BIRTH: 1617 BASCHENIS
Died on 04 December 1697: Jan de Bray,
Dutch painter born in 1626
Jan de Bray was the son of Salomon de Bray and brother of Joseph de Bray. Even before the death of Verspronck in 1662 and the octogenarian Frans Hals in 1666, Jan de Bray became the leading portraitist in Haarlem. In the mid-sixties he received four commissions for life-size collective portraits of governors from the city's charitable institutions. Except for his first efforts in the early fifties, little in his oeuvre recalls the old master, Frans Hals. He often adopted the colorful palette and smooth, limpid manner of van der Helst, qualities evident in his historiated portraits. His contact with Haarlem's classicizing artists, particularly his father Salomon, who was his teacher, made assimilation of these aspects of van der Helst popular style an easy step. Jan de Bray made history paintings as well. The various subjects he treated make him difficult to categorize.
The Haarlem printer Abraham Casteleyn and his wife Margarieta van Bancken (1663)
Portrait of A Gentleman
The de Bray Family (The Banquet of Antony and Cleopatra) (1669, 230x180cm) _ In seventeenth-century Dutch painting family portraits were less common than marriage portraits, perhaps because of their greater expense, as portrait prices were partly calculated per head. Their surviving number is considerable, though, and their variety somewhat greater than that of marriage portraits. The function of the family portrait is to preserve memory, as they sometimes include portraits of family members already deceased. This purpose is evident in the large portrait of the de Bray family.
In this family portrait all members participate in the legendary banquet of Antony and Cleopatra. The painter is probably represented in profile at left. His parents impersonate the Roman general and the Egyptian Queen, at a feast she organized in a bet that she could spend the largest fortune on a meal. Although the fare was simple, Cleopatra defeated Antony by dissolving one outsized pearl earring in acid and swallowing the drink.
Since several contemporaries commented on the humorous but reprehensible vanity of the story, de Bray's decision to make his family perform it may seem bizarre. In most family portraits, poses, gestures, costumes, and attributes speak of harmony, good education, and modesty; the wife and mother in particular would display exemplary virtue. The decadent Cleopatra seems the antithesis of a modest, reticent, and maternal woman. Although her banquet is indeed an unparalleled theme in portraiture, the genre of the portrait in historical guise to which it belongs makes explicit the theatricality of all portraiture, in which sitters pose before painters and viewers in carefully selected guises and settings.
Portrait of a Young Woman (54x43cm) _ This portrait is related in style to Frans Hals.
Born on 04 December 1617: Evaristo
Baschenis, Bergamo painter narrowly specialized almost exclusively
in still-lives of stringed musical instruments. He died in 1677.
Evaristo Baschenis was the most prominent of a family of artists recorded from 1400. He was ordained in 1647 and painted a few religious subjects, but his fame rests chiefly on his beautifully poised and polished still lifes of muscial instruments. His predilection for the subject may have been associated with the contemporary fame of the Amati family of violin-makers of Cremona, which is near to Baschenis's native town of Bergamo.
Musical Instruments (98x147cm) _ A number of musical instruments are placed in apparent disorder on a large table with carved legs, the top of which crosses the canvas horizontally. A dark green cloth placed loosely on it reveals to the left an open drawer from which a musical score hangs out. The falling fabric subtly breaks the strict symmetry of the table, producing the illusion of an attractive contour similar to the many found among the instruments. The diagonal light creates a mysterious chiaroscuro, completely effacing the extremely bare décor and highlighting the subject of the painting, in which a sensuously curved bass viol dominates. This instrument, back to us, is surrounded at both ends by two wood and ivory marquetry guitars. In the foreground we see, from left to right, a cittern, a mandola, and a small violin placed on its spine with its bow. In the background to the right are a lute and a flute. The scattered musical scores and a few soft-colored ribbons provide some light touches to a mostly dark-toned composition.
The warm, velvety precious materials of the objects are displayed with a rare mastery by the precise drawing, the raking light and the refined nuances of the brown, bronze and light yellow colors. Sobriety, reserve, harmony, rhythm and austerity govern the composition of this very noble composition. No decorative draperies, no superfluous details, but an expertly constructed picture in which volumes and planes are geometrically placed and which prefigures the still-lifes of the analytic Cubists. The instruments left lying, mute, at the end of a concert, and the presence to the right of two small decomposing apples, and the silence haunting the picture all evoke the precariousness and brevity of life. Here we have all the symbols of a Vanitas or a Memento mori.
When the picture arrived in the museum in 1908, the nearly invisible signature was exposed. This marked the beginning of the rediscovery and recognition of the work of Evaristo Baschenis, who had been nearly totally forgotten over time. This Bergamo artist also painted a number of kitchen interiors decorated with fruit, vegetables and dead animals, but owes his reputation to his still-lifes composed of musical instruments, of which the present one is probably the most perfect.
Still-Life with Musical Instruments (1650, 97x147cm) _ This painting is one of the most successful examples of Baschenis's lifetime pursuit: the painting of still-lifes of musical instruments. It shows the artist's unflagging attention to the forms of his subjects, which are geometrical and capricious at the same time. The instruments are studied under a light that reveals their inner poetry but leaves their age-old shape and substance intact. Lovingly selected, these mandolins and horns are seen in terms of a strict construction of shadowed tones, broken only occasionally by a lighter passage. Their arrangement suggests an illusory, unchanging fixity, as if a symphony had been transposed from sound into three-dimensional composition, after the music had stopped. The instruments represented are a clarinet, a mandolin, a double-bass bow and - on the crest - a recorder.
Still-life with Musical Instruments (1650, 115x160cm) _ Bergamo Baschenis, an artist from Bergamo, was a highly specialized painter who worked almost exclusively on the portrayal of stringed instruments. The nearby town of Cremona, a famous centre of violin and lute making, provided him with his models. However, unlike the Netherlandish artists, who often used musical instruments as symbols of hearing, while the transience of the notes recalled the transience of life, Baschenis does not paint scenes of allegorical or moral significance. His emphasis lies on the aesthetic and decorative aspects, as reflected in his singular attention to painterly and ornamental detail in portraying these instruments.
A theorbo, a tenor lute and a descant lute, as well as a violin with bow can be seen together with a writing box, a quill and a book of music set on a table against which a cello is leaning. A mysterious life develops between these objects. The mild sheen on the surface of the woods and the changing hues on the body of the lute create a visual autonomy that almost makes us forget the actual purpose of these instruments. Their curves present unusual viewpoints as though by chance. These musical objects are an almost tangible feast of tranquillity for the eyes.
Still-life with Instruments (1675, 108x153cm) _ The art of Baschenis represents a peculiar chapter in the development of Italian still-life painting: through it the Bergamot School suddenly became famous, and since he had many followers and pupils, the genre of still-life painting with instruments became widely practised. His large ceremonial compositions are his most characteristic and best works. The moderate and cheerful realism of his style was inspired by Caravaggio [cf. detail of musical instruments in Caravaggio's Amor Vincit Omnia], but it remained free of the soul-searching dilemma encountered by the painters of seventeenth-century Rome, Naples and Florence. In his choice of themes and objects he was probably influenced by the world-famous instrument-making shop at nearby Cremona, which, for example, produced the beautiful lutes and violins of the Amati family.
In Baschenis's paintings the instruments are the mediums of the Vanitas idea, and they are seldom coupled with the more expressive images of skulls, candles or books. In themselves a violin with its strings broken or a dusty lute are symbols of mortality. In this painting a single flower accentuates the meaning, and the presence of the globe makes it universally valid. Even the jewel-inlaid ebony writingdesk is not merely decorative counterpoint in the red-gold-blue-green-brown harmony; rather it invokes the vanity of sciences as well. The two lutes laid down across each other and the violin rendered in side-view reveal the painter's excellent knowledge of the instruments' anatomy.
Died on 04 December 1603: Marten de Vos,
painter born in 1532.
Marten de Vos was active mainly in his native Antwerp. In 1552 he went to Italy and studied in Rome, in Florence, and with Tintoretto in Venice. In 1558 he was back in Antwerp where after the death of Frans Floris in 1570 he became the leading Italianate artist in that city. The altarpieces that make up the bulk of his output are typically Mannerist in their strained, slender elegance.
Portrait of Antonius Anselmus, His Wife and Their Children (1577, 103x166cm) _ Family harmony is a source of prosperity and happiness. The Latin inscription in the cartouche at the top of the picture (as best I can read the insufficient definition of the reproduction) is: CONCORDIA / ANTONII ANSELMI / IOANNA. HOOSTEMANS FELICIQUE PROPAGINORUM / MARTINO DE VOS PIXIT / NATVS EST ILLE ANNO MDXXXVI . IVLII IV (uncertain) / VXOR ANNO MDLV DIE XVI DECEMBRIS LIBERI / AEGYDIVS ANNO MDLXXV . XXI AVGVSTI / IOANNA ANNO MDLXXVI . XXVI SEPTEMBRIS.
This is the message of this family portrait, which does much more than simply depict wealthy members of Antwerp high society. Antonius Anselmus, an alderman of the city from 1580 to 1582, and his wife Joanna Hooftmans, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, are placed in front of a neutral background, accompanied by their two children, both born in Antwerp, Gillis in 1575 and Joanna in 1576. A third child was to be born in Hamburg, where the family sought refuge for a time after the city of Antwerp was returned to the Catholics. The Anselmus family, like the Hooftmans, were Calvinists.
The family's high social ranking is immediately visible in the various items of decor: the carved furniture, the silver inkwell on the table, and the fragile Venetian glass vase, as well as the costly lace on the parents' garments and the children's aprons. The little girl holds a sumptuous vermeil rattle, a prestigious object symbolising the wealth of the newly born child. This object was offered to very young children by a godfather or an important person. The one represented here has at one end a whistle and at the other a wolf's tooth, to which popular belief attributed the double power of protecting children against the evil eye and reducing teething pain. On the table between the couple are the marriage gloves and a rose, symbols of the love that unites them. The children express the prosperity of the couple as does the fruit being held by the elder. At the same time the tame bird on his shoulder is a metaphor for a successful education.
Maerten de Vos, who excelled in the portrait genre, was also known for his religious paintings, producing, among other works, six paintings of episodes from the life of St Paul for the dining room of Gillis Hooftmans, Joanna's father. It is possibly following this commission that he painted the family portrait. By creating a unified and enveloping space around the figures, the artist succeeded in given a new dimension to the genre, intensifying both the psychological study and the allegorical significance.
The Emperor's Toll (1601) This was the central panel of the triptych of the Coin-Makers' Guild from St Andrew Church, Antwerp. It is a late work by De Vos who died in 1603.
St Luke Painting the Virgin Mary (1602, 270x217cm) _ Maarten De Vos, who founded the fraternity of Romanists in Antwerp, was Frans Floris' best pupil and successor. His works are clear precursors of the 17th century Baroque. The Saint Luke painting the Virgin Mary is a late work by De Vos who died in 1603. His rich and varied use of color might be attributable to the six years he spent in Florence, Rome and Venice (where he studied with Tintoretto); his paintings are clear, balanced and often symmetrical in composition, and despite his preference for shallow spaces, he succeeded in creating a strong sense of drama and plasticity. On the other hand, although a Lutheran for a long time, De Vos was also a figure-head of the Counter Reformation. The best evidence of this is to be found in the monumental scale of his works and his strict adherence to the iconographical precepts laid down by the Council of Trent.
The Marriage at Cana (1597, 268x235cm) _ The painting shows Christ's first recorded miracle. When the wine ran out at a wedding at which Jesus and his mother were guests, he changed the water into the finest wine - a perfect theme for the Tavern-Keepers' altar in the Antwerp Cathedral. The guild commissioned it from Marten de Vos, who was a very famous artist at the time. The time he spent in Venice had a noticeable effect on his work.
The wedding reception is set in an attractive Renaissance interior with a table full of fine food and expensive crockery, and festively dressed guests. Three lute-players and a young singer play from a gallery. Most of the guests look like 16th-century Westerners. The three crowns above the bride and her immediate neighbours were a customary feature of weddings in de Vos's time. He tried, nevertheless, to evoke a somewhat Oriental, biblical atmosphere - several guests wear turbans, the bridegroom has a laurel crown and some of the servants' costumes are vaguely Roman. The large wine-jugs in the foreground have an especially classical appearance. Jesus and his mother stand out because of their simple, 'biblical' clothes. The guests are sure to include several senior members of the Tavern-Keepers' Guild.
Nativity (1577, 106x75cm) _ Three little angels kneel with Mary and Joseph in worship of the newborn Child. The ox and the ass stand behind them. Other angels in the distance announce the birth of Christ to a group of shepherds. The ruin behind Joseph symbolises the defeat of paganism by the coming of the Saviour. The artist has made the symbolism even plainer by including a relief in the classical ruin - a recumbent female nude, possibly Venus, and several playful little naked figures. These represent the pagan world and 'impure', earthly love, as opposed to the divine love in which Christ was conceived.
Marten de Vos spent some time in Italy, where he familiarised himself with the new art of the Renaissance. This is apparent in details like the lively poses, the realistic approach to the anatomy and the references to classical antiquity. The divided upper zone, one half containing an architectural setting and the other a deep landscape, was also typical of 16th-century Venetian art.
The Temptation of St Antony (1594, 280x212cm) _ This characteristic creation of Flemish mannerist painting was the centre panel of a triptych and originally decorated the St. Antony altar of the cathedral in Antwerp. In the background we can see several episodes from the lives of St. Antony the Hermit and St. Paul, such as their miraculous feeding by the raven, their conversation with an architect concerning the building of a monastery (which is also visible in the centre of a forest), the burial of St. Paul, and the kidnapping of St. Antony by demons.
In the fifteenth century they often used the episode of St: Antony's temptation as the illustration for one of the four human temperaments, and in this they utilized their astrological theory. The pensiveness of the monk who withdrew from human society and dedicated himself to God is similar to the immersion into a state of melancholy. "Thinking about matters which are not to be thought about and understanding things which do not exist", so goes an eleventh-century Arab doctor's definition of melancholy (Constantinus Africanus Opera I, 287, Basel, 1536). At the same time, however, melancholy is a demonic state ("In Saturni parte sunt diabolici"), and this provides direct contact with the temptation scene.
In this context, music appears on Satan's side as an instrument of temptation. The beautiful female figure wearing antlers and carrying a gold-filled box is escorted by fantastic figures. Among them we can see a couple dancing and two musicians dressed in a peculiar manner. Music, however, appears in the same picture in a positive role as well. The ceremony of St. Paul's burial is accompanied by singing and music-making animals who pay him their last respects in this way.
This, however, is not the only example of the twofold interpretation of the symbols in the painting. It is a well-known fact that one of the attributes of St. Antony the Hermit is the swine, as - among others - he was the patron saint of domestic animals. The malady called St. Anthony's fire (herpes zoster) that ravaged Europe from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries, was cured with lard and the sick were cared for by Antonites in their own hospitals. In Martin de Vos's painting the swine-headed figure holding a book, who accompanies the Hermit, also plays a positive part. At the same time, however, the demonic female figure is also escorted by a swine, this time symbolizing temptation.
The Family of St Anne (1585, 155x170cm) _ The painting is a classic example of the Italian influence on Antwerp painting in the 16th century and illustrates the secularisation of religious painting on the eve of the Baroque. What makes this particular work so interesting is not so much its overall impact as the refined treatment of the individual figures and the realistic rendering of the various objects. The painting is signed and dated upper centre on the frieze of the portico: FECIT MERTINO DE VOS 1585. _ detail What makes this particular work so interesting is not so much its overall impact as the refined treatment of the individual figures and the realistic rendering of the various objects.
The Tribunal of the Brabant Mint in Antwerp (1594, 157x215cm) _ With Pieter Bruegel, the great era of the Flemish Primitives reached a new zenith, and at the same time the beginning of the end. With the death of this master whose art was firmly rooted in the fatherland, the coast was clear for the invasion of foreign ideas from Italy. There were successive influxes of imported art from Rome, Venice and Florence, and much work produced by Flemish artists in the Italianate style, some of it without a clear understanding of the principles involved. But in all this, there was nothing which could spark off a new creative development of specifically Flemish art.
In the second half of the 16th century, many Italianate painters looked to the work of Frans Floris, which was based on the formal language of Michelangelo, and Titian and Tintoretto's use of color, as their ideal. One of his followers in Antwerp was Maarten de Vos, who was strongly influenced by Venetian art, but did not adopt Michelangelo's muscular figures. He was the inspiration behind these late Mannerists and the most productive painter of his time; his death marked the end of a period in the history of art in Antwerp. Shortly after, Rubens was to return from Italy in 1608 and give a powerful new impetus to the School of Antwerp.
The Tribunal of the Brabant Mint in Antwerp is a representative example of the work of de Vos, not just as a figure painter but also as a portraitist. The painting, which is a tableau representing justice, was painted in 1594 to hang in the Law Court of the 'Minters' of the Duchy of Brabant. Such paintings were intended to remind both Judges and those seeking justice of their duty and responsibilities.
The members of the Brabant League of Minters commissioned the painting, and had themselves depicted (from the waist up) in the background, behind the symbolic figures from classical antiquity surrounding Justitia herself. Justitia, crowned with laurels and holding the scales of justice and a sword, triumphs over deceit and violence, symbolised by a masked woman caught in her own web and a violent miscreant who has been disarmed.
In the foreground on the left, Moses is depicted with the Tables of the Law, and on his right the Emperor Justinian, the codifier of Roman Law. On the right there is the bearded Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, who compiled sacred laws inspired by his wife, the nymph Egeria. On the far right, Pliny the Elder can be seen, with his left hand resting on the 37 scientific works he wrote. In a nutshell, the message of this scene is that justice triumphs over deceit and violence, and that judges should judge according to sacred and civil law, guided by knowledge and science