I have been meaning to expand my coverage of painters, particularly Flemish painters from the Dutch “Golden Age” and I have decided to begin with another of my favorites, Gerrit Dou (1613-1675). He created exquisite small, often dark paintings that often remind us of his contemporaries. These posts will cover paintings from multiple museums, rather than focusing on a single collection. After learning to paint from his father, a glass engraver, Gerrit Dou was apprenticed to a distinguished printmaker and glass painter, receiving additional formal artistic training from the Leiden glaziers' guild. At 15, he was appointed to the enviable position of apprentice in Rembrandt's studio, where he studied for six years. After Rembrandt left Leiden in 1631, his influence on Dou waned. Dou continued to paint on wood in a small scale but adopted cooler colors and a more highly refined technique characteristic of the fijnschilders (fine painters), a group of Leiden artists who painted small, highly finished pictures. Portraits in impasto gave way to domestic genre subjects (everyday scenes), enamel-smooth and rich in accessory details. These paintings are small, remember that you can click on any image in this website to enlarge them.
Born on June 28, 1577, Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens was one of the most celebrated and prolific artists in Europe during his lifetime as well as the entire Baroque era. His patrons included royalty and churches, and his art depicted subjects from religion, history, and mythology. Rubens delighted in undertakings of the vastest kind. “The large size of a picture”, he writes to W. Trumbull in 1621, “gives us painters more courage to represent our ideas with the utmost freedom and semblance of reality… I confess myself to be, by a natural instinct, better fitted to execute works of the largest size.” Aside from being the one of the greatest artists of his time, Peter Paul Rubens was also a diplomat in his later life, and travelled a fair bit by virtue of this role. He was well suited to diplomacy because he was very good at dealing with people. Even though he was the most prolific painter in Europe at the time, he was able to keep up because of his boundless energy and great organizational skills. He woke up early to go to mass, and worked until late at night. He hired assistants to help him. The positions as Rubens’ assistants were very sought after by other painters, the most renowned of whom was Anthony van Dyck . Rubens died of gout in 1640 at age 62. The paintings of Rubens are found in all the principal galleries in Europe: Antwerp and Brussels, Madrid, Paris, Lille, Dresden, Berlin, Munich, Vienna, St. Petersburg, London, Florence, Milan, Turin exhibit several hundreds of his works. J. Smith's Catalogue gives descriptions of more than thirteen hundred compositions.
When we visited the painting floor of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, we turned a corner into a fairly large room filled with paintings by Rembrandt van Rijn. Of course I have decided to do a post of the paintings. Rembrandt often painted pictures of the Apostle Paul so Paul obviously had a major impact on his life. In his paintings, he tried to capture the force and emotion of Paul's letters. In about 1659, Rembrandt finished another painting of the Apostle Paul. It is a peaceful scene of Paul writing letters at his desk. It is interesting to note the contrast between this picture and the exhilarating action of the Baroque paintings of Paul. Rembrandt, instead of emphasizing the action, portrays Paul as the embodiment of profound meditation. A sword, the trademark of Paul, leans in darkness against the wall. While his face basks in radiant light, the rest of the painting is dark with heavy colors. The depth of vision and feeling is seen with the deep, thoughtful gaze of the apostle. Paul's passionate concern for the gospel is vividly captured by Rembrandt. The painting reveals Paul's emphasis on the Word of God, as the sword of the Spirit, and his role as an apostle bringing the Word.
Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) was born in the Franconian city of Nuremberg, one of the strongest artistic and commercial centers in Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. He was a brilliant painter, draftsman, and writer, though his first and probably greatest artistic impact was in the medium of printmaking. More than any other Northern European artist, Dürer was engaged by the artistic practices and theoretical interests of Italy. He visited the country twice, from 1494 to 1495 and again from 1505 to 1507, absorbing firsthand some of the great works of the Italian Renaissance, as well as the classical heritage and theoretical writings of the region. While in Nuremberg in 1512, the Holy Roman emperor Maximilian I enlisted Dürer into his service, and Dürer continued to work mainly for the emperor until 1519. The emperor is depicted here as an elegant private gentleman. The desired effect of dignity and power is achieved by the manner in which the emperor fills the frame and the brilliant execution of the fur collar. Several different interpretations have been suggested for the pomegranate in the emperor's hand: as a private proxy for the imperial orb, as a reference to the myth of Persephone and thus a reference to death, and as an allusion to the conquest of Granada by the Christian armies in 1492.
Automatons like this musical clock in the form of a ship were used as festive table decorations intended to amuse and entertain the diners. The effect was increased when they were designed to mechanically imitate real-life action and could produce a melody as well. Gradually, the traditional centerpieces lost their original function and developed into mechanically moving toys and gadgets, and finally into automatons proper. A mechanism and a musical clockwork allowed this ship automaton to roll across the table, while the tiny musicians on it could be heard and seen to play their instruments. The date 1585 in the inscription and the imperial double eagle on the flags and banners suggest that the ship was intended for Rudolf II. Hans Schlottheim, who built several of these mechanical ships, was staying in Prague in 1587.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum has a truly amazing collection of paintings and I thought I would highlight some of the artists in separate posts. Giuseppe Arcimboldo (also spelled Arcimboldi; 1527-1593) was an Italian painter best known for creating imaginative portrait heads made entirely of such objects as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, and books – that is, he painted representations of these objects on the canvas arranged in such a way that the whole collection of objects formed a recognizable likeness of the portrait subject. Arcimboldo had been a court painter in Vienna for Maximilian II and in Prague for Rudolf II since 1562. In 1563 he began painting his famous collection of the four seasons and the four elements (Earth, Water, Fire and Air), which were presented to Maximilian II on New Year’s Day 1569. While these funky portraits might have gotten most portrait painters executed or at least banished, the Hapsburgs loved them. Arcimboldo was as much a court jester as a painter, the paintings are full of puns, for instance, the ear of Summer is an ear of corn, his nose is a pickle and the date of the painting and signature of Arcimboldo are woven into the straw garment of Summer.
Benvenuto Cellini was one of the enigmatic, larger-than-life figures of the Italian Renaissance: a celebrated sculptor, goldsmith, author and soldier, but also a hooligan and even avenging killer. Much of Cellini's notoriety, and perhaps even fame, derives from his memoirs, begun in 1558 and abandoned in 1562, which were published posthumously under the title “The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini”. As noted by one biographer, “His amours and hatreds, his passions and delights, his love of the sumptuous and the exquisite in art, his self-applause and self-assertion, make this one of the most singular and fascinating books in existence.” He confessed to three murders and was several times imprisoned, in one instance breaking out of the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome by climbing down a homemade rope of knotted bedsheets.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is one of the foremost museums in the world, with rich holdings comprising artworks from seven millennia – from Ancient Egypt to the late 18th century. The collections of Renaissance and Baroque art are of particular importance. The main building shown above houses the Picture Gallery, the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities, the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection, the Coin Collection, and the Kunstkammer that reopened in March 2013. It was opened around 1891 at the same time as the Naturhistorisches Museum, by Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary. The two museums have identical exteriors and face each other across Maria-Theresien-Platz.
A cabinet of curiosities was an encyclopedic collection in Renaissance Europe of types of objects whose categorial boundaries were yet to be defined. They were also known by various names such as Cabinet of Wonder, and in German Kunstkammer (“art-room”) or Wunderkammer (“wonder-room”). Modern terminology would categorize the objects included as belonging to natural history (sometimes faked), geology, ethnography, archaeology, religious or historical relics, works of art (including cabinet paintings) and antiquities. “The Kunstkammer was regarded as a microcosm or theater of the world, and a memory theater. The Kunstkammer conveyed symbolically the patron's control of the world through its indoor, microscopic reproduction.” Besides the most famous and best documented cabinets of rulers and aristocrats, members of the merchant class and early practitioners of science in Europe also formed collections that were precursors to museums.