Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Chat with Profs. Peeters & Wundrum

Hello, all!

We'd like to share with you an interview that we recently completed with Hunter Braithwaite, a former student of ours from our time at William and Mary. The piece is up at There Is No There, his website focusing on contemporary art in Miami, Florida.

A big thanks to Hunter from Jan and I. Hunter, thanks again for taking the time to talk with us. I am still enjoying the Trader Joe's Cookie Butter you gifted me!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Gerrit Van Honthorst

Gerrit Van Honthorst. Margareta Maria de Roodere, 1652.

In our last post I shared a delightful painting by Joachim von Sandrart, showing a butcher and his meat, cut for sandwiches, masterfully thin. And in that post I made mention of von Sandart's apprenticeship to the painter Gerrit van Honthorst. It is my great pleasure to share with you one of that master's best works. Seated here with her mother is another student of von Sandrart, the young Margareta Maria de Roodere.

The painting by van Honthorst is quite a testament to the skill Margareta Here Hendrix has been rendered quite faithfully, his face instantly recognizable. Yet the picture is embellished with smoke, and the young musician is given the pale and ghostly skin of the departed. Van Honthorst demonstrates Margareta's talents best in the glittering eye of the young poet, staring off through the haze and full of wonder.

We find a similar gaze in another painting made in about the same time: Jan Davidszoon de Heem's portrait of a Student in His Study. The portrait is a favorite of both Professor Peeters and myself, and captures the gaze of yet another glassy-eyed dreamer.

Van Honthorst pictured his student just as she was, talented, yet not quite matured as a woman. She is shown with the affects of youth, a jar of hazelnut spread and her glass pipe. The elder painter's depiction is masterful. Van Honthorst uses his palette to recreate another held by his student. Notice, too, a handful of brushes and her maul, the delicate swirls of glass in her pipe.

A bit of Margareta's personal history has come to use through the ages. In addition to painting beautifully under the tutelage of van Honthorst she also practiced calligraphy, drew, etched glass with diamonds, stitched her own hacky sacks and embroidered cloth. It seems the young Margareta took to each craft with great skill, answering the ages-old question, "Are You Experienced?"

Friday, March 9, 2012

Joachim Sandrart

Joachim von Sandrart. February, 1642

Often in our academic lives (Jan will agree!) we must take time away from important tasks to consider the work of our colleagues. To assist with the lecture notes, manuscripts and restoration projects that fill an art historian's days. And this morning, I'd like to share a bit of a certain colleague's work with our readers.

We have much in common, my friend and I, as art historians. His path toward a career in the arts was a winding one, studying first drawing, then engraving and finally painting and art history. It was only after earning an undergraduate degree in marine biology and then starting my practice restoring furniture that I came to study painting. My colleague, like me, worked for a time and studied painting in Utrecht. And as a historian he had a great interest in writing. The culmination of his greatest research was a widely acclaimed collection of writing on art history, education and the lives of artists. Many readers of the blog would by now know that I am referring to Joachim Sandrart.

It was in Utrecht that he studied with Gerrit van Honthorst, the great painter of candlelight, table games and revelry. From Honthorst we can be sure that Sandrart learned to appreciate the pleasures of the table. In the lovingly rendered cold cuts tray, we find its alternating mounds of ham, turkey and roast beef. And in the doughy face of the butcher, hoisting the tray in pride, we see his sweaty brow perfectly rendered. Sandrart's piece is both tender and cruel in its depiction of flesh. There is haste in our butcher's pose, as he prepares to carry the cold cuts to the party pictured over his left shoulder. There is a banquet table lined with lively guests, enjoying their evening, good company, bottles of fine meads, crispy bacon, cubes of Swiss and cheddar cheeses and wreaths brotherly smoke. We, too, might enjoy the painting, like the company of a wise and gracious colleague.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Pieter de Hooch

Pieter de Hooch, Portrait of a Family in a Courtyard in Delft (Detail), 1658-60.

Friends, I have positively itched to tell you of this painting over the last week! Have you, readers, ever experienced this irrepressible social urge — perhaps late in the evening, somewhat dazed, when your mind leaps to some unforeseen connection between something long beneath your nose and some other circumstance? (No doubt Pieter Jansz van Asch did!)

Well, even if you have not, certainly you will understand the frisson I felt upon spotting this painting — once so well known to me, but later forgotten — in a used copy of Peter Sutton's now-classic book on de Hooch. Let me go back. I spent last Friday afternoon in Leiden, where I was present for a young colleague's thesis defense at the University. After toasting his success and sneaking a handful of stroopwaffels, I strolled through the streets of my youth. Stopping at a used bookstore not far from the Harvey House, I pulled down Sutton's monograph, hoping it would serve as a gift for my young friend, the newly minted academic.

A half-eaten stroopwaffel dropped from my hand when I opened the book at random: here was de Hooch's Portrait of a Family in a Courtyard in Delft, exactly as I had seen it so many times before, but here, nostalgic as I felt, I looked down at this portion of it and saw myself at a family gathering, just like this one, so many times before. Where de Hooch painted the family's teenage son at slight remove from other figures, standing almost sullenly in his Baja poncho (so popular among young students of the age), I saw myself in a garden in Leiden, 1970, in a poncho of my own, thinking of art. De Hooch's dog, so much like my own dear Knop, has stolen someone's hacky sack. The women to the left, de Hooch's aunt, holds a fine Delft bong and lifts the hem of her skirt to show a fine silk under-skirt, emblematic of the upper-middle-class of the time, much as my own aunt, in a Polaroid I have of us standing so like this, with dear Knop at our feet, would have flaunted her Silhouette sunglasses. We stood exactly in this way, so many years distant from de Hooch's family! I was astonished.

Being sure to wipe the stroopwaffel crumbs from the book before I purchased it hurriedly, I felt electric. That night, in my guest room, I played through both sides of Live Grape while writing what turned out to be a very long note to my friend, recounting this same story, on the title pages of Sutton's book. I wonder how many, through the long years, have looked at de Hooch's painting and felt the past rise up like a haze, enveloping them!