I took this photo directly across the street from the Hermitage-Amsterdam Museum – my “one more” museum stop before heading home tomorrow. And here is one more Rembrandt painting I saw. This is Portrait Of A Man Sitting At His Desk, painted in 1631, when Rembrandt was only 25 years old:
This man looks up from his work, as if surprised at our appearance – much like Rembrandt posed the later “Wardens of the Drapers’ Guild” portrait we saw the other day. His mouth is even slightly open in surprise, not typical in a portrait, but otherwise he looks entirely natural. Now look at this close-up I took of his hands, pen and books:
You can’t look at Dutch art without learning about the country’s culture and history. In the 1600s, other European countries were run by monarchs, sovereigns, nobility and the Church establishment. But the Dutch culture was based around trade and the individual, and in the mid-1500s, there was an uprising against the Church, and many religious artworks and statues were destroyed. By 1648, the Dutch rebelled outright against rule by Spain, and separated completely from the Catholic church. No more portraits of cardinals, popes and bishops. The Dutch “Golden Age” put citizen groups in the center focus of their art:
There were group portraits of leading merchants and citizens – militias for the public defense, guilds of tradespeople and craftsmen, and many civic groups that combined the power of running the city in an orderly way, with friendship and what we would call “networking”:
There are a lot of these group portraits, tracing the rise of the merchant class from hardworking “burghers” and traders to a class of incredibly wealthy merchant-nobility as the city prospered. Here is one single room in the museum:
And I was happy to see quite a few women represented:
These women were most often the directors of charity groups, running hospitals, poorhouses, schools. Men would oversee the finances of the institutions, but these women ran the day to day functioning, and had veto power over all decisions.
One other thing I noticed. In these group portraits, many times everyone would be looking out directly at the viewer. Each individual included would contribute to the cost of the portrait. But, in a few group portraits, as in this example, only one or two of the subjects were looking directly at us. Only the man closest to us, in the lower foreground (looking over his shoulder) actually meets our gaze completely:
And the effect of this not only gives him prominence, but it makes us continually look around at the others in the canvas. What’s going on here? Who is that guy looking at, who is this fellow talking to? What is this guy pointing at? It definitely adds movement to the composition. It took me a minute or two to realize what kept my eyes moving around the canvas, and why I kept returning to the guy down in front, who was looking straight at me!
Finally, at the end of this exhibit, there was a whole section of very recent group photographs of today’s prominent citizens of Amsterdam – leaders in industry, law, art, science, trades, medicine, education and cultural groups. The photos are now being made into paintings, as a way to continue the tradition of the classic “Dutch Golden Age” (and the importance of the individual) into the future:
And you notice, in this group photo, only one person is looking directly at us…
Very nicely done, and one more good memory to end a busy week in Amsterdam. Tot ziens!