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Peter Paul Rubens' major works by fjzhangxiaoquan


									                                        Unit Four

                                 The Baroque Era

                                 (c. 1550-1750ce)
                           Lesson Four: Baroque in the Low Countries

Baroque in Belgium and the Netherlands
When you think of identical twins, many times the people look alike, but have extremely
different personalities. This was certainly the case for the Low countries, known as Flanders
(modern day Belgium) and Holland (the Netherlands). Even though they were roughly the same
size geographically, had a similar number in their respective populations, and shared a common
north/south border, culturally and politically the countries could not have been more different.
Flanders was dominated by the Catholic Church and a ruling monarchy while Holland was an
independent democracy with Protestant ties. Religious-themed art was the norm in the Belgian
south, while it was strictly forbidden in the strict Calvinist churches of the Dutch north; the result
in the Netherlands was a typically secularized subject matter.

In both cases, however, artists were at the mercy of the marketplace and they figured out how to
sell paintings that pleased their prosperous, middle-class populations. Both countries were
largely made up of a growing merchant class who loved to purchase art (and flowers) with their
disposable income. Demand for art was constant, and in many cases, the size of one’s collection
was a symbol of status among one’s friends or business clients. Even common working class
butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers adorned their shops with paintings from the Dutch
masters. In describing this trendy pursuit of art collection, one visitor to Amsterdam in 1640
famously uttered the line “all (people) in general strive to adorn their houses with costly pieces…
I think none other go beyond them.” Because of this enthusiasm, artists created a plethora of
high-quality art and many artists began to specialize in specific subjects like still-lifes,
landscapes, animals, and interior portraits. In fact, there were more than 500 Dutch artists
specializing in still-lifes alone!

Let’s take a look at some of the big-time players:

Rembrandt van Rijn: Master of Light and Dark

                               Self Portrait; 1660; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The best known painter from the Baroque era is Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69). He was best
known for creating dynamic, introspective pieces and mastering the concept of chiaroscuro
(remember, brighter colors highlighted on a dark based canvas). He also did over 90 self-
portraits over his forty years of painting, like the one above, and modern art historians have used
them to gauge the changes in Rembrandt’s personal style as his experience and expertise grew
over time. Rembrandt’s early paintings are based on physical action, melodramatic emotion, and
used dramatic contrasts of dark and light to add to the emotion of his pieces; later on, they
became quieter and more solemn, more psychological than physical and used subtle shading and
consistent gold/brown undertones to add warmth to his works.

His production was quite prolific over his career, and his portraits were one of the most desired
commodities by the upper-class merchants of the Netherlands. He was bombarded with requests
and had to employ a great number of assistants to keep up the pace; customers would often resort
to bribery to get their portraits done by the desired time. Some historical sources claim he was a
bit of a tyrant in his studio, and was rarely satisfied with work that was hurried along; “A
painting is finished when the master feels it is finished” he was once quoted.
                                Belshazzar’s Feast; 1636; National Gallery, London

Although he was better known for his portraits, Rembrandt preferred to paint historical and
religious scenes. In Belshazzar’s Feast (above), he explores a number of textures in the gold
embroidery, the silky tablecloth, and the luminous rays emanating from the Hebrew characters
on the wall. To his credit, Rembrandt was the foremost master of the most elusive texture to
master: human skin, especially on the hands and faces of old people. He pays great detail to the
surprised look in each of the dinner guest’s faces – note the wide eyes and startled look on each
of their faces. Rembrandt also liked to emphasize the placement of hands to suggest motion
through gestures – each guests’ facial expression is echoed by their hands, which adds to the
excitement of the piece. Standard elements of the Baroque technique are present here, like
chiaroscuro, the “invitation” concept – notice how there is a place set for you at the table, as if
you are dining with the guests. There is also a great story going on here, and the climax of the
Biblical drama is unfolding in front of you. The story is that of King Belshazzar of Babylon
(Daniel 5), who made a toast to the pagan gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. As
this happened, a mysterious hand appeared and recorded a message from God on the palace wall,
predicting the sad fate of the king. The message, shining in gold, appears to startle the king, as it
loosely translates from the Hebrew characters as: “God has numbered the days of your kingdom
and will end it. You have been weighed on God’s balance and been found short – your kingdom
will be divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” Later that evening, Belshazzar was slain,
and taken by King Darius the Persian.

It is unconfirmed that the guests went home with gift bags.
                            The Night Watch; 1642; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Rembrandt’s major works:

     Self-Portrait; 1629; Mauritshuis Museum, The Hague
     The Night Watch; 1642; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
     The Jewish Bride; 1665; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
     Self-Portrait with Saskia; 1636; Gemaldegalerie, Dresden
     Self-Portrait of the Artist; 1665, Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, England

Franz Hals: Freezing the Moment
                   Portret van Frans Hals (Self-Portrait); 1650; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Franz Hals (1580-1666) was a Dutch artist who had the incredible ability to capture the
personality of his model, largely through fleeting facial expressions. When looking at a Hals
work, it seems that he has the ability to freeze the moment and capture the laughter, the
joyfulness, and the lifelike quality of the people he is painting. It is not uncommon to see the
people in his portraits hoisting a tankard of ale, playfully plucking the cords on an instrument, or
boldly standing as a proud citizen. His trademark subjects were men and women caught in a
moment of good spirits, having a jolly time; he had a curious gift of enlivening his subjects and
painted their merry moods on the canvas.

                             The Laughing Cavalier; 1624; Wallace Collection, London

One of Hals’ most famous paintings, The Laughing Cavalier (above), displays the portrait of a
proud swashbuckler with a sparkle in his eye and sly expression on his face. His mustache is
brushed upward, in a series of slashing, sketch-like brushstrokes; this was another trademark of
Hals – although his brushstrokes are clearly visible up close and look hurriedly choppy, they
form a natural-looking image from a distance which captures the jolly mood of his pieces. In the
Jester with a Lute, he uses the same sketchy style in the minstrel’s wild hair and the red trim on
his jacket (below):
                                 Jester with a Lute, 1623, Musee du Louvre, Paris

Toward the end of his life, the merriment and frivolous lifestyle he displayed in his paintings
also started to spill over into his personal life, and he could often be found frequenting the local
taverns. With ten kids and a wife who was often in trouble with the law, Hals sadly sought an
escape by means of alcohol, and died a destitute wreck. Ultimately, however, Frans Hals will be
remembered for the way her transformed stiff, stoic portraiture into a vehicle for capturing the
lively personality of his subjects.

Frans Hals’ major works:

      The Laughing Cavalier; 1624; Wallace Collection, London
     Gypsy Girl; 1628; Musee du Louvre, Paris
     Malle Babbe; 1630; Staatliche Museen, Berlin
     The Merry Drinker; 1630; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
     De Magere Compagnie, 1637; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Peter Paul Rubens: Big is Beautiful!

                         Self-Portrait; 1623; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was one of the most outstanding Baroque painters, simply for the
way he reflected the social representation of what could he could call “ideal beauty.” Rubens
was an intelligent man, could speak six languages, and frequently traveled with his royal patrons
on important diplomatic missions as an ambassador. On top of that, he was an amazingly
prolific painter, putting out over 2000 masterpieces in his lifetime; this incredibly high number
compares only to Pablo Picasso in the sheer volume of work created. Dedicated to a fault, it is
said that he would awaken before sunrise and work well into the evening hours after sundown.
Rubens found it necessary to employ an army of assistants to help him with his works and keep
up with the vast number of commissions he typically handled at one time; his studio worked
more like a factory, where Rubens himself would sketch the outline of an idea on canvas, his
assistants would paint the full size work, and then as the master artist, he would finish with the

Rubens developed his own rich style, which typically contained animated figures, glorified
monarchs, or fleshy, sensual, female nude figures. These full-bodied women were his ideal of
beauty, as seen in his painting The Three Graces:
                          The Three Graces; 1638; Museo del Prado, Madrid   Raawwwwrr!

What our modern society dictates is “beautiful” or “sensual” seems a far cry from the Graces
above. In the Baroque era, this type of larger, full-figured body type was an indication of high
class status – it meant you could spend your time inside the palace eating fine, rich foods instead
of living on the border of starvation at all times. Pale, fleshy skin also indicated the privileged
life, as it meant you weren’t out working in the fields, daily busting your tail out in the hot sun.

Just for argument’s sake, let’s assume the women shown above are the ideal vision of beauty. It
is interesting to see how cultures evolve, and society’s definition of “beauty” is can morph from
generation to generation (kids, look at pictures of your folks in the 1980’s – the decade that
fashion is trying desperately to forget). It wasn’t just a century earlier when Botticelli painted
these same figures, the Graces, in his painting The Prima Vera to represent society’s concept of
“ideal beauty.” Compare the two paintings below, Botticelli on the left and Rubens on the right:
               I’d have to go with the ones on the lef… no, right! – wait no! Left. Definitely left. Or maybe right…

Times certainly change, don’t they?

Modern art historians have coined the phrase rubenesque to describe these curvy and oversized,
yet proud and sensual, women. Rubens was married happily to a woman of size, and when she
passed away, he eventually married another woman of equally “rubenesque” stature. He often
used his wives as models in his paintings, as seen below in the painting entitled Venus at the
Mirror, where he painted his wife as Venus, the Roman goddess of beauty:
                             Venus at the Mirror; 1613; Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna

In this piece, Rubens presents Venus as the ultimate symbol of beauty. Here, the goddess is
aware of the viewer in a mirror, which interestingly frames her face like a portrait, and she
begins to eye him flirtatiously (remember the “invitation” concept from Lesson Three?). There
is a great emphasis on the reproduction of her soft and silky hair, which is also contrasted with
the dark tones of her African servant. The mirror that Cupid holds up for the goddess reveals the
reflection of Venus, which reveals her facial beauty to the viewer; mirrors start popping up more
and more in art of the Baroque era, as they started to become a symbol for the competition
between artists and nature in producing an image that is as real as possible. Other than a few
costly accessories (decorative additions instead of clothing), Rubens seems to emphasize the
figure’s nakedness, since Venus is the full representation of man’s desires.
For Rubens, it wasn’t all about curvy women, however. He also did scenes with Biblical and
historical themes. Check this one out:

                              Samson and Delilah; 1609; National Gallery, London

Rubens was just over thirty years old when he started Samson and Delilah. The picture tells the
Old testament story of the Biblical strongman who slew thousands of Philistines using just the
jawbone of a donkey (Judges 16). Samson had superhuman strength, which was the result of his
Nazarene vow to never cut his hair. Samson’s ultimate downfall was caused by his love (lust?)
for the Philistine Delilah; in this typically Baroque “dramatic moment,” Rubens portrays the
tense scene where Delilah and her servants, upon learning the secret of Samson’s powers, holds
the scissors above the hero’s head and get ready to strip the sleeping giant of his strength. The
intensity of this moment seems to be amplified by Delilah’s vibrant red dress and Rubens’
dramatic use of lighting, which also accents Samson’s incredible musculature; as the Philistine
guards crash through the door, ready to gouge out the hero’s eyes and take him prisoner, the
viewer is invited to take part in a whirlwind of action in this masterpiece.

Peter Paul Rubens’ major works:

      Raising of the Cross; 1610; Antwerp Cathedral, Antwerp
      Marie de’Medici Cycle; 1622; Musee du Louvre, Paris
      Rainbow Landscape; c. 1635; Wallace Collection, London
      Peace and War; c.1629; National Gallery, London
      The Garden of Love; 1638, Museo del Prado, Madrid

Anthony van Dyck: Pausing instead of Posing
                              Self Portrait with a Sunflower; c.1633; private collection

Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) was a handsome, confident, and fabulously gifted painter.
He’d probably be the first person to tell you that, too. Van Dyck’s personality has often been
compared to that of a fancy rooster, strutting about, preening, and dressing ostentatiously. He
called himself “il pittore cavalleresco” (the gentlemanly painter) and loved his place in the
circles of high-society. He also adopted the sunflower as his “personal symbol,” as it
represented beauty and in that it has the ability to always attract the human eye with its color.
Primarily a portrait painter, patrons loved Van Dyck for his ability to flatter his subjects; he had a
knack for slimming them down, muscling them up, or softening harsh features – features that
more realistic artists would have painted more true to form.
                                King Charles I at the Hunt; 1635; Musaee du Louvre, Paris

One trick he used to do this was to paint the ratio of head to body at one to seven, as opposed the
more realistic one to six. This subtly elongated body style certainly adds to the dashing look of
Charles I (above), who in person was kind of short and stubby. Which was probably good
business sense too, since Charles appointed Van Dyck as the official court painter of England
and thus, paid all the bills.

Van Dyck transformed the static, impersonal, official images of royalty and helped them to look
more interesting and “human.” He felt royals should not need to be depicted as standoffish or
distant if they were to appeal to their constituents – they should have hobbies and personalities
just like the rest of us. Van Dyck attempted to paint his subjects with an arrested sense of
movement, as if they were pausing in the middle of their business and casually “noticed” the
audience; they were so wrapped into their hobby, that they didn’t even hear you arrive. Van
Dyck’s subjects seem to look like they are pausing in their actions, rather than actually posing in
a picture.

Anthony van Dyck’s major works:

       Samson and Delilah; 1620; Dulwich Picture Gallery, London
       St. Martin Dividing his Cloak; 1622; British Royal Collection, London
       Equestrian Portrait of Charles I; 1638; National Gallery, London
       Rinaldo and Armida; 1629; Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore
       Crucifixion; 1622, San Zaccaria, Venice

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