March 27, 2010

Nicolaus Knüpfer: Brothel scene (1650); Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

This playful painting by Nicolaus Knüpfer (c. 1603-1655) depicts a brothel, but from the historic costumes and emphatic gestures we can assume that it was based on a play, probably a comedy.
The man and two women on the bed are enjoying themselves with their love game, while two other figures have climbed upon the table to look out of the window. Something or someone seems to be approaching.
The man and woman in the front display attributes suitable to the scene. While the woman plays the lute, a well known sexual symbol in art, the man pulls his sword out of the sheath in a way that evokes erotic thoughts.
Nicolaus Knüpfer was born in Leipzig, but moved to Utrecht in 1630. His most famous pupils were Gabriël Metsu and Jan Steen, the last being clearly influenced by Knüpfers lively style.

March 20, 2010

Frans Hals: Marriage Portrait of Isaac Massa and Beatrix van der Laen; 1622 , Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Certainly the most appealing quality of this portrait from ca. 1625 by Frans Hals is the remarkably cheerful mood it evokes. It is hard to believe that it is in fact the official wedding portrait of this couple, the rich merchant Isaac Massa and his wife Beatrix van der Laen. The informal pose and setting were very uncommon in seventeenth-century portraits, as were smiling faces. Rather more conventional is the emphasis on the richness of their clothes, which shows their social position.
The painting is full of symbols that point to the fact that the couple has just married. To name some: the ivy at Beatrix’s feet is a symbol of eternal love, because it’s an evergreen that binds itself to the place it grows. Furthermore, in the background of an imaginary garden, in which young couples stroll, we spot a sculpture of Juno, the goddess of marriage, as well as a fountain, a symbol of fertility.

March 13, 2010

Étienne Maurice Falconet: L'Amour Menaçant (1757); Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam;

Although the Rijksmuseum is especially known for its rich collection of Dutch art, it does own some masterworks from outside the Netherlands. One of them is this lovely Cupid by Étienne Maurice Falconet, who is considered to be the most important sculptor of the French Rococo. It was commissioned in 1757 by Madame de Pompadour, the (in)famous mistress of the French king Louis XV. Falconet carved it in such a way that from every angle, new exciting details draw the attention of the spectator.
The title of the piece, 'L'Amour Menaçant' ('Love threatens') stems from a later date and probably refers to the inscription by Voltaire on the pedestal: 'Qui que tu sois, voicy ton Maitre - Il l'est, le fut, ou le doit être' ('Whoever you are, this is your master - He is, he was or he will be'. So beware of love').
The boy seems to warn us to keep quiet, while with his other hand he’s reaching for a love arrow, but the exact meaning of the gesture is open for interpretation. Some say the young love god is searching for his next victim, making us an accessory to his 'crime' with this call for secrecy. Others think it merely emphasizes the mysterious nature of love, a very popular theme in Rococo art.

March 6, 2010

Ludolf Bakhuysen: Ships in Distress in a Heavy Storm, ca. 1690, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Ludolf Bakhuysen (1631-1708) was born in Germany, but moved to Amsterdam in 1649. Starting off as a calligrapher and clerk, he soon became well-known for his marine paintings and pen-drawings, especially after Willem van de Velde the elder and his son left for England in 1672. His works were highly appreciated for their impressive depiction of nature (rather than historical accuracy). He painted backgrounds for the then famous history painter Bartholomeus van der Helst, received numerous commissions from people in high places, and even taught Tsar Peter the Great how to draw ships during his stay in Holland. Bakhuysen was a modest man who worked hard and was eager to learn. At 71, he proudly presented his first etchings.
Whenever the weather turned bad, instead of seeking the comforts of home, Bakhuysen went to the Zuiderzee (the largest body of water within the Netherlands) to study the workings of nature. After such trips, he locked himself into his studio to paint in solitude. He painted this dramatic scene, ‘Ships in Distress in a Heavy Storm’, around 1690, when he was almost 60 years old. This large canvas (150 by 227 cm) shows the excellent skills with which he captured the semitranslucency of the backlighted sea water, as well as the violent storm and foamy waves that jolt the ships about.