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Entries in Baroque (24)


Van Dyck: Formality and Casualness in Perfect Harmony

Sir Anthony van Dyck - Entry of Christ into Jerusalem - c. 1617 - Oil on canvas, 151 x 229 cm - Museum of Art, Indianapolis (click photo for larger image)Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) was a Flemish Baroque painter who was one of the most important and prolific portraitists of the 17th century. He is also considered to be one of the most brilliant colorists in the history of art. He set a new style for Flemish art and founded the English school of painting; the portraitists Sir Joshua Reynold and Thomas Gainsborough (both discussed elsewhere on What About Art?) of that school were his artistic heirs.

The work featured here is a youthful painting of the artist, created when he was a member of Peter Paul Rubens's workshop. (Rubens is discussed elsewhere on What About Art?) The picture was executed in the style of Rubens.

The subject matter is the first episode in what is known in Christianity as Passion Week (or Holy Week). It begins with Palm Sunday, when Christ entered Jerusalem. Over the course of the following week, he would be arrested, tortured and crucified—and then rise again from the dead on Easter Sunday.


Francesco Albani: The Annunciation

Francesco Albani - The Annunciation - n.d. - Oil on copper - 62 x 47 cm. - The Hermitage, St. Petersburg (click photo for larger image)Francesco Albani (1578-1660) was an Italian Baroque painter who was active in Bologna, Rome, Viterbo, Mantova, and Florence. He studied in Bologna with the Mannerist painter Denijs Calvaert before joining the Carracci Academy. While at the academy, he was an enthusiastic pupil. Like so many other artists from Bologna, he moved to Rome to study classical art, which he then applied with zeal to his own work. Albani's classicism can be seen in the altarpieces he painted after returning to Bologna, and in the cycles he painted on mythological subjects. 

Albani almost single-handedly created an appetite for light-hearted, pleasant works that lasted throughout the seventeenth century.

Albani painted many versions of the Annunciation, one of which is featured here.


Paulus Potter: An Idealized Vision

Paulus Potter - Figures with Horses by a Stable - 1647 - Oil on panel, 45 x 38 cm - Museum of Art, Philadelphia (click photo for larger image)Dutch Painter Paulus Potter (1625-1654) was part of a family of painters, draughtsmen and etchers. He is celebrated chiefly for his paintings of animals, which appear prominently in all of Potter's works. He sometimes featured them singly, but more often painted them in small groups silhouetted against the sky, or in greater numbers with peasant figures and rustic buildings in an extensive landscape.

Potter entered the Guild of St. Luke at Delft in 1646. In 1649 he moved to The Hague, where in the following year he married Adriana, daughter of the architect Claes van Balkeneynde. In 1652 Potter settled in Amsterdam. He probably received his early training from his father, the painter Pieter Potter, but his style shows little dependence upon that of earlier masters. In so short a career there was little development in style between the earlier and the later works, but 1647 seems to mark a peak in his achievement, for many of the finest paintings bear that date.

In the work featured here, a man attempts to mount his horse with the assistance of another man, in the shaded yard in front of a stable. The woman standing next to them has momentarily turned her attention away from the infant she is nursing in order to watch the scene. Despite his close observation of nature, Potter offers not a truthful image of life in the country but an idealized vision that would have appealed to the fantasies of the artist's urban clientele.


Frans Hals: The Master of Instantaneous Emotion

Frans Hals - Malle Babbe - 1633-35 - Oil on canvas, 75 x 64 cm - Staatliche Museen, Berlin (click photo for larger image)Baroque painter Frans Hals (1580-1666) was the great 17th-century portraitist of the Dutch bourgeoisie of Haarlem, where he spent nearly his entire life. Hals evolved a technique that was close to Impressionism in its looseness, and he painted with increasing freedom as he grew older. He was most definitely an artist ahead of his time.

The name Malle Babbe van Haarlem—which can be translated as Silly Betty or Mad Meg of Haarlem—is inscribed on an old piece of stretcher left in the modern one supporting this canvas. In 1653, the Haarlem burgomasters allowed the local "Workhouse" (which was both a house of correction and a charitable institution) 65 guilders to care for Malle Babbe. The document also refers to Frans Hals mentally impaired son, Pieter, who had been confined in the same place since 1642. Thus a real person served as the model for Hals's painting in Berlin and for a number of related works. The owl was also a common symbol of folly in the Netherlands, rather than wisdom.

This painting shows Hals’ supreme mastery of the rendering of instantaneous emotion and movement. Hals is unsurpassed in this regard. He selected moments when human nature reveals all its vital energy. Most often, his shows the instant when the joy of life is at its absolute highest.


Where Arts Collide – Movies About Artists – “Girl With A Pearl Earring”

What About Art? will be presenting monthly posts that discuss movies made about artists. Our goal will be to offer up our own review of each film—and to separate the facts from the fiction. 

“Girl With A Pearl Earring” - Theatrical Release Poster (click photo for larger image)First up is “Girl With A Pearl Earring” (2003), directed by Peter Weber and starring Scarlett Johanssen, Colin Firth, and Tom Wilkinson. The screenplay by Olivia Hetreed was adapted from a wonderful novel of the same name, by Tracy Chevalier. The story is focused on a beautiful young maid (Griet) employed by the family of the 17th century master, Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675).

Troubles erupt when she becomes his studio assistant, and the model for what would become one of the artist’s most famous paintings. Interestingly, the actual painting is in very poor condition, and has suffered from numerous and extensive restorations—and is marred by an “ugly pattern of cracks”. Nevertheless, it became famous after its rediscovery and was dubbed the "Gioconda of the North" (in reference to Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa”) by enthusiastic critics.

Thankfully, enough of the original work remains for it to be recognized as an outstanding work—and mysterious enough to inspire the book and movie. Critics were somewhat divided when the film opened. Most agreed that the performances were excellent, and that the film was beautifully shot. But the consensus of both critics and the audience suggests that the pace was too slow, and that Firth’s acting abilities weren’t put to their best use.

We disagree. WAA sees the pace of the film as a metaphor for the way Vermeer painted—slowly, thoughtfully, and meticulously—and also mirrors his palette. So for us, both the look and the pace of the film work exactly as they should.

Johannes Vermeer - Girl with a Pearl Earring - c. 1665 - Oil on canvas, 46,5 x 40 cm Mauritshuis, The Hague (click photo for larger image)SPOILERS FOLLOW. It is important to remember that the movie is not a biobic (nor is the book a biography). This is pure fiction. For example, there was no “ Griet” in the Vermeer household. The sitter for the painter was probably either one of  the daughters of Vermeer or Pieter an Ruijven. There was, indeed, a maid named Tanneke (played by Joanna Scanlan in the film), whose likeness can be found in several of the artist’s paintings. Van Ruijven, (portrayed by Tom Wilkinson) was one of Vermeer’s patrons. But there is nothing in scholarship to suggest that he was the lecherous man depicted in the film.

The characters of Vermeer’s wife, Catharina (played by Essie Davis) and her mother, Maria Thins (portrayed by Judy Parfitt) depart dramatically from reality. In truth, both women were very supportive of Vermeer’s artistic endeavors—and both modeled for him. Some scholars feel that the movie was unfair to both of these women, who endured terrible abuses when they were younger at the hands of Maria’s husband and son. (There’s definitely a story to be told there!) But “The Girl With A Pearl Earring” is fiction, folks. WAA suggests that you enjoy this lovely film (and the original novel) from that perspective.