Archive for the ‘Dutch Art’ Category

Vermeer-related article

January 31st, 2015

“Most rare workmen”: Optical practitioners in early seventeenth-century Delft”
Huib J. Zuidervaart and Marlise Rijks
The British Journal for the History of Science, pp. 1 – 33, (March 2014)

online article can be accessed at:
http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9202672&fileId
=S0007087414000181

abstract:
A special interest in optics among various seventeenth-century painters living in the Dutch city of Delft has intrigued historians, including art historians, for a long time. Equally, the impressive career of the Delft microscopist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek has been studied by many historians of science. However, it has never been investigated who, at that time, had access to the mathematical and optical knowledge necessary for the impressive achievements of these Delft practitioners. We have tried to gain insight into Delft as a ‘node’ of optical knowledge by following the careers of three minor local figures in early seventeenth-century Delft. We argue that through their work, products, discussions in the vernacular and exchange of skills, rather than via learned publications, these practitioners constituted a foundation on which the later scientific and artistic achievements of other Delft citizens were built. Our Delft case demonstrates that these practitioners were not simple and isolated craftsmen; rather they were crucial components in a network of scholars, savants, painters and rich virtuosi. Decades before Vermeer made his masterworks, or Van Leeuwenhoek started his famous microscopic investigations, the intellectual atmosphere and artisanal knowledge in this city centered on optical topics.

Especially of interest is the authors’ tie between three optical practitioners who lived in Delft simultaneously with Vermeer. One of them, Jacob Spoors, was in 1674 the notary of Vermeer and his mother-in-law Maria Thins. Another was an acquaintance of Spoors, the military engineer Johan van der Wyck, who made an optical device in Delft in 1654, most likely a camera obscura. A report about the demonstration in nearby The Hague has been preserved. Van der Wyck also made telescopes and microscopes and an apparatus that probably was a kind of perspective box. As a telescope maker he was preceded by Evert Harmansz Steenwyck, brother-in- law of the Leiden painter David Bailly and father of two Delft still-life painters: Harman and Pieter Steenwyck. The latter was familiar with Vermeer’s father Reynier Jansz Vermeer, at a time when the young Vermeer was still living with his parents. According to the authors, this is the first real archival evidence that such a device existed in Delft during Vermeer’s life.

New Vermeer-Related Publication

August 1st, 2014

Holland’s Golden Age in America: Collecting the Art of Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Hals
by Esmée Quodbach
ed. New York (The Frick Collection) and University Park (The Pennsylvania State University Press) 2014

from the Pennsylvania State University Press website:
Americans have long had a taste for the art and culture of Holland’s Golden Age. As a result, the United States can boast extraordinary holdings of Dutch paintings. Celebrated masters such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, and Frans Hals are exceptionally well represented, but many fine paintings by their contemporaries can be found as well. In this groundbreaking volume, fourteen noted American and Dutch scholars examine the allure of seventeenth-century Dutch painting to Americans over the past centuries. The authors of Holland’s Golden Age in America explain in lively detail why and how American collectors as well as museums turned to the Dutch masters to enrich their collections. They examine the role played by Dutch settlers in colonial America and their descendants, the evolution of American appreciation of the Dutch school, the circumstances that led to the Dutch school swiftly becoming one of the most coveted national schools of painting, and, finally, the market for Dutch pictures today. Richly illustrated, this volume is an invaluable contribution to the scholarship on the collecting history of Dutch art in America, and it is certain to inspire further research.

In addition to the editor, the contributors are Ronni Baer, Quentin Buvelot, Lloyd DeWitt, Peter Hecht, Lance Humphries, Walter Liedtke, Louisa Wood Ruby, Catherine B. Scallen, Annette Stott, Peter C. Sutton, Dennis P. Weller, Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., and Anne T. Woollett.

This book provides answers for anyone who has ever wondered why there are so many great Dutch paintings in U.S. collections. Essays by leading curators and scholars draw on the history of art, as well as an understanding of cultural, economic, and political conditions, to illuminate the American taste for seventeenth-century Dutch painting.
Emilie Gordenker, Director, Mauritshuis, The Hague

Drawing on the experience and insights of many of her colleagues in museums and the academy, Esmée Quodbach brings us an impressively broad overview of the early collectors of Dutch art in America. This essential volume provides illuminating context for major figures such as J. P. Morgan and welcomes unsung heroes such as Robert Gilmor, Jr., onto this stage, but also lifts the curtain on early colonial as well as contemporary collections. These varied accounts are spiked with color, drama, and highlights, including the story of the wealthy collector who has to ask, “Who is Vermeer?”
David de Witt, Bader Curator of European Art, Queen’s University

Esmée Quodbach is Assistant Director of the Center for the History of Collecting at The Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library in New York.

http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-06201-3.html

Mauritshuis reopens on June 27, 2014

June 17th, 2014

View of Delft, Johannes Vermeer

Mauritshuis Opening on 27 June 2014

The Mauritshuis will open its doors on Friday 27 June 2014 after a two-year renovation.

The world famous painting collection, including three paintings by Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, The View of Delft and Diana and her Companions, will once again be displayed in the fully renovated and expanded Mauritshuis. After a celebratory opening, the museum will be open to the public for visit free of charge until midnight. The renovated Mauritshuis doubles its surface with an underground expansion into a building on the other side of the street. Still, little about the character of the museum will change. The appearance and unique homely atmosphere are preserved, thanks to the design of Hans van Heeswijk architects. The most obvious change is the relocation of the main entrance to the forecourt. Visitors will descend via the stairs or lift to a light foyer, connecting ‘old’ and ‘new’ underground. The new part, the Royal Dutch Shell Wing, will house the exhibition space, the brasserie and the museum shop. Furthermore, it will accommodate the educational Art Workshop, a library, and event rooms.

The museum has also rennovated its website and has added new high-resolution image is their Vermeer’s paintings which can be veiwed with a zoom feature or downloaded to one’s hard disk. The downloadable images are lower resolution than the zoom versions.

zoom features:
Girl with a Pearl Earring
View of Delft
Diana and her Compantions

downloads
:
Girl with a Pearl Earring
View of Delft
Diana and her Compantions

Mauritshuis
Korte Vijverberg 8
2513 AB The Hague
P.O. Box 536
2501 CM The Hague

Italians divided (as usual) by art exhibition

March 9th, 2014
Girl with a pearl Earring exhibition in Bologna, Italy

The arrival of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring in Bologna lends a hand to divide the already historically divided Italians. Alberto Mattioli, who writes for one of Italy’s chief daily papers, La Stampa, puts down in black and white what few Anglo-Saxon journalists would dare in an article about the first day of the exhibit, “‘The Girl’ in Bologna: Here is what the celebrated portrait saw on the debut of the Italian exhibition.”

First, Mattioli paints a bleak portrait of the those “famous 5 million Italians” who “attend art exhibitions and theaters, and read books and newspapers.” The journalist dismisses out of hand the remaining 55 million Italians who instead “ugly themselves watching the most horrible television in the world.” According to Mattioli, one of the main attendants of the exhibition is what he calls the “family from Crema” ( i.e. a typical dumb-money family from a rich provincial town), “super-booked” and overjoyed to attend the spectacle. Between the trip, tickets, tortellini (Bologna’s gastronomic specialty) and catalogue, the “paterfamilias” from Crema will wind up forking up about a thousand euro ($1,400) for the day in Bologna “la grassa” (the rich).

Mattioli’s other targets are the “democratic female school teacher” and the “acculturated retiree” who “just can’t” miss the “latest” exhibition.

Obviously, the people who dared put up such an event receive their share.

Marco Goldin, the organizer the spectacle, is guilty of publically claiming “we could actually sell 300,000 tickets!” Even the guards, who are charged with controlling crowd rage (a malady nowhere more acute than in Italy), are dubbed “buttadentro” (literally “throwins,” a play on the word “buttafuori, ” or guards who mercilessly throw “out” the misbehavers from Italy’s justly maligned discotheques).

Mattioli doesn’t have a hard time rounding up consensus in Italy, where blockbuster art exhibitions have long been the object of disdain Philippe Daverio, a prominent art critic, compares the show to Barbie. Alberto Ronchi, commissioner of cultural affairs of Bologna, is quoted as saying “paintings for an art exhibitions are lent, not rented. We are financing the restoration of a Dutch museum; that’s crazy.” The art critic Vittorio Sgarbi calls the exhibition “useless.”

To round things off neatly, an impromptu poll by Mattioli reveals that seven out of eight Italians in the line for the show had no idea that Raphael’s “iconic” Santa Cecilia is only a few minutes away.

Upcoming Gerrit Dou exhibition

March 9th, 2014

Gerrit Dou: The Leiden Collection from New York
March 9 – August 31, 2014
Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

Gerrrit Douc, Cat on a Balustrade

Whether history has been just or unjust with Gerrit Dou,  his incredibly meticulous works were sought after far more than Vermeer’s. With the possible exception of Rembrandt, the Lieden-based painter was the most revered and highly paid seventeenth-century Dutch artist. His fame spread throughout Europe, where his paintings were collected by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, Cosimo III de Medici and other elite patrons. The States General of The Netherlands included some of Dou’s paintings in its gift to Charles II of England at his restoration to the British throne in 1660. His works elicited such admiration that Johan de Bye, one of Dou’s patrons, rented a room near the Leiden town hall where paying viewers could admire 27 of the artist’s works. Since then only one major exhibition has been mounted of artists’ works at the National Gallery (2000), however, whose impact hardly measured against the blockbuster Vermeer exhibition (1995-1996) which some critics consider the greatest art exhibition of all time.

Will Dou ever rival Vermeer again? Whatever your opinion, some of his finest works are on display at the Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden. This exhibition features both a unique view of the stunning oeuvre of this painter (genre scenes and portraits) and recent material-technical research from the Lieden Gallery in New York, which vaunts the largest collection of works by Dou in the world.

Enjoy two high resolutions of Dou’s works:

The Herring Seller with a Boy
http://www.lakenhal.nl/images/persberichten/289/1.jpg

and

Cat on A Balustrade, perhaps more in tune with modern tastes.
http://www.lakenhal.nl/images/persberichten/289/2.jpg

exhibition page:
http://www.lakenhal.nl/persberichtendetail.php?id=289

Is Vermeer Overrated? Part 4

May 27th, 2013
The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer

Vermeer’s Milkmaid alone brought 329,446
to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2008.

Part 123.

Is Rubens greater than Vermeer? Can we honestly say that the Girl with the Pearl Earring merits the status of “the Mona Lisa of the North”? Impossible questions to answer? Complicated, definitely. After all, today no one even agrees on what art is in the first place. But before attempting the impossible, I would like to address each of the five reasons for which the historian Rabb claims Rubens’ art is superior to Vermeer’s because, unless you are averse art historical fencing, they are interesting.

Claim no. 1. Rubens had a dominant role in the development of the art of his time—Vermeer did not.

It is true; Vermeer had virtually no impact on his contemporaries. Surviving paintings which show signs of his manner are fewer than twenty and most of them were produced by moderately-talented Dutch painters known only to well-informed art historians (e.g. Jacobus Vrel and Cornelis de Man). Michael van Musscher—an enterprising fellow who was able to recycle just about any motif he set his eyes on—did a relaxed remake of Vermeer’s solemn Art of Painting, hardly an event which drives forward the course of art. Gabriel Metsu, equally eclectic and remunerated as Van Musscher but more gifted, paid homage to Vermeer by scattering a few of the latter’s trademark pointillés upon a pair of slippers of an elegant seamstresses’ skirt in his Woman Reading a Letter with her Maid. A few of Metsu’s interiors do indeed betray a compositional rigor unusual for this artist but characteristic of the work of his Delft colleague although problems of dating obfuscate who was really looking at who. Without fear of rebuttal, it is fair to say that Vermeer’s influence did not extend far beyond the picturesque city bastions of his hometown Delft. On the other hand, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian and Rubens, indisputable “greats” by anyone’s standards, can be credited not only with shaping the course of European art, but to some degree of Western thinking as well.

Whether Vermeer’s ambitions were lowly or lofty, almost everything in his life and art is scaled down in respects to Europe’s giants: the dimensions of his pictures, the hierarchy of his subject matter and the social status of his clientele pale in comparison. Even his personal ambitions were anything but spectacular.

Michelangelo was commissioned to fresco 12,000 square feet of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican by Pope Julius II. He designed and oversaw the construction of the dome of the basilica of St Peters, the spiritual and geographical heart of the Roman Catholicism.

Titian received honors in every city he set foot. In Venice has was adored, and he virtually expunged the city of rivals enjoying the patronage of enlightened Italian courts where he painted the portraits of Doges, princes and cardinals. A biographer told the story that during a studio visit Emperor Charles V picked up a brush for the artist to which Titian responded, “Sire, I am not worthy of such a servant.” The Emperor replied, “Titian is worthy to be served by Caesar.”

Velasquez aspired to become a knight of Santiago, a prestigious Spanish military orders reserved for noblemen. At the age of 24, he became the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV of the Spanish empire, which had reached its seventeenth-century territorial zenith which spanned 12.2 million square kilometers. Velázquez was entrusted with painting royal portraits and with decorating of the Escorial. In 1660, he was charged to organize one of Europe’s greatest ceremonies, the wedding of the Infanta Maria Theresa to Louis XIV of France.

Closer to home, the career accomplishments of Van Mieris, Ter Borch and Dou, the Netherlands’s top tier artists, easily outstripped those of Vermeer. Dou once received the astronomical sum of 4,000 guilders (good to buy three or four average Dutch houses) from the States of Holland for a painting entitled The Young Mother while Van Mieris was paid 2,500 by Cosimo III of the Medici family for a Family Concert. Ter Borch was so successful that he could afford the luxury of settling down in Deventer, away from the bustling art market in Amsterdam, and become a gemeensman (city counselor) in 1666. All three received invitations to European courts.

On the other hand, out hero Vermeer seems to have been content to become a  schutter in the militia of his tiny Delft (population 20,000) which counted amongst them “the most suitable, most peaceful and best qualified burgers or children of burgers.” He may have been acquainted with Constantijn Huygens, loosely described as Holland’s Renaissance man, but his only proven tie with the upper crust of Dutch society was that with his patron Pieter van Ruijven, a Delft burger who paid a fortune for an aristocratic title but would have been forgotten to history had he not been linked to Vermeer. One painting by Vermeer was estimated by its owner, a prosperous Delft baker, to be worth 600 guilders but it is not know if this sum represented a real commercial value or an attempt to enhance the baker’s social status and the value of the artist’s work in the eyes of the diffident Frenchmen who had visited Delft in order to see the artist’s work. Having escaped from his father’s inn and installed himself in the Papist corner, shielded by his mother-in-law’s patrician standing and money, may have been a significant rise in social status for Vermeer who had been born to a family of a tradesman.

Curiously, although Vermeer’s fame and monetary value soared in the 20th century, his painting, which has been incessantly associated with the values of modernism, continued to inspire very few colleagues (except for forgers). Perhaps, his only legacy in “modern” times (if you can call it a legacy—I wouldn’t) is the Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi.

RUBENS – 1 / VERMEER – 0.

Is Vermeer overrated? Part 2

May 3rd, 2013

See part 3 and part 1.

Adriaan E. Waiboer, curator at the National Gallery of Ireland and leading expert in Dutch painting, recently addressed Vermeer’s superstar status in a perceptive study* of the historical fames of Vermeer and Gabriel Metsu. Metsu was one of the most accomplished painters of the time and was enthusiastically collected by his contemporaries: Vermeer less so. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Metsu not only maintained but, perhaps, improved his standing as one of the most celebrated painters of the Dutch Golden Age.  Metsu’s works were snatched up for noble collections throughout Europe. Vermeer’s name, instead, had all but vaporized. In 1783 Louis XVI of France spent a fortune, 18,051 francs, on a Metsu after he had declined two Vermeers, the Astronomer and the Geographer. Sixty years later, the writer John Smith declared “the superiority of Metsu over every artist in the Dutch school” and dubbed Vermeer as one of Metsu’s “imitators.” In order to increase market value, some Vermeers were attributed to painters including Metsu himself.  This state of affairs was completely reversed by the end of the 19th century when Vermeer was “rediscovered”  and his reputation and monetary value soared. The Dutch painters Metsu, Frans van Mieris and Gerrit Dou, who had commanded unlimited approval for centuries, were unceremoniously relegated to lower rungs of the Dutch art ladder almost to the embarrassment the triumphant image of Dutch art established by the “moderns” Frans Hals, Rembrandt van Rijn and Vermeer.

Gabriel Metsu catalogue

Although recognizing the values of Vermeer’s art, Waiboer posits that the reevaluation of the Delft master has been skewed by a modernist penchant for “streamlined and stylized aesthetic, as evidenced by contemporary design and architecture,” and that this fact has unjustly penalized Metsu. Metsu, then, has been largely viewed through a “lens colored by their admiration for Vermeer,” thereby inhibiting the “appreciation of the true qualities of his [Metsu’s] work.” While not officiating an outright revision, the savvy art historian nonetheless declares that the game is far from over. “As artist’s critical fortunes have always fluctuated and will do so in the future, our views on Metsu and Vermeer will undoubtedly change. The question is in what way? Will Vermeer’s fame continue to grow in the next centuries, or will Metsu’s eventually superseding that of his contemporary again?”

There can be no doubt that modernist values, which confer a premium to pictorial values while penalizing explicit narrative and moralistic finger-wagging,  have greatly benefitted the reevaluation of the supreme Dutch triumvirate. What remains to be seen, however, is if it will be Metsu or Gerrit ter Borch to challenge Vermeer’s position. For while the compositional originality, supreme technique and level of psychological introspection that Ter Borch gave to his figure pieces may be reasonably weighed against Vermeer’s talents, the chameleonic nature of Metsu, who openly and with amazing ability cloned the work of his cutting edge contemporaries, makes it difficult to understand just which version of Gabriel Metsu—Mestu-Dou, Metsu-Ter Borch, Metsu-Van Mieris or Metsu-Vermeer—will rival Vermeer-Vermeer.

By the way, Waiboer has recently published a catalogue raisonne of Metsu. Although I have not yet had the fortune to read it, I imagine will be of great help in redefining the role of this valuable and quintessential Dutch painter.

*Adriaan E. Waiboer, “‘Why buy a Vermeer when a Metsu is available?’ The Relationship between Two Dutch Genre Painters”, Gabriel Mestu, New Haven and London, 2010, pp. 29-51.

A lost cause: Vermeer in Italy

March 20th, 2013
Vermeer watching

It is normally not too difficult to calculate the costs of art exhibitions.

It is a bit trickier to calculate their cultural benefits.

Let me take a stab at what may have, and may have not, been gained from the recently closed Vermeer: The Golden Age of Dutch Art exhibition held in Rome.

After 8 (?) Vermeers and 48 Dutch seventeenth-century paintings have come and gone from the Eternal City—I happen to live a brisk walk from the Quirinale where the exhibit was staged—my feelings are not good. That is, middle-class Italian museum goers, who know relatively little of Vermeer & co. and as such were the prime target of the exhibition, ahimè, still don’t “get it.”

Setting aside organizational lacunae of the exhibition, there are at least three good reasons why this may be so.

First, Italians are born among and bred on monumental and spectacular works art which are practically ubiquitous. They are blissfully at home with mythological, biblical and historical subject matter and many, sometimes unaware, joust with supreme works of classical art and architecture on a daily basis. For example, just to reach the exhibition, the majority of Romans took a bus or drove their cars (without noticing) either around the Coliseum, through a historic piazza, under a winding Baroque façade or a few yards from colossal Roman statuary.

Once inside the windowless Quirinale, the curious crowds adjusted their eyes and were greeted by small pictures that portray insignificant events—insignificant by anyone’s standard except for those of historians of Dutch Art—which unfold in household environments. There were no unicorns or dragons , heroes or villains, saints or seductresses—nothing even vaguely supernatural, but dollish Dutch women and retiring Dutch men who don’t seem to be doing much of much at all.

Second, although bedecked in fine laces, exquisite satin and pearl jewelry, by Italian standards the Dutch juffers (damsels) on display were not raging beauties. A few visitors confided to me, a bit embarrassed but not really too much, that they were disappointed to discover that Vermeer’s women are homely and have greenish complexions (beauties which populate high Italian painting cannot be counted). In this country, physical beauty and grazia, obsessive concerns since the Renaissance, remain among the most spendable social currencies to this day for both sexes.

Third, most Italians do not identify themselves with their households, or”domesticity”as historians refer to it, the way Northern Europeans and Americans so often do. They don’t much like to tinker or do things at home except to watch television and dine. Sewing, quilt-making, hedging bushes in odd forms, building ships in bottles or even fixing broken things are not popular activities (if at all possible, one always pays someone else to get these kinds of things done). Do-it-yourself U.S.A. mega-stores like Joann’s Craft Center or Home Depot are utterly unthinkable on the Italian soil.

THUS, a good part of the domestic imagery and the exceptional level of craftsmanship which characterize Dutch genre painting falls on deaf ears. And if I had to bet, I would wager that the cultural impact of this “largest-of-all-Vermeer-exhibition-ever-held-in-Italy” was at best marginal. After 20 0r so visits to the exhibition, I encountered no one who had been overwhelmed. After all, the exhibition trailed second place in ticket sales to the concurrent Picasso exhibition in Milan.

The crushing economic crisis did not help.

At least one thing will be remembered. Somehow, the Quirinale and Italian press hammered through the idea that Vermeer’s paintings are special because they were depicted with an inordinate amount of natural ultramarine (powdered lapis lazuli), the most precious and venerated pigments of all times. It is a sin, however, that the pictures by Vermeer on display showed only a scant few small patches of bright blue (the appropriateness of the adjective “bright” is debatable). And if I were to again to accept wagers, this time I would stick my neck out and bet a handsome sum that no more than a handful of art historians would have suspected that (provided they had not known they were by the hand of the Delft master) these passages were painted with natural ultramarine, unless of course, they had brought along under their arms a high-power microscope and knew how to use it.

Let’s be frank—if it’s ultramarine blue that makes paintings special, someone forgot to point out that from the early Renaissance onwards, Italian painting, great and not great, is literally awash with the stuff.

Don’t hesitate to let me know if you have other ideas.

Coincidences ?

March 6th, 2013
savoldo_flute_player_SMALL

While it may be true that paintings are born more from painting than from one-to-one observation of nature, I wonder how frequently art historical connections don’t take into account that coincidences are inevitable.

For example, the mysterious shadow cast by the outlandish hats of Vermeer’s Girl with a Red Hat or Girl with a Flute may owe nothing to Rembrandt or followers. Big hats actually do cast shadows when light originates, as in the vast majority of natural circumstances, from above. See Savoldo’s Flute Player painted 150 years before Vermeer’s tronies.

Vermeer’s Girl with a Glass of Wine on exhibition in Kassel

November 9th, 2011

Light Structure – The Light in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer
18 November 2011 – 26 February 2012
Museum Hessen Kassel

Seventy superb works from the Baroque age of painting will be displayed in the upcoming exhibition Light Structure: The Light in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer, in William Castle Museum in Kassel. The exhibition will address one of the most notable aspects of European painting: the translation of light in painting. Attempts on the part of painters to render the myriad effects of light with paint were paralleled by intense scientific research on light.

In cooperation with the Berlin research group Historical Light Structure (http://www.lichtgefuege.de/index.html) the exhibition examines the different aspects of light painting in the 17th century on the basis of paintings, graphics and optical devices, also in view of the contemporary scientific treatises. The starting point is the art of the 15th and 16 Century and the fundamental innovations of Caravaggio. North of the Alps have been taken including those of Utrecht artists like Gerard van Honthorst and developed.

Different areas of the exhibition are dedicated to the particular diversity and range of Dutch paintings of light, including day light, nocturnal landscapes, interior and portrait paintings. Vermeer’s Girl with a Glass of Wine will be one of the principal works of the exhibition.

museum website: http://www.museum-kassel.de/index_navi.php?parent=1707