Rubens – additional research

From my Assignment 3 feedback, my Rubens annotation needed more research behind it. Starting here, where I’m just jotting down my notes and quotes from Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens and others. I’m also reading another Rubens book on the train so I’ll do reflection of the two posts once I’ve finsihed that.

Nicolaas Rockox had been a crucial patron of Rubens after he returned to Antwerp. He was instrumental in the artists being awarded the commission for Adoration of the Magi (1608-9) for the town hall of Antwerp. (Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N., 2004) – P23/4 (now in the Prado) He was a very important man to know in Antwerp at that time and a good friend for Rubens to have.

p91

Formal parallels between the Adoration and Samson and Delilah suggest that Rockox commissioned the latter at about the same time. (Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N, 2004) 

Frans Franken the Younger’s Banquet in the House of Burgemeester Rockox (1630-35) show the painting hung over the fireplace:

Frans Francken, the Younger
Banquet in the House of Nicolaas Rockox, c. 1630/35
Oil on panel
height 62,3 cm, width 96,4 cm
Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Inv.-No. 858

p24

Rubens’s studio practices in these years are revealed by the ‘Samson and Delilah’ , which was preceded by a drawing as well as an old sketch. The sketch is a ravishingly beautiful little study that compacts and condenses all the power and drama as well as the flowing color of the large final version into the intimate confines of a small panel. The large and impressive final version makes only minor adjustments to the composition and format of the scene but offers a virtuoso refinement of surface detail  and texture on the grander scale. (Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N, 2004)

An illustrative example of Rubens’s style during his first years back in Antwerp, the sketch advertises his admiration for his Italian sources, with homage not only to Michelangelo but also to Caravaggio and Tintoretto, while displaying brilliantly confident brushwork. (Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N, 2004)

 p90

Standing just behind the couple, a young man lifts a lock of Samson’s hair with his left hand and snips it close with the shears held in his right. The awkward crossing of his hands is surely intentional and meant to convey a specific reference to betrayal (see Kahr 1972, p295 with further references). (Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N, 2004)

Rubens emphasises the eroticism of the scene not only in the visual expression of Delilah’s treacherous sensuality but also through the inclusion of the old crone who stands behind her. In accordance with biblical commentaries that describe Delilah as a temptress and a whore, and certainly cognizant of the many moralizing prints of brothel scenes produced during the 16th century, Rubens casts the old woman as a procuress, aiding and abetting Delilah’s duplicity (on the development of this tradition , see Kahr 1972). The statue of Venus and Cupid in a background niche underscores Delilah’s professionalism, making it clear, as Julius Held noted “which deity is served in Delilah’s house” (1980,vol 1, p431). (Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N, 2004)

 p91

Rubens liberally referenced the work of other artists in his composition: Delilah’s pose echoes (in reverse) the figure of Night from Michelangelo’s tomb for Giuliano de’ Medici in the church of San Lorenzo, Florence; the nocturnal setting and complex lighting effects were inspired not only by Caravaggio but also by Rubens’s colleague in Rome, Adam Elsheimer; and the arrangement of the composition is sufficiently close to Tintoretto’s interpretation of the subject to suggest that Rubens might have known that painting as well. (Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N, 2004)

Tintoretto’s composition is known in two versions, one at Chatsworth and one in the John and Mable Ringling Museum, (see below). Rubens’s painting is in no sense derivative however but attests to his thorough understanding and inventive assimilation of artistic sources. (Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N, 2004)

CTS336428 Samson and Delilah (oil on canvas) by Tintoretto, Jacopo Robusti (1518-94); 161.9×228 cm; Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, UK; © Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees; Italian, out of copyright

 

Samson and Delilah
by circle of Jacopo Tintoretto (Italian, 1519 – 1594). 16th Century
Oil on canvas
49 7/8 x 27 3/4 in. (126.7 x 70.5 cm)
Credit Line: Bequest of John Ringling, 1936
Object number: SN75 John and Mable Ringling Museum

A great swag of curtain at the top of the composition heighted the closeness of the room, with the added effect of permitting us a covert glimpse of a clandestine act. (Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N, 2004)  The niche with the statue of Venus and Cupid has been added into the Cincinnati modello and final work that wasn’t in the original pen and ink sketch. Also the shelf with glass jars and a towel hanging below, possibly another reference to the work of prostitution (Brown in 1983) but also interpreted as wine vessels alluding to drunkenness of Samsons downfall (Held 1980).

He created two other oil sketches around the same time but didn’t get around to a full scale version until 1620, The capture of Samson (below).

 

Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)
The Capture of Samson, 1620
Staatsgalerie im Schloß Schleißheim, Munich

Delilah’s pose is more accessible, turning to the viewer, away from the violent struggle. Sutton thought this design may have been inspired by Anthony van Dyck’s Samson taken by the Philistines but since that was painted 1630 that seems unlikely to me.

Video:

Since my original post on Rubens, the national gallery have put a video of a lunchtime talk on the page by Freelance lecturer James Heard. He examines Rubens’s extraordinary technique and some possible inspirations behind the work, including Caravaggio and Michelangelo. He also looks at how this painting was created specifically to hang above a fireplace in the house of the mayor of Antwerp at the time. Clearly since this video was made they have redressed the issue of the way the painting is hung, as I pointed out in my first post, when you see the painting hung in the gallery (high up and angled as though it is above a great fireplace) it is much less flat than when you see the painting online.

Notes made whilst watching the video:

Samson was a terrorist (according to the philistines)

Samson asleep after making love in a brothel

Rubens sometimes painted on site.
Light in the painting, there was a large row of large windows on the left in the original room for which this painting was commissioned which Rubens has taken advantage of in his lighting.
The brazier doesn’t seem to shine enough light for the amount of light in the painting. Eg the light on the feet.
Caravaggio never painted a bare flame, but German painter Elsheimer did (who was his friend).
Starting with the brazier, the wind is blowing the flames in the direction of the next light source, the flame of the candle that the old lady is holding.
Venice painting with similar brazier: Martyrdom of st Mark (couldn’t find what he was talking about)
The old lady, the madam, not mentioned in the bible story
The flame she is holding points us up to the figure of Venus & cupid (who is gagged rather than blindfolded as books suggest)
Another light under the statue makes 3 lights and then there are the torches carried by the philistines

The poses: Michelangelo-esk about the pose of Samson. Rubens made endless drawings to work from while he was in Italy.
Samson is huge and you feel he is coiled like a spring (even though he is completely relaxed and asleep) because if he stretched out he’d burst out of the painting

Inspired by the Belvedere Torso in the Vatican which is believed to have inspired Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belvedere_Torso

http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/museo-pio-clementino/sala-delle-muse/torso-del-belvedere.html

Delilah’s pose is after Michalenglos leda and the swan (original lost)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leda_and_the_Swan
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/after-michelangelo-leda-and-the-swan

Checks and balances in the painting.
Strange relationships
• The same model is the man cutting the hair and Samson
• Delilah and the old woman could be the same woman (but older) once her looks have gone

Rubens isn’t taken sides to Samson or Delilah. His family were both Calvinists and Catholic so he knows about seeing both sides. He mentions the scandal of his dads affair and imprisonment. He was a measured and sober sort of person.

The drapery tells its own story:
Purple drapery hanging above Samson like the sword of Damocles. This isn’t made of purple paint but the same red as her dress mixed with black. Limited palate.
Arm drapery, twisted like her emotions, he’s on tenterhooks. Contrast with Samson’s relaxed arm
Hands and fingers point of interest. Crossed hands is a sign of treachery
Her hand not quite touching his back, seems as though its floating.
Samson is swarthy, she is pink, they contrast. In roman times sculptures of men tended to be painted brown because they lived outside, women were painted pink.
Full of morals.
Red draper sings out of the painting, especially with the fire below.
Shape of the painting, square, which is much more difficult and quite unusual. Shape determined by commissioned spare.
Golden drapery probably linked with curtain below the painting. Softness under Delilah (drapery)
He might be wearing the skin of the lion
Tiny pinpoint of light behind the servants hair to rimlight him so he doesn’t disappear into the background.
The headgear of the old lady, has the same folds of her skin, relationships
Relationship of verticals, a pattern of verticals against the diagonals, unstable lines. They are a pause against the curves of Italian inspired drapery.
Northern draper tended to be more angular
Her waist is fashioned by the dress
Her delicate feet in contrast to his massive feet
The painting is made on wood.
His client work usually done on canvas
In excellent condition

 

References:

Held, J.S. (1980) The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens: A Critical Catalogue. Princeton University Press

John and Mable Ringling Museum. (2017) Samson and Delilah At: http://emuseum.ringling.org/emuseum/objects/25866/samson-and-delilah?ctx=aebdc88f-4b42-4de8-8ff8-cffacec934ea&idx=6
(Accessed on 8 May 17)

National Gallery, YouTube. (2017) Peter Paul Rubens: painting Samson and Delilah | National Gallery At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGmST-tPbGs
(Accessed on 20 May 17)
Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N. (2004) Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens. Yale University Press

Beyond Caravaggio – Exhibition at the National Gallery

Seeing this exhibition was not only recommended by my tutor as part of the A3 feedback but it was already on my todo list anyway after researching him during part three. I’ve left myself plenty of links to pick up on when I have more time (currently I’m behind in my plan for A4 so I want to revisit this afterwards). I didn’t want to repeat too much of the information I’ve already covered on Caravaggio.

The exhibition focus is on the spread of Caravaggism (the international artistic phenomenon which swept Europe where artists emulated the work of Caravaggio, his naturalism and dramatic lighting effects, chiaroscuro etc) so many of the artists are not well known, which didnt go down that well with the critics as there was not that many actual Caravaggio pieces.

It starts by looking at his early years in Rome where he painted The Cardsharps (this was not in the exhibition though, see my previous post) and Boy bitten by a Lizard (see below)His paintings of this period were considered highly original because of their naturalistic lighting and everyday subject matter of  youths, musicians, cardsharps and fortune tellers.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1571 - 1610 Boy bitten by a Lizard 1595-1600 Oil on canvas, 66 x 49.5 cm Bought with the aid of a contribution from the J. Paul Getty Jr Endowment Fund, 1986 NG6504 http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG6504
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1571 – 1610, Boy bitten by a Lizard, 1595-1600
Oil on canvas, 66 x 49.5 cm, Bought with the aid of a contribution from the J. Paul Getty Jr Endowment Fund, 1986, NG6504, http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG6504

Many of his followers not only emulated his style but also his subject matter. For example:

Antiveduto Gramatica Card Players, ca. 1615 Oil on canvas 34 3/10 × 45 7/10 in 87 × 116 cm © Historic England
Antiveduto Gramatica, Card Players, ca. 1615, Oil on canvas, 34 3/10 × 45 7/10 in
87 × 116 cm, © Historic England
Georges de La Tour The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs, 1630-1634 Oil on canvas 38 1/2 × 61 1/2 in 97.8 × 156.2 cm © Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
Georges de La Tour, The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs, 1630-1634, Oil on canvas, 38 1/2 × 61 1/2 in
97.8 × 156.2 cm, © Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

 

 

TODO: finish write up.

 

References:

https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/about-us/press-and-media/press-releases/beyond-caravaggio

 

Caravaggio was actually Merisi of Milan?

Another student directed me towards this interesting link, from March 2007, apparently a Milanese art historian had discovered that Michelangelo Merisi was not actually born in Caravaggio as previously assumed. He was born in Milan, on September 29, 1571, and baptised at the church of Santa Maria della Passarella according to the baptism records. Citizens of the town of Caravaggio were a bit sceptical (tourist revenue is at stake of course). It supports the legend that Caravaggio was the illegitimate son of Marchese Francesco Sforza, a member of Milan’s ruling family. His parents were married in Caravaggio and there is documentary evidence that he said he was from Caravaggio so perhaps he was brought up there and maybe even unaware himself of his birthplace?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1545177/Caravaggio-was-actually-Merisi-of-Milan.html

Assignment 3

As with assignment 1 & 2, I have made the assignment as a pdf document which can be downloaded here: Assignment 3 PDF submission. The course notes lists the requirements in A4 page sizes and in a pdf is easier to keep track of that.

The assignment includes.

  • Four pages of notes (for three chapters in WHA, 15th-17th century)
  • Two annotations of paintings (Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait and Rubens Samson and Delilah)
  • One 500 word analysis of the stylistic differences between two a seventeenth-century painters.
  • References for assignment 3 (in Harvard referencing style)

 

Reflection:

On the run up to creating assignment 3 I re-read the feedback from assignments 1 & 2 to heed any advice and check I’m heading down the right pathway. As suggested in the helpful We Are OCA blog article on how to use tutor report I printed out and highlighted all the relevant bits, for now ignoring the reworking suggestions (because I plan to go back and revisit this when I’m not running behind on my assignment date). My take away info was as follows:

In general avoid over-reliance on websites and I need to “Engage with more broadly ‘theoretical’ texts so as to deepen your research and expand your comments” using a wide variety of source materials. “Compare and contrast information and evaluate others’ arguments.” When I started this section I reserved a whole heap of books at the library, getting these up front helped a lot with this as I was able to make use of my train journeys to read and digest. I still have a tendency to over note-take but I’m working on it with reading goals as suggested. I think I did much better with the WHA chapter notes (although I fell off the wagon a bit with the Arnolfini books). As I’ve already reflected (on each post) I tried to condense my material into one set of comments per section. The problem I found with this was I wasn’t sure how long the other chapters would be until I got there so I still overshot a little and had to trim slightly for the assignment.

One of the comments was to synthesise different art historians’ interpretations and explain which you find most convincing and why. I used this advice with the annotation of the Arnolfini portrait as there are many different interpretations of that. There were lots of comments on annotations in both sets of feedback so I obviously needed to work on that. The main point that came across was more depth, words like cursory and brief were used to describe them so hopefully I’ve done a better job this time. I spent a long time researching the Arnolfini portrait across several books (as well as websites). I tried to develop a sustained comparison between the two works I have annotated but I had more space on the second annotation so this is where I’ve mostly compared them. I found space in which to put all the annotations I wanted to say an issue in all three assignments. I expect it boils down to making my comments more concise and far-reaching rather than stating the obvious or anything too long and wordy. To head this off at the pass I created a full blog post for each of works to discuss them individually so I could comfortably get my head around them both (and all my words out) before comparing them and selecting only the salient points for my annotations. This might be the duel note taking approach which was not recommended for the reading notes but I’m not sure how else to approach it. I need to find a place to store all my research and the blog is supposed help me with my learning. I also took a look at the Open University study diamond model as recommended. My two full blogposts on the annotations are here: The Arnolfini portrait and here: Samson & Delilah. For the choice of annotation subjects, I chose the Arnolfini portrait at the beginning of the section (just seemed like it’d be more interesting than Giotto or Duccio frescos) and I choose Rubens but I didn’t know that much about him but the ones I’d seen in the National Gallery were very impressive.

I took a similar post, per topic approach to comparing two artists for the 500-word analysis. One here for Caravaggio and one here for Vermeer, this approach seems to work well for me because for the analysis I was able to stick within the word limit (well 518 words, but that’s probably close enough). The assignment specifies to compare between a seventeenth-century Baroque painter associated with the Catholic Counter Reformation and a seventeenth century painter from the Netherlands, I chose Caravaggio because I really enjoyed his work when I was reading about the Baroque era in the WHA (plus I did the analysis before the annotations and hadn’t decided between Rembrandt or Rubens for that yet and didn’t want crossover). I chose Vermeer because, again I didn’t want to choose Rembrandt, also Frans Hals and Jan van Goyen seemed less interesting in the WHA.

I really enjoyed this section, probably my favourite so far. I find having to cover so many different bits a bit of a rushed whistle-stop tour though, it’s nice to focus on a few in depth, but it takes time (which I’m quite short of, with baby and full time job). I enjoyed the visit too but the write up is quite cursory, I think it fits in much better with the next section of the course anyway so I’m going to come back and review it again.

Overall reflection against the Assessment Criteria:

  • Demonstration of subject-based knowledge and understanding – again there was a lot of reading in this section, and also I tried to use a few more books for the assignment research (as per feedback from assignment 1 & 2). I think I have demonstrated my understanding of the area in this assignment according to the research I have done (see above).
  • Demonstration of research skills – Where possible I tried to go and see the work I was researching in person, but also evaluated the sources I was looking at in books and on the internet for their scholarly worth. I think I was quite through for the Arnolfini Portrait but possibly a bit light on the Rubens, which might be picked up on in the feedback?
  • Demonstration of critical and evaluation skills – I tried to engage with the concepts throughout part three within each of the exercises that I actually completed, I knew I was running short on time so I skipped ahead to the assignment and have yet to do some of the exercises. I did better on sticking to the word count in the assignment analysis this time, putting all my long-winded thoughts and research into ancillary blogposts on my learning log. Also, I found the OU format that my tutor recommended for comparing works allowed me to review the works in my own words before diving into the research parts.
  • Communication – I think my ideas and points are written clearly. I try to reflect on bits as I go along since the assessor cannot be inside my head. I suspect the they won’t have the time to wade through every blogpost though.

 

Painting Review: Rubens – Samson and Delilah

For the second annotation I choose a narrative painting from Rubens, Samson and Delilah. I thought I’d jot down some initial thoughts & research on it since I can never fit it all into the one annotation page and my memory can’t hold it all.

Peter Paul Rubens, 1577 - 1640 Samson and Delilah about 1609-10 Oil on wood, 185 x 205 cm Bought, 1980 NG6461 http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG6461
Peter Paul Rubens, 1577 – 1640
Samson and Delilah
about 1609-10
Oil on wood, 185 x 205 cm
Bought, 1980
NG6461
http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG6461

So in line with the review of the Arnolfini Portrait, I’ve tried to apply the techniques I learned in reading about the OU study diamond to this painting review too. Again, the grid format wasn’t that great for the blog so I’ve split into more of a questions and answers format.

Effects & techniques:

  1. What initially catches your eye? Where do you go next? And after that? To the group of four figures of Delilah, Samson, and the old woman and man
  2. Where do you end up? Do your eyes stray away from the work altogether? The men at the door
  3. Is there anything that you didn’t notice at first but saw later in your reading? The items on the shelves behind
  4. Did your eyes keep coming back to a particular part of the art work? The massive form of Samson
  5. Is there anything that you didn’t look at or thought wasn’t important? Not really

Colour:

    1. Has a wide or narrow palette of colours been used? A narrow colour palate with lots of warm colours in it makes it feel sensuous. The only cool colours are on the interlopers
    2. Have contrasting colours been placed next to each other? Not really, this brings a warm harmony to the painting.
    3. Are there more warm colours than cool colours or vice versa? Many more warm colours makes the place seem inviting sensuous.
    4. Would you describe the colours as being bright or dull? Are there more bright colours than dull colours (or vice versa)? There are both, the background is a dullish wooden brown but the colours of the satin materials are bright. This brings the foreground as the main focus of the painting.
    5. In what way is dark and light colour used?

I. How wide is the range of colour values featuring in the art work? There is a wide range of colour values.

II. Are contrasting colour values present in the art work? Use of contrasting colour values pick out areas of interest and are heavily used to dramatic effect to pick out the details and two focus areas al la Caravaggio.

III. Are contrasting colour values used to model three-dimensional forms? Contrasting colour values are also used to model three-dimensional forms of the folds of the dress, lush fabrics and the man’s massive muscled body.

IV. In what way are the colour values distributed throughout the art work? The distribution of the colour values helps pull your eye around the composition, from the four figures in the foreground where the largest patch of light is, to the smaller patch on the right hand side where the men are hovering in the doorway. Your eye flows from the ‘front’ to the ‘back’ even through it’s a flat painted surface the illusion is made using lighting and definition

Medium:

  1. Does the medium impose any limitations on the way the artist works, or allow any particular effects? The oil paint has been carefully blended to make the soft, seamless shadows to model the various textures, you really feel the soft skin stretched over the muscle on the man’s back , against the more directly applied highlights for the satin.
  2. Is the medium used unconventionally or is the medium itself unconventional and, if so, does this contribute to the expressive effect of the art work? This seems a pretty conventional use.
  3. Does the medium used suggest a particular mood? the medium adds to the sensuality of the mood and the impressive scale also.
  4. Does the medium used prompt the spectator to read the work in a particular way? not really

Composition:

Representation of depth Technique: Samson & Delilah Effect: Samson and Delilah
(a) overlapping Y there is a clear front and back to the room, the front two figures overlap with the old woman and man cutting the hair. Also the edgy of Samsons body is overlapping the opening door
(b) diminishing scale Y the men at the door are much smaller than the main four figures, clearly in the background
(c) atmospheric perspective Y the brightest part of the room is also the front of the scene, Samson, Delilah and the bed area
(d) vertical placement Y Samson’s arm is foreshortened such that his hand is the same size as his foot which is further back. His arm leads up and back to his face and the face of the man behind him. Above that there is a statue in a niche on the wall in the background behind them
(e) linear perspective Y the opening door displays the linear perspective
(f) modelling Y the modelling of the various textures in the room, especially all the folds in her dress, the patterned blanket and the muscles on Samson’s back make the illusion realistic

 

Use of lines:

Directional lines (horizontal, vertical, and diagonal): There is a strong diagonal line of Samson’s back across the middle of the picture. There is a grounding horizontal line of the bed at the bottom of the picture and repeating little horizontals in the background, the shelves, the man’s cutting arm, the door frame. there are verticals too, the arm &, Samson’s face, the man’s face and then the statue already mentioned, also the shelves, niche, the doorway and figures of the waiting men all provide vertical interest

Contour lines – can also be used to outline forms; such contour lines can be described in terms of their thickness and sharpness. there are contour lines around the moulding in the furniture and the modelling of the cloth which are quite thick but seen as shadows and add to the illusion.

Meaning – initial thoughts from the observed ‘evidence’

Clearly something amiss is going on, if you didn’t know the story you can sense that the man is asleep after being seduced and people are sneakily cutting his hair. Armed men in the background seem to be glaring at each other to keep quiet and not wake the man. He is big and muscly but still, should they be worried? Clearly he’s been tricked by the woman (she still has her breasts out) but she looks a bit sorry. The old woman looks on in tension, biting her lip, that the man will wake up. You feel sorry for the deeply asleep man.

Context & Meaning:

This is based on a bible story (Old Testament, Judges 16: 17-20) where a Jewish hero, Samson, fell in love with Delilah. He was very strong and couldn’t be defeated by the Philistines so they bribed her to find out the secret to his great strength and help to capture him. She asked him many times and each time he gave her a false answer but eventually he gave up and told her that his strength was there because his hair had never been cut. So while he was sleeping they cut his hair, his strength left him and they captured, blinded, imprisoned and humiliated him. Then when his hair grew back his strength returned and he pulled a temple down on everyone, including himself and all the Philistines rulers.

This picture depicts the moment when they are about to cut his hair, they don’t actually know that’ll work this time and if it doesn’t and he wakes up they are all in trouble. Delilah places a soothing hand on his back to calm him so he doesn’t wake and kill them all. The Philistines wait just outside the door, trying to be quite. It’s quite a tense painting. It’s also sensuous, with all the fabric in the setting. Clearly they’ve just been intimate so it can be seen as a moral tale of sin only leads to trouble. He is very vulnerable in this moment, and trusting of Delilah, so can also been taken as ‘love hurts’ because she’s so thoroughly betrayed his trust.

“In a niche behind is a statue of the goddess of love, Venus, with Cupid – a reference to the cause of Samson’s fate.” (National Gallery, 2016a)

Delilah is not a prostitute (apart from the bribe) in the story but according to the Art historian Jacqui Ansell (in the little audio clip on the gallery page) the phrase ‘in Delilah’s lap’ meant to visit a prostitute in the 17th century when this was painted.

According to the blurb on the National Gallery page, this painting was commissioned by Nicolaas Rockox, alderman of Antwerp (and personal friend of Rubens), for his town house in 1609-10. Apparently it was designed to hang above a giant fireplace, so all the warm colours would look all the more sumptuous in that setting. The painting is hung at the same height in the gallery because it is a best height from which to appreciate the perspective.

“It shows the influence of the antique, as well as Michelangelo and Caravaggio. There is a preparatory drawing (private collection, Amsterdam) and a modello (Cincinnati Museum of Art).” (National Gallery, 2016a)

A modello is a small preparatory oil sketch on a wood panel, they could be used as a draft to get the clients approval and as a guide to composition for the finished work. Rubens often then handed over much of the preparation and painting of the main version to his assistants and pupils, carrying out only the final finishing touches.

This painting, like the Arnolfini Portrait, is on Oak as was the early Netherlandish tradition. This is made up of 6 horizontal planks glued together, probably by a professional panel maker. However, since then it’s been planed down to 3mm and stuck onto blockboard as an old method of preservation so there are no original markings on the back or edges. The panel was prepared with a white chalk ground with a binding of animal glue, another Netherlandish tradition. He also uses a limited number of pigments. Interestingly, although there is no green in the picture, some of the brownish paint on the old woman’s dress are no longer recognisable but have a high concentration of copper, which may have been green and browned with age so we may not be seeing it as it was originally painted.

Visit in person:

The painting was so large, I almost couldn’t fit it all into the photograph but I wanted to remember how vivid the colours were and the online reproduction (see above) doesn’t really convey that.

Peter Paul Rubens, 1577 - 1640 Samson and Delilah about 1609-10 Oil on wood, 185 x 205 cm Bought, 1980
Peter Paul Rubens, 1577 – 1640
Samson and Delilah
about 1609-10
Oil on wood, 185 x 205 cm
Bought, 1980

The painting is hung quite high but it seems to look much better according to the perspective than when you see it online, which is line with what I read about it being desinged to be seen at this height.

 

References:

Biblegateway. (2016) Judges 16 – Samson and Delilah At: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Judges%2016
(Accessed on 5 Oct 16)
National Gallery. (2016a) Peter Paul Rubens – Samson and Delilah At: http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/peter-paul-rubens-samson-and-delilah
(Accessed on 5 Oct 16)
Plesters, J. ‘”Samson and Delilah”: Rubens and the Art and Craft of Painting on Panel’. National Gallery Technical Bulletin Vol 7, pp 30–49.
http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/technical-bulletin/plesters1983
(Accessed on 5 Oct 16)

Open University. (2016) Making sense of art history At: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/making-sense-art-history/content-section-0
(Accessed on 15 Aug 16)

Research & Painter Review – Vermeer

I started my journey looking deeper into the painter Vermeer by reading Enchanting the Eye, Dutch paintings of the Golden Age, Christopher Lloyd’s, 2004 book on the paintings in the Royal Collection. I picked this one first mainly for practical reasons because from all my library books this was by far the smallest for reading on the train! The initial part of the book sets the scene of the Dutch Golden age history and politics but much of this information I’d already gleaned from the WHA. It explained that Vermeer had just 34 surviving paintings and almost two thirds of them had remained in Delft in the collection of his wealthy patron, Pieter Claesz van Ruijven (1624-74). And even though he was later in his career by the time the French invaded in 1672 he was not immune to the fall out as he was an art dealer as well as a painter. The art market virtually collapsed, all artists ran into financial difficulties, less artists were being trained and those who were already working produced less.

Vermeer’s widow testified that ‘her husband during the war with the king of France, and the next years, had been able to earn very little, or almost nothing, so that the works of art which he had previously bought, and in which he dealt, had had to be sold off, at very great loss, to feed their children’. (Lloyd, 2004)

Like Caravaggio, Vermeer was also ‘forgotten’ after his death and many of his paintings were attributed to other artists (eg the one above was thought to be by Frans van Mieris the Elder owing to a misreading of the signature) until Charles Blanc published his illustrated compendium Historie des Peintres de toutes les Ecoles between 1853 and 1875 which had the first article devoted to Vermeer in it. The first serious study of the artist wasn’t until art critic Théophile Thoré published his study in 1866 and began to compile a catalogue of Vermeer’s works.

What I liked most about the book was that it provided information on Vermeer in the context of his contemporaries so although it didn’t give a broad overview of his life and work, I could see the work of other Dutch artists of the period alongside it.

Genre painting was so successful in 17th century Holland because mastery of technique matched treatment of subject matter. The courtyards and interiors seen in works by de Hooch and Vermeer are drawn according to surprisingly rigorous perspectival systems offset by opalescent light and carefully selected colours. What begins as geometry ends as poetry. In such paintings the viewer is witness to a whole range of intimacies that remain in the world of ambiguity: it is the uncertainty of the outcome that is arresting. (Lloyd, 2004)

The painting in the book is the one from the Royal Collection, Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman (also known as the Music Lesson), and the reproduction was much better online (here) because you can see it full screen and zoom right into it. Interestingly this is the one featured in Tim’s Vermeer but more on that later.

Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman - Johannes Vermeer (Delft 1632-Delft 1675) early 1660s Oil on canvas | RCIN 405346 Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2016
Johannes Vermeer (Delft 1632-Delft 1675)
Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman – early 1660s
Oil on canvas | RCIN 405346
Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2016

Most of the blurb in the book about the painting is the same as on the link above, i.e. Lloyd seemingly lifted it straight from the earlier Catalogue entry from Royal Treasures, A Golden Jubilee Celebration, London 2002, but perhaps he wrote that too, I did not investigate. I did like the follow extra quote though:

The greatness of Vermeer is derived from an economy of means verging on the enigmatic – an enigma that pertains to Vermeer’s life as much as to his art. The viewer feels at once invited yet excluded, just as the artists technique appears to be seductively simple but is in fact awesomely intricate in its application of paint and choice of colour.   (Lloyd, 2004)

Lloyd’s book explained that as with all Vermeer’s paintings they are undated so the date is conjected based on an interpretation of style and complexity of composition, at present there is a consensus of c.1662-4 for the painting above.

The composition uses the perspective of the room and the objects within to lead your eyes deeper into the picture plane to the girl with her back to us whilst she stands playing music at a virginal to a man beside it. I’d never heard of a Virginal before, I thought it was a strange looking piano (because when I’d seen this image before it had been referred to as the music lesson and there’s another instrument on the floor). This virginal has an inscription on the lid, MUSICA LETITIAE CO[ME]S / MEDICINA DOLOR[IS], which means ‘Music is a companion in pleasure and a balm in sorrow.’ and is comparable with those made by Andreas Ruckers the Elder which still exists in museums today. In fact all the items in the painting, and in many of Vermeer’s paintings, can be traced to surviving items from the period down to the smallest details. Some of the items, for example the chair in this painting, are also used as props for many of Vermeer’s paintings as is the room itself. Prof. Steadman posited in his book Vermeer’s Camera than as many as 6 of the 34 paintings can be identified as different scenes arranged in that same room. So it seems, like Caravaggio, that Vermeer also painted from observed life. Steadman actually goes one further, the premise of the book is that this is evidence that Vermeer use a camera obscura as part of his workflow (he used the viewpoints, features and perspective in the paintings to backwards engineer the room that Vermeer used a camera obscura as a booth camera in). The problem with his hypothesis is that the paintings, although the correct size to be camera obscura images are not mirror images as they would have to be, also, how would the painter paint in such low light? He left these as open ended questions at the end of the book which Tim Jenison picked up and obsessed over, turning into a feature-length documentary (by Penn & Teller) about Tim’s process of making a fully functional optical device (basically a mirror on a stick), recreating the room from the music lesson and painting his own version to check the hypothesis that in fact Vermeer did use a camera obscura and optical device in his work. Prof Philip Steadman was convinced as he explains in his really interesting UCL lunchtime lecture below:

 

I found it really fascinating that both of these artists, Caravaggio and Vermeer, whose work is so different, may have had similar unorthodox working practices. Of course, it also plumbs right into my interest in photography and makes me feel a certain kinship with them.

A more traditional look at Vermeer and his various work is presented in this documentary from 2001 (the same year as Steadman’s book), Vermeer: Master of Light:

I found the narration by Meryl Streep and the various padding a bit off putting but they interview many respected scholarly experts and art historians so it’s worth a viewing.

“In the 17th C, the mirror was a sign of vanity, a worldly attribute. We know that mirrors possessed meaning in the period because whole books were published containing precise instructions about this sort of sign language and testing writers and artist the meaning of certain images in conjunction with others so the presence of a mirror in the room may be an important clue to how the subject of the painting should be interpreted on a moral level” (Pointon, M, 1997)

However, for the lady and gent above, is there another interpretation? Does the presence of the mirror represent a judgement on this couple, or perhaps this lady?

Visit:

I went back to the National Gallery to see some his work in person, because as I’m discovering this is very important because the reproductions of paintings really don’t do them any favours. You don’t get any sense of scale and they are often gloomy and dull.

Johannes Vermeer, 1632 - 1675 A Young Woman standing at a Virginal about 1670-2 Oil on canvas, 51.7 x 45.2 cm Bought, 1892 NG1383 http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG1383
Johannes Vermeer, 1632 – 1675
A Young Woman standing at a Virginal
about 1670-2
Oil on canvas, 51.7 x 45.2 cm
Bought, 1892
NG1383
http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG1383

I saw A Young Woman standing at a Virginal (about 1670-2) and A Young Woman seated at a Virginal (about 1670-2).They are both quite small which is interesting and on the theme of music and love, which seems to be a recurring one for him. I noticed especially the hair around the faces of the young women are painted as little dots, which looks a little odd. The two are not hung together so I could see that they were similar but not quite how similar until I got home and reviewed the pictures side by side. In fact the National Gallery website seems to suggest that these two could have actually conceived as a pair (a pendant) because of the similar size, date and related subject matter.

Johannes Vermeer, 1632 - 1675 A Young Woman seated at a Virginal about 1670-2 Oil on canvas, 51.5 x 45.5 cm Salting Bequest, 1910 NG2568 http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG2568
Johannes Vermeer, 1632 – 1675
A Young Woman seated at a Virginal
about 1670-2
Oil on canvas, 51.5 x 45.5 cm
Salting Bequest, 1910
NG2568
http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG2568

Jan Vermeer created extraordinary luminosity in his paintings by techniques based on optical experiments and meticulous observation of reflected colours, eg unique capture of sparkle light in minute pearl-like dots. (Honour, H & Fleming, J, 2009, WHA)

Lots of research has been done on them (and other loaned Vermeers). I know that I should be interested in the nitty gritty details of the how the canvas was prepared because this information can shed valuable light for art historians but really reading all about left me very cold. What I did find fascinating was the infrared view which showed all the paintings alterations. Also, very interesting was the analysis of the pigments used and the way he combined such a limited palate.

“Dutch 17th C paintings have long been enjoyed and admired for the apparent clear and precise way they allow us to enter the domestic world of Holland in the 17th century. Such pictures can be taken as stories in paint” (Pointon, M, 1997)

References

Blankert, A; Montias, J M & Aillaud, G. (2007) Vermeer. Overlook Press/ Duckworth

Krakora. (2001) Vermeer: Master of Light At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEior-0inxU
(Accessed on 28 Aug 16)

Lloyd, C. (2004) Enchanting the Eye, Dutch paintings of the Golden Age. Royal Collection Publications

National Gallery. (2016a) Johannes Vermeer – A Young Woman seated at a Virginal At: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/johannes-vermeer-a-young-woman-seated-at-a-virginal
(Accessed on 13 Sep 16)

National Gallery. (2016b) Johannes Vermeer – A Young Woman standing at a Virginal At: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/johannes-vermeer-a-young-woman-standing-at-a-virginal
(Accessed on 13 Sep 16)

National Gallery. (2016c) Vermeer’s palette At: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/research/meaning-of-making/vermeer-and-technique/vermeers-palette
(Accessed on 13 Sep 16)
 

National Gallery – Glossary. (2016) Pendant At: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/glossary/pendant
(Accessed on 13 Sep 16)

Pointon, M. (1997) History of Art: A Students’ Handbook. (4th Ed), London, Routledge
Royal Collection Trust. (2016) Johannes Vermeer – Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman At: https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/405346/lady-at-the-virginals-with-a-gentleman
(Accessed on 28 Aug 16)

UCL Lunch Hour Lectures, YouTube. (2015) Vermeer’s Camera and Tim’s Vermeer At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFfmc4e7KgM
(Accessed on 28 Aug 16)