
witnesses. Christ is about to confirm that he is the Son of God. 'Thereupon they spat at him, covered
his face, and beat him
with fists.' Honthorst did not, however, choose this particular scene, full of foreground drama,
for his painting. Instead he illustrates the moment immediately preceding it:
the words have not yet been spoken and the inner tension of the conversation is hanging in the air. Night
scenes like this one were Honthorst's
With this Descent from the Cross, Rubens became the preeminent Flemish artist of his time. He was the new major force against whom all others had to be measured. Rembrandt met the challenge by creating his own version of the famous Descent from the Cross (see above right). It was probably not a commissioned piece but resulted from the urge to meet the challenge of the master within his own style. Later Rembrandt's Descent from the Cross came into the possession of the stadholder Frederik Hendrik, who then ordered from him further scenes of the Passion for a cycle. Rubens' altar painting is twenty times larger than Rembrandt's, which was intended as a picture for private devotion. Rembrandt never actually saw Rubens' painting himself; he worked from a print, and as a result the composition is reversed. In Rembrandt's version, the scene unfolds further back in the picture space, as if seen through a keyhole, while Rubens directly involves the spectator. Rembrandt's painting is distinguished by a muddy quality which makes the pale blue coloring of the assisting figure on the upper left the strongest tone in the picture; Rubens on the other hand dramatizes the event with powerful accents of color in front of a threatening sky, with the figures illuminated as if by cold flashes of lightning. In Rembrandt's image, the light seems to emanate from Christ himself. The crucified Christ is unquestionably the main figure here, while the other characters seem to form a frame around him. The figure dressed in blue is a self-portrait of Rembrandt himself. He involves himself in the biblical event and thus confronts himself with his own guilt as a sinner over the death of Christ—a concept which was constantly being invoked in contemporary chorales, for example.
In addition to portraits, Rembrandt
dedicated himself mainly to history painting. The high point of his creative
work in this field is the great painting Jacob Blesses the Sons of Joseph (see
right). The scene from the Old Testament shows the aged Jacob, who, sensing the
approach of death, sits upright once more in order to bless his grandchildren. Since the middle ages this story had been frequently depicted as it is a key passage in the
Christian religion. Ephraim and Manasseh, through the patriarch's blessing, are accepted among his sons, the progenitors of the twelve
Rembrandt, however, does not seem to have concerned himself with this fateful decision. His version departs significantly from the biblical narrative and its traditional motif, particularly because Jacob does not cross his hands and blesses only one of the grandsons. This must be ascribed to some special interest on the part of the unknown client, about which only speculation has so far been possible. For the Calvinist and other Protestant interpretations of the scene the preference for one grandson over the other does not play a central part, and Jewish exegetes such as Rembrandt's friend Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel could certainly have interpreted it in a Judaic sense. It is also possible that Rembrandt created the picture without a specific commission. The biblical painting offered him the opportunity to take his own understanding of painting as a subject. It is a story in which the sense of touch is particularly significant. In many of Rembrandt's works, the hands are emphasized and, unlike the sketchy treatment of limbs in the work of Frans Hals, are usually modeled very carefully with thickly applied paint. Jacob's hand, conferring the blessing, is shown by Rembrandt in a gesture of feeling the way. The old man cannot perceive with his eyes—he is blind and his face is in shadow— but he recognizes by touch. 'Rembrandt presents the sense of touch as the symbol of the sense of sight,' suggests Svetlana Alpers in her description of the apparently contradictory gesture. Only through touch, one might be intended to conclude, does one achieve sight, the 'recognition' of seeing. The sense of touch plays an important role in Rembrandt's perception of the world, for painting is recognition through touch. But the particularly impressive aspect of Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph, profound interpretations aside, is the heavily charged tension of the scene and the high authority and certainty of the aged Jacob. Robed in white, he draws all the light to himself. All eyes are bent on the gesture of blessing, no details distract from it, and the room is scarcely suggested. This painting is the culmination of Rembrandt's late style. He increasingly dispensed with foreground drama and concentrated on internal processes which he allowed to unfold in an intense silence.
dedicated some thirty works to the Old Testament, creating images of subjects in which
the Dutch were particularly interested. The Calvinist preachers counselled careful study of biblical stories, and there was of course a
relationship with the Old Testament within the large Jewish community. The Jews
who had emigrated to
It can be assumed that any client who commissioned Old Testament scenes wanted them to have some contemporary relevance in order that they could be projected as paradigms of his own existence in the present. The stories might, like parables, present models of morality: Susanna professed virtuous chastity, while Daniel was the embodiment of conscientiousness, since he saved Susanna from being sentenced. The name of Solomon became proverbial for wisdom, and Abraham, trusting entirely in God and prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, represented unshakable obedience; his faith and hope were considered exemplary. On the other hand, the fund of narratives also offered the possibility of expressing warnings against weakness of character or an evil cast of mind. Delilah, for example, illustrates moral weakness—out of selfish greed she allows herself to be tempted into the worst betrayal of the common good.
The ominous consequences of such behavior were illustrated by Rembrandt in an expressive early work, The Deception of Samson (see above). Samson, of the Jews, has been furnished by God with unconquerable powers. In order to undermine this threat, the Philistines bribe his wife Delilah to find out the secret of his powers so that he can be overcome. Exploiting his trust, at a favorable moment she cuts his hair and thus robs him of his strength. Rembrandt shows the moment immediately following when the Philistines burst out from their ambush and fall upon the defenseless Samson, while Delilah flees the scene of horror, the hair and scissors in her hand. The light falling through the opened curtains harshly reveals the cruel deception in a drama of emotions in which the spectator is inescapably involved. In contrast to his late works, here Rembrandt chooses a mood of extreme drama, selecting the moment of the story which permits the most dramatic treatment. But here too, the emotions accompanying the events are apparently his main concern: pain and aggression, tension and alertness are mirrored in the faces of the Philistines, while Delilah's expression wavers hesitantly between terror and triumph.
The theme can
also be seen as an allusion to the political situation in the
Dutch thematized the war with the assistance of Old Testament stories, painters like Rubens
relied on mythological and allegorical
figures. His allegory War and Peace (see right) suggests a unique combination of his diplomatic
and artistic activities. Rubens had been sent to
In War and Peace Rubens illustrates a Golden Age reflecting the effects of the new peace treaty. He chooses an allegorical image: in the center sits Venus, the goddess of love, feeding a boy with a stream of milk. A satyr is pouring fruit from a cornucopia, a woman brings precious armor and jewels; humanity is seen generally enjoying riches and abundance. Another woman dances to a tambourine, suggesting the enjoyment of the sensual pleasures of the world of Bacchus. In this idyll even the wild animals have been tamed. In the background, however, hate and war are being vigorously fended off. Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, protects freedom and prosperity by forcefully pushing aside the god of war, Mars, and the fury Alecto. The message is supported by the composition: the group around Venus is placed in a pyramidal scheme; but the warlike characters, in an extremely turbulent diagonal, are being literally driven out of the picture. Rubens has essentially represented a diplomatic dispute in a magnificent painting. He is appealing to the English king to use the wisdom of diplomacy to end the war and bring about peace.
Only eight years later Rubens
painted an allegory of war for the Duke of
Tuscany which indicates how disappointed
and disillusioned he was. He had
retired from the diplomatic service in the meantime, having been forced to recognize that all his efforts and partial successes had in fact failed to lead to peace. The whole of
A simple ferry with peasants, cows, and
a horse-cart is the central feature of Esaias van de Velde's The Cattle Ferry (see above). On
the river bank a small
boatyard can be seen, ramblers and tipplers sit beneath the crooked porch of an inn, and in the background
a church tower and
windmill stand out above the trees. An everyday setting of this kind would be unusual in Italian or
French painting of the
same period; only historical subjects were considered worthy of depiction, and landscape paintings
would be considered relevant only if they represented idealized scenes incorporating heroically
impressive or idyllic themes, with shepherds and sheep, the bliss of
The Dutch thereby set themselves apart
from the wider European traditions
of landscape, on the model of German renaissance painters such as Albrecht Altdorfer, which
had been adopted in sixteenth-century
Jan Brueghel, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, was still part of this tradition. The eldest son of the great 'Peasant,' Bruegel first became well-known as a flower painter, but he also produced a number of landscapes, mostly in small format, with lively scenes of daily life. His Landscape with Windmills (see right) is already imbued with the new spirit to the extent that it contents itself with an apparently accidental glance at a simple flat plain without particular motifs. In many respects, however, it remains trapped in the conventional Flemish pattern. The spectator's view is not from ground level but from a higher standpoint, which allows an exceptionally broad field of vision. In addition Brueghel has raised the horizon so that he is working against the correct perspective. This is cleverly disguised as he merges the horizon imperceptibly with the sky. In order to suggest depth, the picture is divided horizontally into three strips; the front section is defined by brown tones, the middle one by yellow and green, and the background by blue tones. Beyond the foreground, which lies in shadow, the gaze is attracted by the luminous middle ground, while the blue in the background seems to recede, reinforcing the sense of depth. This still corresponds to the pattern developed in the sixteenth century by Flemish painters such as Joachim Patinir, although Brueghel was skillful enough to transform it subtly.
As has been suggested, the Dutch painters were the first to free themselves from this pattern in the 1620s. The little Dune Landscape with Trees and Wagon by Pieter de Molijn in Braunschweig (see right) is considered an important milestone in this development. No distant view distracts from this modest motif. Molijn creates a uniform coloring in a reduced palette of green, yellow, and brown tones which are combined in the painting to create a light and airy effect.
A comparison with the painting by Esaias van de Velde reveals another unusual aspect of this work. In order to create a sense of depth in the landscape, Esaias fell back on the traditional formula in which elements of the picture appear to recede into the distance in a zigzag formation. Molijn's composition, by contrast, depends on a single diagonal, which is determined by the course of the brightly lit sandy path. This element, which was fundamental to later landscapes, probably goes back to Adam Elsheimer, the German painter active in Rome around 1600 (see p. 476), whose works were known in Holland through prints. Molijn achieves a powerful dynamic through the use of the diagonal: the path seems to pass only faintly through the picture and the cart rattling along will soon have disappeared from view. The spectator has the impression of being able to enter and exit the landscape along the path. Esaias' painting shows a static situation closed in on itself: the river looks like a lake, framed on all sides by the trees on the banks. On each side the protruding trees form the conventional repoussoir which closes off the view to the edges of the picture. The area of dark shadow in the foreground also serves to round off the image at the front. Molijn's dune landscape, on the other hand, does not offer a closed-off view, but shows an apparently incidentally chosen section from a greater whole which might continue beyond the edges of the picture. This is characteristic of many works by Dutch landscape painters up to Philips Koninck. Inevitably, the sense of a scene almost chosen at random is somewhat undermined by the fact that the composition itself had to be carefully contrived in order to create a picture that would have the power to command the viewer's attention.
Molijn's innovations in composition and
color were further developed
of their patriotism, several Dutch artists were drawn to
These genre scenes often incorporate a moralistic element. In Nicolaes Berchem's landscape (see right above), the woman seated on a horse holds an upturned bowl while the man catches the water in his hat. Drinking was seen as a vice of excess, and is here commented upon by the animal behavior of the urinating horse, while the woman, by contrast, virtuously demonstrates moderate restraint.
appeal of Italian landscapes, indicated by high prices for the paintings, induced even
artists who had never themselves been in the south to adopt its warm light, sometimes even projecting it onto native subjects. The
Aelbert Cuyp belongs to the second generation of Dutch landscape painters who came to artistic maturity around the middle of the century. These artists distanced themselves from the consistent realism of the founding fathers who wanted to capture the essential character of the northern landscape, and introduced instead heroic and sublime aspects into their landscapes. The most important landscape painter of this generation, if not of the whole century, is considered to be Jacob van Ruisdael, who developed a variety of new motifs and meanings. He integrated real life into a superior course of events more distinctly than any of his predecessors. The dramatic settings of his landscapes diverge from the calm serenity which distinguishes the works of van Goyen or Salomon van Ruysdael, an uncle of Ruisdael. In order to achieve a tension in the structure of his painting, Ruisdael often concentrates on a central element of the scene, which may appear somewhat surprising in a landscape painting. And yet a tree, a windmill, even a cornfield or a path among the dunes may, as in a historical painting, become the chief protagonist of an event. This is certainly the case with the dramatic Waterfall with Mountain Castle (see p. 455, below) now in Braunschweig.
like this can no longer be seen as a straightforward representation of a landscape, for the
picture is made up of various set-pieces, each inspired by a different event in Ruisdael's life. The motif of the castle on the rock goes back to
a journey to
The awareness of the constant presence of death penetrates many of Ruisdael's landscapes. In his winter landscapes black and gray clouds convey a gloomy mood. The lively activity on the frozen lakes and rivers of the kind seen in the work of Hendrik Avercamp would be inconceivable in Ruisdael's melancholy winter scenes. In the Winter Landscape now in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum all life seems to have come to a stop, and is positively frozen, like the boat on the shore and the ships' masts in the background. But smoke is rising from the houses, which are colored in warm tones, suggesting that life here is waiting for the spring, which seems to be heralded by the sunny blue of the opening heavens.
The symbolism in Ruisdael's work is unobtrusive, but it is offered somewhat more explicitly than in the pictures of van Goyen for example. In his View of Leyden sky and earth, the earthly and the heavenly spheres, seem to mingle into an inseparable unity. It suggests a different understanding of the world from that implied by Ruisdael. In Ruisdael's Bleaching Fields near Haarlem (see left) the separation of the two spheres is intensified. Only the town's churches, in particular the mighty Grote Kerk of St. Bavo, are able to push through the horizon and penetrate the regions of the heavens. The unusual choice of the vertical format allows Ruisdael to describe an expanse of sky which seems to promise freedom, while the human sphere of activity seems relatively very small. The two realms are linked, apart from the churches, only by the echo that the white clouds find in the gleaming areas of the outspread sheets in the bleaching fields in the foreground. In contemporary literature and in emblem books, white clean linen corresponds to the chaste souls of saints. Only those who leads virtuous and modest lives can gain entrance into heaven—such was the Christian rule of life that could be read into a simple town view.
Ruisdael brings together the distinguishing elements of the Dutch landscape. At the point where land, water, and sky intersect stands the windmill; the work of mankind appears to be mercilessly exposed and unprotected from nature. This impression arises from the fact that the mill is seen from a lower point of view than the rest of the landscape; as a result it appears severely foreshortened and tipped slightly forwards. Just as the mill is exposed to nature, so mankind is subordinate to the power of God. At the moment depicted, the wind has dropped and the sailing boat lies motionless on the calm water, but the sky is turbulent, dark clouds are rising, and one last ray of sunshine falls upon the mill—soon there will be rain and thunder. This moment in time, the fixing of a particular instant, is a special quality of Dutch landscape painting, and Ruisdael brought this mood to its culminating point.
If Ruisdael's Mill at Wijk near Duursteede has become the representative image of the mill, then the famous Avenue of Middelharms of his pupil Meindert Hobbema is the quintessential Dutch avenue. The windswept poplars assert themselves with difficulty in the broad plain, illustrating the way in which human beings have attempted to take possession of this land with rational systems. Hobbema here demonstratively abandons the diagonal model which had dominated Dutch landscape painting for years and resorts to the old central perspective. The avenue divides the picture into two parts with a striking consistency and runs in a dead straight line towards the town. The spectator is thus drawn directly into the image and has the impression of being on their way to the town, perhaps slightly elevated on the box of a coach; soon they will meet the hunter with his dog. This painting is distinguished not only by its bold composition but above all by the clean clarity of its light.
landscapes express an even higher degree of moral content than is suggested by
Ruisdael; they can actually be read as Christian historical paintings. Nature also served
Rembrandt as a medium for
certain themes. His aesthetic interest in nature itself only emerged later, particularly in
drawings. The ten landscape paintings, however, were all created relatively early in his career, between 1636 and 1640. The Landscape
with Storm (see p. 456) was painted by Rembrandt at about the same time as the Deception of Samson, one of his most dramatic pictures (see
p. 448). The landscape
illustrates such a vivid play of natural forces that the viewer might begin to see in it a
manifestation of divine power. A knowledge of the use of metaphor in contemporary literature can
positively transform the landscape into a religious image: a vehicle halfway to a high-lying town
approaches a bridge where a waterfall rushes down the mountain. The carriage can be compared to
the wandering soul
searching for salvation, which shines out invitingly in the form of the brightly lit town
at the top of the mountain. On its way there, the soul must leave behind the transient world, represented by the waterfall, in order to
find salvation in the 'heavenly
However, landscape painting also offered history painters like Philips Koninck and Rubens an opportunity to dispense with moralizing content. Philips Koninck developed an unconventional form of panoramic landscape (see right). Every element seems to cowers under the sky as its clouds sweep over the land. In contrast to the Flemish landscape tradition, here the sky takes over more than half the height of the picture. Koninck boldly dispenses with any accent that might fix the image, whether in the center or at the edge of the picture. Only the reflection of the clouds in the river which runs through the scene provides any kind of focus. In spite of the path in the foreground which runs at an angle, the field of vision is no longer closed by a diagonal composition, but is built up from horizontals parallel to the picture plane, graduated in strips in the background. Here Koninck alludes to the Flemish formula, but without being tied to the color perspective. By subtle balancing of the light and dark zones he creates a wide plain which is open on all sides, but still creates a self-contained image.
Rubens, who produced a whole series of
landscapes, was also indebted to the Flemish landscape model. In his Autumn
View of Het Steen in Morning Light (see right) the high standpoint extends the view into the
distance; the town of
The English landscape painter John Constable clearly grasped this when he saw the Autumn Landscape with Het Steen in Morning Light, which had come into English possession at the beginning of the nineteenth century. He marvelled at the special qualities of Rubens' landscapes—'the freshness and dewy light, the joyous and animated character which he has imparted to it, impressing on the level monotonous scenery of Flanders all the richness which belongs to its noblest features'—declaring that 'in no other branch of the art is Rubens greater than in landscape.'
The English artist Sir Joshua Reynolds deplored the waste of the Dutch genre painter Jan Steen's talent on unworthy subjects. He could have become one of the great masters of art if instead of painting 'vulgar figures,' he had devoted himself to 'the selection and imitation of what is great and elevated in nature.' Scenes of daily life, without a historical, biblical, or mythological narrative, were regarded as essentially unworthy subjects. But genre scenes were very common in Dutch painting and very popular among the citizens. During Reynolds's time, in the eighteenth century, the more profound significance of these works was overlooked and these meanings have only been reconstructed during the last few decades. Like landscape paintings, they are sometimes explicitly, and sometimes only subliminally, thematized.
Buytewech's Merry Company (see above) appears as natural as if the painter had just come upon the group—the four young people seem to have been disturbed in their sociable circle by someone entering the room. In fact Buytewech has assembled all the elements of the picture with careful thought, and the apparently trivial scene was conceived with reference to a more profound meaning. This is an allegorical representation of the five senses, represented by everyday objects: the wine represents the sense of taste, the burning candle indicates sight, the cigar suggests smell, the musical instruments hearing, and the man's hand on the woman's arm and the bowl with the glowing ashes the sense of touch. Buytewech further describes what happens when one abandons oneself to the charms of the senses without the control of reason: the four young people are uninhibitedly indulging in the enjoyment of earthly pleasures. But this is also somewhat cryptically implied. The monkey stands for sin and sensuality, the musical instruments and the dagger in its sheath are potential erotic symbols, and the gesture of the man dressed in green is still perfectly comprehensible today. The woman with the striking lace collar is in the tradition of 'Dame World'; she is the embodiment of all earthly wishes. Her traditional attribute, the globe, is replaced here by a map. The invitation from 'Dame World' to give way to the worldly joys of the senses is one to which the three young men have surrendered entirely. References to such meanings which were given to everyday things are found in contemporary literature and emblem-books as well as contemporary prints from paintings, which were provided with appropriate commentaries. Next to the deceptively authentic representation of reality, the Dutch valued the game of revealing the veiled meanings of paintings—as if one were to find a big bunch of grapes under a pile of leaves, as the Dutch folk writer Jacob Cats wrote. No less was expected from such genre scenes than the highly cultured renaissance humanists anticipated from mythological representations. In Dutch genre painting, however, only an alert mind rather than a special education was required to connect the images to everyday wisdom; the 'reading of pictures' was a sport of ordinary people, not a cultured self-affirmation of the elite.
addition to Arcadian figures and representatives of the rich upper classes,
simple peasants in the inns also appeared in these works. This feature goes back to the
Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who had depicted peasant feasts in the
mid-sixteenth century. Adriaen Brouwer is
considered to have successfully revived this tradition at the beginning of the seventeenth century. He influenced both the
Flemish and the Dutch peasant genre and artists like Adriaen van Ostade in
The peasant genre often serves to belittle in moralistic fashion the fool who behaves like an animal. After all, it was not peasants who bought these paintings but well-mannered citizens who could thus observe how cultured they themselves were by contrast to these unwholesome characters. At the same time these images served as warnings against surrendering to sensual excess. Smoking or 'drinking tobacco' was considered as much a sin as consuming alcohol, gambling, or sexual debauchery. Excessive consumption of tobacco was reputed to reduce male potency. Adriaen van Ostade shows how undignified a person's behavior can become if he gives way to alcohol and tobacco.
Brouwer, by contrast uses such scenes of excess in the first instance to illustrate human
emotions. His Smokers (see above) could indeed be seen as an allegory of taste, but Brouwer
seems mainly concerned
with depicting the various reactions to unaccustomed pleasure. His characters display quite openly how
they feel. They are also
shown as individuals, not as types, as they are in Ostade's work. Each person brings his
own story with him and his own
character, which allows him to express his particular feelings. Brouwer's theme
is human emotion, which he was able to represent with unique ability. His whole interest lies in the
facial expression of sorrow,
anger, enjoyment or disgust. In the
simple milieu of the lower classes allowed Brouwer to portray human behavior
in a natural manner. The citizens of the higher classes were bound by cultural constraints and could not
give free rein to their
emotions. This higher social group is the world of Gerard ter
Borch from the obscure town of
The drinking of wine, also a constantly recurring theme of genre painting, was considered quite simply unseemly for women of good breeding. If a woman was fond of wine, she could be easily seduced. A low neckline was a further unmistakable sign. The young woman here, however, is very modestly dressed. The spectator is moved by her evident conflict of conscience. Gerard portrays her sympathetically, well aware that everyone undergoes a similar conflict at some time between the temptations of the senses and the virtue of reason. The young woman's final decision is left open.
Pieter de Hooch developed a particular sense of depth in his paintings by allowing a view of the back room from the front room of a house, so that people really appeared to be moving within the interior and not in some uncertain corner of a room. The light comes not from an undefined source, but streams through the window as the bright light of day, unfolding in the house in a precisely observed treatment of light.
efforts were followed by Jan Vermeer who brought Dutch genre painting to its highest level. The
artist, who lived in
In the Girl with Wineglass, now in Braunschweig (see right, above), Vermeer opposes surrender to human urges with a call for moderation: the man in the background has succumbed to the numbing effect of tobacco, while the gentleman in the foreground is concentrating fully on the attractive young woman—surrender to wine is surrender to love. The woman in the stained glass of the window has suggested to some a depiction of temperance who shakes the reins as a metaphor for moderation. The ancestral portrait on the wall opposes exemplary discipline to the reprehensible behavior of the two men. It has frequently been assumed that the woman is being seduced. However, her low neckline, the provocative red dress, and ultimately her sublime indifference to her admirer and her the conspiratorial glance at the spectator show clearly that it is the woman who is in charge of the situation. She is not being seduced; it is she who is seducing the man.
From the end of the 1650s Vermeer painted indoor scenes almost exclusively, always with a window on the left-hand side through which bright light pours into the room. Obviously he chose this model because it offered the best opportunity to study and depict the effect of light on the observer's perception of space and objects. In order to examine more accurately the influence of light on objects, he occasionally used a camera obscura which is reflected in the characteristic luster of the highlights in his pictures. The French Impressionists were to rediscover Vermeer from a similar interest in the effects of light.
This painting of a simple kitchen maid requires no anecdotal content or symbolic allusions. It grips the spectator through the physical presence of the maid, but also through her oblivious concentration on her actions. It is a mood, not a story, that is being conveyed here. The well-rounded but dignified vitality of the woman is stressed by the fact that she fills up a great part of the composition. With a full, dry brush Vermeer creates a painterly surface relief which gives her a sculptural quality. At the same time the painting is imbued with a sense of time-lessness, as though the flow of milk would never end. If Vermeer gives this earthy woman a physical heaviness, he allows the fine features of the Woman with Scales (see right) to appear positively Madonna-like and ethereal (she is believed to be Vermeer's wife, who bore him fourteen children). She is evidently of a higher social status, which is matched by the fine coloring of the piece. But both women, completely absorbed in their tasks, radiate an unshakable harmony— the kitchen maid in her oblivious manner, the elegant woman in her conscious effort. She holds the scales in such a precise manner that the weighing seems to take on a higher significance. This secular activity is associated with the Last Judgment, which is depicted in the painting in the background.
Due to the numerous symbolic elements in the picture, this work has always been seen as an allegory, and gave rise to a number of inconsistent interpretations: pearls, for example, could stand for seduction by worldly luxury, but also for the purity of the Virgin. The woman in the picture, however, is weighing neither pearls nor gold, as has long been assumed; the scales are empty. Here a symbolic weighing of her own actions is intended which corresponds to the significance of the mirror on the wall at the left as a sign of self-knowledge. At the same time, however, it refers to narcissistic vanity—just like the precious objects on the table. It is essential, as the Last Judgment implies, to renounce vanity in the knowledge of the transience of human existence.
The woman's activity has also been related to Ignatius of Loyola. Vermeer, after his marriage converted to Catholicism, the faith of his wife, and maintained contacts with Jesuits. Ignatius had counseled weighing one's sins as though one were standing before one's judge on the day of judgment: 'I shall be like the balanced scales, ready to follow the way that leads to the fame and praise of God, Our Lord, and to the salvation of my soul.' Balance, in fact, could be considered the theme of the painting: the alignment of the scales is only a symbol for this, while the composition in general, as well as the emotional state of the young woman, directly illustrate this desirable state.
Both paintings are quite remarkable in their varied handling of light: the first captivates us with the contrasting colors of yellow and blue, which were much prized by Vermeer; the other dispenses with color accents and relies for its effects on the tension between light and dark. The face and hands of the young woman emerge from the diffused dark as if bathed in light, and framed in pure white. This positively dissolves the outlines and they seem to be wreathed in an aura. Similar effects of light can be observed on the kitchen maid, in particular on her hands and arms.
In his delicate manner of painting the
became one of the most successful and highly-paid artists in
academic element in the
the earthy, compulsive side of human nature also marks the work of the Flemish
painter Jacob Jordaens by whom Jan Steen was influenced. In 1649-50 Jordaens had furnished the summer
residence of the stadbolder, Huis ten Bosch near
painting The King Drinks (see right, below) the golden glow on the jewelery, festive dishes,
and velvet robes gives the impression
of a feast of noble companions. A closer look reveals that somewhat crude characters are
celebrating here in a boisterous and uninhibited manner. It is the feast of the Bean King,
painters portrayed human weakness with
considerable sympathy. They shared their fellow-citizens' high-spirited love of life and enjoyment of pleasure, although in church they were constantly admonished towards restraint, reason, and discipline. Speaking the truth through
laughter, as counselled by the Calvinist
humanist and folk writer Jacob Cats, could be the motto of many genre paintings. To a certain extent genre painting
served as social education. But while the
moral sermon was painted in the most beautiful colors, the pictures themselves were a constant temptation to surrender to sensual pleasures. And the more seductive
the sensuality of his paintings, the more highly prized was the painter
The ambiguity between seductive
sensuality and moralizing content is characteristic not only of genre paintings, but also of the many still
lifes which were created
The depiction of secular objects, like landscapes and genre scenes, at first legitimized itself in the guise of history painting. A work by the Flemish painter Pieter Aertsen is dedicated to the story of Christ in the house of Martha and Mary (see right, below). The scene itself is played out only in the background, while a still life in the foreground is prominently displayed, showing a large haunch of meat, bread rolls, and flowers among other things. It is true that the story of the title serves here not only as an excuse to show a kitchen piece, but also for a confrontation between vita activa and vita contemplativa, between Martha's leaning towards earthly things and Mary's devotion to the word of God. But the moralizing interpretation is hidden behind the presence of the secular objects which here literally take the foreground.
The new category of independent still lifes developed as kitchen pieces, market scenes, or tables laden with food took up ever more space in history paintings. Jan Brueghel unites these early forms of still-life in a sumptuous Allegory of the Sense of Taste (see above), part of a cycle of five paintings illustrating allegories of the senses. Here Brueghel gathers together everything that arouses the sense of taste, but is not yet ready to dispense with personification as a classic form of allegory: a female figure embodies the sense of taste. In the pure still life—as in genre painting—the objects themselves represent the various senses: musical instruments, for example, stand for hearing, flowers for smell, and foodstuffs for taste.
Around the turn of the century,
was active in the second decade of the century in
But the choice of the objects is also
dependent on their higher meanings, which are again intended to transmit a moral
message. As in the genre
paintings and landscapes, this level of meaning is more or less explicit. The moralizing
content in the so-called vanitas still lifes, is however, unmistakable, reminding
the observer of the transience
of all earthly existence. Pieter Claesz, for example, combined four vanitas elements at once—a
pocket watch, a skull, an overturned glass, and a candleholder, with the wick of the candle just burning out. The striving after
knowledge, represented by
a book, various papers, and a quill pen is set against the endless wisdom of
God beside which human efforts appear vain and arrogant. In the university city of
Some still lifes effectively became devotional paintings: in a painting by Simon Luttichuys the few objects are arranged in a niche, which often housed pictures of saints or devotional images since the arch is considered an attribute of dignity. Wine and bread in the painting refer to the Last Supper. The stem of the wineglass consists of a skillfully formed serpent, a reminder of the original sin which was overcome by Christ.
special forms of still life developed, with books, fish, birds, game, kitchen equipment, or flowers,
the preferences varying from place to place. Flower still lifes were produced in many areas, beginning with Ambrosius Bosschaert in
the flowers depicted had just been introduced from distant lands and were still considered
rarities in 1600. Their expensive cultivation was for a long time a privilege of the nobility. But the easily grown tulips soon became
objects of speculative investment in
Flowers like those seen in the pictures were not affordable for everyone. The bag of game in Frans Snyders' extensive still life (see right) indicates aristocratic circles, for the hunt was a privilege of the nobility which then shared out the game to the people on their estates. Such a luxurious still life met the special requirements of the court or nobility, hanging either in dining halls, galleries, or hunting lodges. But most of the objects shown in Dutch still lifes were luxury goods anyway, above all delicacies such as lemons, pies, light-colored bread, meat, oysters, lobsters, and wine. Even pewter pots and plates were valuable as long as the majority of the population used wooden plates and cups. Thus the still lifes thematized the seduction of mankind by luxury goods and earthly charms. These are almost always opposed by an admonition about transience. Both are united in flowers. They were considered the epitome of beauty, but at the same time were short-lived and thus demonstrated the transience of earthly attractions. 'Why do you gaze upon the flowers that stand so beautifully before you/ And yet through the might of the sun pass away all too fast?/ Take heed of God's word alone, that blossoms eternally./ What does the rest of the world become? Nothing' reads the inscription on a copper plate in another of Brueghel's still lifes.
The depiction of the beauty and preciousness of flowers placed high demands on the abilities of painters. 'In this painting I have done the best that I am able to do,' wrote Brueghel to his client, the Milanese Cardinal Borromeo. 'I believe that never before have so many rare and diverse flowers been completed with such care. Among the flowers I have painted a piece of jewelry with handmade medals and rarities of the ocean. I leave it to Your Honor to judge whether the flowers do not surpass the gold and jewelry.' Jan Brueghel rendered the blossoms with great mastery as realistically as possible; they appear deceptively authentic, almost as if they could be touched and smelled.
illusionistic deception in imitation of nature is typical of all categories of painting in the
Samuel van Hoogstraeten, a pupil of Rembrandt, also found enjoyment in trompe I'oeil and became a recognized master of this skill. However, he considered this type of picture only a game, while the true task of the artist lay in history painting for this required inventio, not merely imitatio. Admittedly one could achieve high esteem with the Bedrijghertjes. He himself had received a medal of honor from the Habsburg Emperor for a successful exercise in deception. His Karlsruhe Pinboard (see left, below), full of references to his life and his works, is a kind of representation of his extensive training as a painter—the spectacles symbolize the sense of sight—and as a writer—indicated by writing equipment and two of his own plays, while the combs refer to the ordering of thoughts. With the gold chain of honor given by the Emperor and a poem of praise he openly boasts of his own talents: 'You who doubt that Zeuxis' master hand/ deceived the birds with flat painted grapes, that a noble dispute could rob him of the mastery/ through the work of a more delicate brush and a white painter's garment,/ come and see Hoochstraet! The ruler of all the world/ falls into the same error through the art of his brush.'
'Now we are wholly, indeed more than wholly, devastated!
The throngs of impudent folk, the raging trumpet,
The sword thick with blood, the thundering cannon royal,
Have consumed all our sweat and work and provision.
The towers stand in flames, the church is turned upside-down, The council hall lies in horror, The strong ones are mown down, The maidens are dishonored, And wherever we look is fire, plague, and death, which drives through heart and spirit.'
But in the seventeenth century there were a number of active artists of German origin. The painter Joachim von Sandrart
collected their biographies in his
While many of the great Dutch masters hardly traveled and developed their style in confrontation with the tradition of their city, German artists seem to have responded to a variety of stimuli, even from several different countries. Their work is correspondingly difficult to categorize, and a specifically German version of baroque painting could not have developed in these circumstances. Some individual artistic personalities created their own style of art and exercised great influence on other artists.
these, Adam Elsheimer is by far the most
important. This painter, who came from
Frankfurt, went via
Yet Elsheimer left behind only a small oeuvre consisting of scarcely thirty paintings. This may be attributed to the high cost of painting on miniature copper plates, but also probably to the painter's character: Rubens, at any rate, deplored his laziness. In many of his works the landscape plays an important role, but its mood always serves to convey the emotional content of the story being told. In the night scene Flight into Egypt (see left) Elsheimer shows three different sources of light, which illuminate the picture just enough for us to recognize the holy family: the moon and its reflection in the water, the torch in Joseph's hand, and the fire lit by the shepherds. Caravaggio, whose work Elsheimer had been able to see in Rome, had been the first to show sources of light in the picture itself—previously the scene had been lit by indeterminate sources outside the painting. In this nocturnal landscape, Elsheimer conveys the uncertainty of the holy family, appearing as if lost under the wide starry sky, but also the confidence which will enable them to travel on and soon spend the night with the shepherds in a sheltered spot.
addition to Elsheimer, Johann Liss, twenty years his junior, is considered one of the most important German painters of the seventeenth century; he too was
active mainly in
This is particularly true of a work like the Inspiration of St. Jerome (see
right), which Liss painted for the
A third German painter of European status is Johann Heinrich Schonfeld. He spent eighteen years in
Next to the commercial city of
Flegel developed his painting
style in confrontation with the Flemish
tradition which was present in
individuality lies in the clear
structure and strict composition of his paintings; he often limited himself to a few objects, such as a bowl of strawberries, for example (see above), in which he celebrates the sheer wonder of color.
With this isolated illustration of a few
objects in a painting, Stoskopff influenced French still-life painters
such as Jacques Linard and Louise Moillon in
Anthony Van Dyck in
While German artists could look back on a tradition of great masters from Diirer to Holbein, painting was first developed as a significant medium in the
Van Dyck was recruited by King Charles I, who can be described as the first great art patron among British rulers. His interest in art was inspired to some extent by
Rubens' nine-month stay in
In his self-portraits Van Dyck liked
to portray himself as
an aristocratic personality. He had a
well-defined sense of the exquisite,
of worldly sophistication and aristocratic
refinement. His friendship portrait
with Endymion Porter (see left) is
the only one in which he depicted himself
with another person. Porter, as adviser
to the king in artistic matters, played
a decisive role in finally binding Van
His position at the court is comparable to that of Velazquez in
Van Dyck's portraits in
The nineteen-year-old Philip Lord
Wharton was one of the first people to be portrayed by Van Dyck in
The king's court painter was ultimately so constrained by time that he
had to speed up his painting methods. The French writer Roger de Piles reports that Van Dyck arranged specific consultations; each client was allowed exactly an hour for a sitting, then the brushes were rinsed out and another palette taken up for the next client. In this way Van Dyck was able to work on several portraits at the same time. But the idyll of a peaceful and prosperous existence which is expressed
in many of his portraits was deceptive. The
Civil War loomed—in 1649 Charles was to be beheaded. The influence of Van Dyck was already enormous in
Van Dyck's most important follower was Sir Peter Lely, the
first court painter to the restored
monarchy. He was also foreign by
birth. Born in Soest, Westphalia, he
had studied in
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