Thursday 17 July 2014

17th century Dutch painting - the Rijksmuseum

17th century Dutch painting - the Rijksmuseum.

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, Self-Portrait as the Apostle Paul, 1661, (oil on canvas)
His brow furrowed and eyebrows arched, Rembrandt peers out at us meaningfully. He has portrayed himself as the Apostle Paul, recognizable by the saint's attributes, a sword and a manuscript.

Rembrandt, His son Titus in a Monk's Habit, 1660, (oil on canvas)

Rembrandt, The Wardens of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild, Known as 'The Syndics', 1662, (oil on canvas)
The syndics inspected the quality of dyed cloth. Rembrandt portrayed them looking up from their work, as though disturbed by our arrival. This artistic device was a clever way of enlivening the scene and thereby involving the viewer.


Rembrandt, Isaac and Rebecca, known as the Jewish Bride, 1665, (oil on canvas)


Pieter de Hooch, Figures in a Courtyard Behind a House, 1663-65, (oil on canvas)


Pieter de Hooch, Man Handing a Letter to a Woman in the Entrance Hall of a House, 1670, (oil on canvas)

The door and window of the entrance hall of this canal house in Amsterdam are wide open. Daylight falls on a young woman receiving a letter. De Hooch cleverly linked the interior with the exterior. Our gaze moves past the little dog to the canal, on the opposite side of which two men converse, and a woman at a window looks towards us. The gateway seen through the right window affords an even more distant view.

Pieter de Hooch, Interior with Women Beside a Linen Cupboard, 1663, (oil on canvas)
This scene of domestic virtue dates from de Hooch's Amsterdam period. In a richly appointed house, two women put freshly pressed linen into a cupboard. They have hitched up their skirts to keep them clean while doing domestic chores. In the doorway a child plays with a kolfstok, a kind of hockey stick. Brightly lit canal houses can be seen through the doorway behind her.
This is Alan de Botton's 'intervention' on this painting:
Ordinary work is merely a drudge. I want to be on television.
It can be hard to see beauty and interest in the things we have to do every day and in the environments in which we live. We have jobs to go to, bills to pay, homes to clean and keep running, and we deeply resent the demands they make on us. They seem to be pulling us away from our real ambitions, getting in the way of a better life. Art and art galleries feel far away from all this: they are for a day off, for the holidays.
The linen cupboard itself could easily have been resented. It is an embodiment of what could, in unfavourable circumstances, be seen as boring, banal, repetitive - even unsexy. But the picture moves us because we recognize the truth of its message. If only we, like De Hooch, knew how to recognize the value of ordinary routine, many of our burdens would be lifted. It gives voice to the right attitude: the big themes of life - the search for prosperity, happiness, good relationships - are always grounded in the way we approach the little things. The statue above the door is a clue. It represents money, love, status, vitality, adventure. Taking care of the linen (and all that this stands for) is not incompatible with these grander hopes. It is, rather, the way to them. We can learn to see the allure of those who look after the little things, ourselves included.
It's a hard message to hold on to because we are constantly being told something different. This painting is small in a big and noisy world - but the fact that so many people revere it is hopeful; it signals that we know, deep down, that De Hooch is onto something important.


Pieter Jansz Saenredam, Interior of the Sint-Odulphuskerk in Assendelft, 1649, (oil on panel)

Bright, clear light fills this church, in which - as it happens - a sermon is being preached from the pulpit. Saenredam created a sense of space with his consistent use of perspective, in which all the orthogonal lines converge at the same point. This church was special to the painter: not only was he born in Assendelft, but the gravestone of his father, Jan Saenredam, bearing an inscription can be seen in the right foreground.

Alan de Botton again:

My life revolves around business, distraction, chaos, Twitter.

The architects of the building depicted here, and the artist himself, were convinced about a challenging idea: if you want to get close to the important things, you will need a lot of calm, of whiteness, of emptiness, of peace. Serenity, concentration and order aren't luxuries, they aren't a superficial concern for a particular style of interior decoration; they are preconditions for a thoughtful, balanced life; you have to prioritize ruthlessly; entertainment is the enemy; simplify, get rid of what you don't really need; don't check your email all the time; focus is an achievement. Saenredam didn't just paint a church, he painted an attitude to life.


Floris Claesz van Dijck, Still Life with Cheese, 1615, (oil on panel)

Fruit, bread, and cheese - grouped  by type - are set on a table covered with costly damask tablecloths. The illusion of reality is astounding; the pewter plate extending over the edge of the table seems close enough to touch. The Haarlem painter Floris van Dijck ranked among the pioneers of Dutch still-life painting.

Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck, Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue, 1641, (oil on canvas)


Willem Claesz Heda, Still Life with a Gilt Cup, 1635, (oil on panel)

The range of grey tonalities that Willem Heda could paint is astounding. With this subtle palette, he deftly rendered the objects - of pewter, silver, damask, glass and mother-or-pearl - on this table. A few yellow and ochre accents compliment this refined interplay of colours. Heda specialized in near monochromatic still lifes, so-called 'tonal banquet pieces'.

Pieter Claesz, Still Life with a Turkey Pie, 1627, (oil on panel)
A variety of delicacies are displayed on the table. To show them off to best advantage, the painter arranged the dishes side by side with virtually no overlap. The pie with a stuffed turkey is the most striking component. The table is seen from slightly above, which is characteristic of early still-life painting.


  1. Hmn! I am beginning to have grave doubts about de Botton's interventions. Pieter de Hooch probably never did any laundry!

    1. Hahaha! I'm sure you're absolutely right, Olga. But then, men have always romanticised women's labour, as long as they did not have to do any of it themselves. But, I can also see what de Botton is trying to say about this painting...

    2. Yes, I agree that the big things come from appreciating and getting right the quotidian things, but one could say ca se voit! Besides, if all this housework is the true preliminary for the larger aims and ambitions in life why are we housewives not running the world!
      That aside, the paintings are real gems!

    3. Absolutely nothing I can say to that! Why aren't they indeed?!

      So, I presume that you're right where you started from in relation to Alan de Botton - not that interested in reading any of his stuff. I have never been tempted I have to say, even though I did enjoy that series on television.