Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pieter Jansz van Asch

Pieter Jansz van Asch. Self Portrait with Dio LP, c. 1648.

It is no secret, readers, that I am almost overfond (if I can admit such) of the liminal figures of the Dutch Golden Age, those painters whose stars, had they risen just a few years earlier, would have glowed that much brighter. Instead they live on now with little recognition, though I like to think that Professor Wundrum and I are, via our humble blog, able to show you modern scholars how similar these hard-working artists, with their garrets and microwavable treats, are not so unlike us, in our adjunct faculty cubicles.

In this picture, van Asch is mid-conversation with us. We almost feel the intensity of his late-night-snack-fueled fervor. He sits red-eyed in his dressing gown, revealing to us as co-conspirators the secret-within-a-secret of his copy of Dio's Evil or Divine LP: Dio's logo, when inverted, reads "Devil." (I, rarely a symbolist in my interpretations of paintings, leave the exegesis of this to you, readers.) It was common among artists of all stripes during this era, Dio and van Asch included, to hide such "Easter Eggs" in their works, perhaps to let observant viewers in on a secret. What a delight!

Astute art historians and frequent visitors to the Rijksmuseum, where this painting sometimes is on view, may note that I was more precise with the date of this picture than other scholars have been. Further explanation of my choice here is forthcoming via SSRN, in "Beaded Curtains in Dutch Households 1640–1678." I pin this picture's date to the late 1640s, when men of van Asch's social class frequently hung in their libraries and studies beaded curtains like the one featured here. I am frankly surprised that other students of 17th Century Dutch domestic culture have missed this, but where one finds fertile ground in the overcrowded world of academic art history, one must till it.


Hermann Wundrum said...

Jan - this morning as I was buttering a bagel I was admiring a postcard you once sent me, now stuck to the refrigerator. A copy of a mezzotint engraving by Jan Verkolje, showing van Asch with a CD copy of the Grateful Dead's Aoxomoxoa. I delight in Verkolie's fine likeness of his painting companion, and also in the secret message held in the album's title! When read from the right perspective it reveals the phrase "WE ATE THE ACID." A treasured memento, indeed.

Jan Peeters said...

Yes — I do love how these painters, our friends from ages past, share with us the tiny secrets of everyday life in so many ways!