ART 4 2-DAY 04 November v.9.a0
Born on 04 November 1590: Gerrit van
Honthorst Gherardo della Notte, Dutch painter
addicted to night scenes, who died on 27 April 1656.
— Gerard van Honthorst was born in 1590. He came from an artistic family. Gerard, also known as Gerrit, became the most successful of the family's artists. Following a sojourn in Italy in the 1610s, he returned to Utrecht in 1620. He was a prominent representative of a group of painters that have become known as the Utrecht Caravaggists, Dutch followers of the Italian artist Caravaggio. The latter was especially known for his nocturnal scenes of candlelit figures. In the 1630s Van Honthorst acquired a name in court circles as a portrait painter, which led him to move to The Hague in 1637. In 1649 Van Honthorst was invited to paint part of the decoration of the Orange hall at the stadholder's palace of Huis ten Bosch. In 1652 the artist returned to Utrecht, where he died four years later.
Honthorst was a leading member of the Utrecht school influenced by Caravaggio.
Like his slightly older contemporary Hendrik Terbrugghen, Honthorst first studied under Abraham Bloemaert in Utrecht. In about 1610 he moved to Italy, where he had leading nobles as patrons and assimilated Caravaggio's realism and dramatic use of artificial light into a personal idiom. Notable works of his Italian sojourn include The Beheading of St.John the Baptist, Christ Before the High Priest (1617), and the Supper Party (1620), all nocturnal scenes.
Returning to the Netherlands in 1620, Honthorst stayed in Utrecht until 1627, the year of Rubens' visit to his home. He was dean of the Utrecht Guild of Saint Luke in 1625-1626, and in 1628 he worked at the court of Charles I in London. The rest of his life was spent primarily in The Hague and, after 1652, at Utrecht.
Although Honthorst accepted commissions for decorative cycles and painted at least one illusionistic ceiling, his most significant contribution to Dutch painting was his joint leadership, with Terbrugghen, of the Utrecht followers of Caravaggio. Rembrandt's use of Caravaggesque devices in his early works derives in large part from his knowledge of Honthorst's paintings. Honthorst's brother Willem van Honthorst (1594-1666), who was also an accomplished painter, sometimes worked with him.
— The Denial of Saint Peter (1625, 111x145cm; 800x1022pix, 407kb _ ZOOM to 1790x2287pix, 2244kb) While working in Italy, the Dutch artist Gerrit van Honthorst earned the nickname "Gerard of the Night" for his dramatically lit night scenes. Like Caravaggio, whom he admired, Honthorst constructed psychologically intense paintings through the use of strong contrasts of light and shadow, close-ups of large plebeian figures, and the expressive hand gestures which the pseudonymous S. U. V. Hunthorsed displays stunningly in his
_ Hands 1 (9999x9999pix, 28kb) and
_ Hands 2 (9999x9999pix, 18kb), as well as in
_ Hands 3 (9999x9999pix, 41kb) and
_ Hands 4 (9999x9999pix, 22kb) which feature the hands of The Merry Fiddler, and
_ Hands 5 (9999x9999pix, 125kb) abstracted from a hand of Amalia van Solms.
Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, with His Wife Amalia van Solms and Their Three Youngest Daughters (1647, 264x348cm; 1215x1600pix, 236kb) _ He has not put on his helmet which is on the far left on a table. And so the bare head of Stadholder Frederick Henry can be crowned with laurels by the angels in the upper left-hand corner. Originally in this part of the canvas there had been a similar kind of drapery as in the top right corner. This would have made Amalia van Solms - Frederick Henry's wife - more of a central figure, attracting more attention than is now the case. At her side is their youngest daughter Maria. On the right - standing hand-in-hand - are her daughters Albertina Agnes and Henrietta.
Amalia commissioned Gerard van Honthorst to paint this portrait. The canvas was intended for Huis ten Bosch, the Stadholder's palace built around the same time as the painting was made. It was therefore possible to integrate the portrait into the architecture of the building. It fitted perfectly between two doors. By placing the figures on a broad, marble-tiled terrace with a wooded area in the background and a grand, cloudy sky, a suggestion of space would have been introduced to the rooms. In the same room there was also a portrait of their son William and the eldest daughter Louisa Henrietta. They are all standing on the same flagstones. So within the room, the family would have been complete.
The year this painting was made, 1647, was also the year of Frederick Henry's death. His portrayal in this painting makes no attempt to disguise the warlike life that preceded his death: he is clad from head to foot in armour. As captain-general of the Republic's army Maurice and his brother and successor Frederick Henry used the army to great effect., Frederick Henry led the struggle against the Spanish. His military campaigns shaped the map of the Republic in the closing decades of the Dutch Revolt. As a military commander he was especially successful in besieging enemy towns. This won him the nickname Subduer of Cities.
The Merry Fiddler (1623, 108x89cm; 1600x1318pix, 277kb) _ A man is leaning out of a window, laughing. In one hand he has a violin and a bow; in the other a glass of wine. He is pushing the curtain - a Persian carpet - to the side. The man is wearing a fantasy costume: an elegant beret and a colourfully striped jacket. This is probably not a portrait, just a picture of cheerful character. The musician appears to be actually looming out of the canvas. He is inviting the viewer to come into the party.
Gerard van Honthorst spent a period in Italy and was influenced there by Caravaggio. Van Honthorst was impressed by the chiaroscuro and the themes employed by the caravaggisti. The musician's remarkable fantasy costume, with his beret and puffed sleeves, was borrowed from a detail (934x648pix, 134kb) of The Calling of Saint Matthew (1600, 322x340cm; 1001x1060pix, 113kb) by Caravaggio. With The Merry Fiddler Van Honthorst developed a type of painting that was to emulated by many Dutch artists, for example Judith Leyster in The Serenade (1629, 45x35cm).
On the windowsill on which the fiddler is leaning the artist placed his signature and the date of completion, 1623. In that same year, Van Honthorst painted another musician leaning out of a window: a flautist. It may in fact have been a pendant. On both paintings the light enters diagonally from the side and the figure reaches out. Actually, the merry fiddler's shoulder is too broad for the man's body.
_ Honthorst’s native city of Utrecht, the primary Catholic stronghold in the predominantly Protestant Netherlands of the seventeenth century, had unusually close ties to Rome. Consequently, many painters from Utrecht traveled to Rome, and Honthorst was no exception. He made his artistic pilgrimage between 1610 and 1612 and remained in Rome for some time, enjoying a considerable reputation. By 1620, he was back in Utrecht, where he (and Dirck van Baburen, also newly returned from Rome) introduced into northern painting the single half-length genre figure. These life-size figures included musicians, shepherds and shepherdesses, and peasants, often depicted enjoying themselves while engaging the spectator. The idea, which met with great success, was apparently borrowed from Bartolomeo Manfredi, an Italian follower of Caravaggio, whom the artists might have known in Rome.
This painting is Honthorst’s earliest known example of the half-length type. The artist has emphasized the volume of the violinist and heightened the illusionistic effect by placing the bulky figure behind a window ledge and extending his arm toward the viewer. Honthorst here employs Caravaggio’s characteristic palette, the vitality and nearness of his figures, and the strong contrasts between light and dark, innovations that were quite new to northern art. What Honthorst contributed to Caravaggio’s pictorial strategies is the directness with which his figure appeals to the viewer, almost proffering an invitation to join in the fun.
The violinist’s outdated, theatrical costume and the suggestive symbols he holds might have carried specific associations to the seventeenth-century viewer that are now lost to us. Furthermore, The Merry Fiddler might have originally had a pendant. The Flute Player in Schwerin shares the dimensions, the height of the windowsill, the space in front of the painting, and the musical subject with The Merry Fiddler. Whether or not a further meaning was intended, The Merry Fiddler, alone or as part of a pair, was certainly intended to convey delight – in wine, music, and life.
Samson and Delilah (1617‚ 129x94cm) _ The most important and successful of the northern Caravaggisti was the Utrecht painter Gerrit van Honthorst. Perhaps as early as 1610, he followed the path taken by many of his colleagues and departed for Rome. While there, he quickly received the recognition that would continue throughout his career. It was also in Rome that Honthorst developed his ability to turn Caravaggio's "dramatic patterns of natural light and shadow into nocturnal scenes with cleverly rendered effects of artificial illumination." This ability earned him the Italian nickname Gherardo delle Notti (Gerard of the Nights). Few paintings make a better case for such a nickname than Samson and Delilah. The bright flame atop the candle held by the heroine's accomplice dramatically illuminates just enough of the darkened room to enable Delilah to cut the long locks of the sleeping Samson's hair. Honthorst painted Samson and Delilah during his years in Rome, and at least one scholar has suggested that "this painting might very well be Honthorst's earliest Roman work and not from his more mature years. In spite of its potential for dramatic effect, the subject was rarely painted by the northern Caravaggisti. Based on Judges 16, the scene shows the Philistine woman Delilah, assisted by her servant, cutting the source of Samson's strength-his hair-while he dozes. This event took place only after Delilah, Samson's lover, had been bribed by her countrymen to find out his secret. Afterwards, Samson could offer little resistance against the Philistines who blinded and imprisoned him.
Mars, God of War (1624‚ 90x74cm) _ The figure in this painting can be identified as Mars, the brutal and aggressive god of war from Roman mythology. Many art historians believe that the painting is a fragment of a larger work, an opinion prompted by the fact that the torch and sword are cut off by the right edge of the canvas, the god's elbow by the left, and that the figure seems squeezed into the space. These concerns were outlined in a letter by Nicolson to the work's previous owners. I am most impressed by the tilt of the sword and the way the light is managed in this area, and also by the way the strap, crossing the chest, follows the contours of the body in a subtle and sophisticated manner. I am a little puzzled by the subject. Honthorst was not in the habit of painting simple figures of mythological subjects, (I take it this is the figure of Mars), and considering that it is a finished painting and not a study for a figure, that the right elbow, sword point and fire br and, are cut off by the frame and the dimensions are quite small for a mythological subject, it could be a fragment of a much larger horizontal picture. It may never be known if this work in its current format was part of a much larger, multi-figured composition, or whether the artist merely made minor adjustments along the edges of the canvas. This work also dates from the 1620s and provides onlookers with a close-up view of the god against a stark, undefined backdrop. Honthorst provided an immediacy to his figure that is enhanced by the powerful and dramatic chiaroscuro.
by the Shepherds (1622, 164x190cm) _ This painting probably came from
the Stadtholder's collection and during the 18th century hung in the Carthusian
church of Saint Barbara in Cologne. Honthorst was one of the Stadtholder's
court artists who had studied in Italy and worked in the Baroque style.
Chapter 2 tells about the shepherds going to adore Jesus on the night
of his birth:
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.
Childhood of Christ (1620) _ Using a single candle light in the center of the picture is a characteristic feature of Honthorst's paintings.
Christ before the High Priest (1617, 272x183cm) _ detail _ Honthorst, like Ter Brugghen, was a student of the history painter Abraham Bloemaert in Utrecht and also went to Rome. Unlike Ter Brugghen, however, he there achieved an international reputation, working for nobles and princes of the Church. The Italians called him Gherardo delle Notti, - Gerard of the Nocturnes - and this painting, made for the Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani in whose palace Honthorst stayed, explains why. On his return north of the Alps Honthorst was so famous that he was invited to England by Charles I, for whom he painted mythological subjects and many portraits. He continued to receive commissions from royalty in Holland, executing portraits and allegorical decorations for Prince Frederick Hendrik of Orange, and in 1635 he sent the first of a long series of historical and mythological narratives to Christian IV of Denmark. The exiled Queen of Bohemia, Elisabeth Stuart and her daughters were among his many students in The Hague.
Where Ter Brugghen in The Concert uses candlelight to create a scene of dreamlike enchantment, Honthorst employ it to lend veracity and dramatic tension to a biblical story (Matthew 26:57-64). After his capture on the night of the Agony in the Garden, Jesus is taken for interrogation and trial before the High Priest Caiphas, where two false witnesses - the shifty-looking men behind Caiphas - speak against him. Within the vast composition - in scale and format like an altarpiece but never intended for one - the visibility of the life-size figures depends entirely on that single candle flame. Its gleam unifies the whole, by giving the impression of illuminating the entire room with evenly decreasing intensity until its force is spent in the dark, and by justifying the reddish cast of all the colors It allows the two principal characters to stand out more solidly in relief and in greater detail than the others. It focuses attention on their poses, gestures and expressions. It picks out the few significant accessories, notably the books of the Law and the rope by which Christ is tied, and it creates the solemn and threatening atmosphere of a nighttime interrogation.
Through his mastery of the physical effects of illumination from a single source, Honthorst is also able to make symbolic points. Christ's white robe, torn from his shoulder when he was made prisoner, reflects more light than the priest's furred cloak - so that light seems to radiate from him. Though submissive, Christ is without question the main subject of the painting, the Light of the World and the Son of God.
Concert on a Balcony (1624, 168x178cm; 870x975pix, 120kb) _ Besides religious and mythological scenes Honthorst painted in the 1620s in Utrecht at least one illusionistic ceiling, the Musical Group on a Balcony, which was done for his own house in Utrecht. The painting is the earliest existing Dutch illusionistic painted ceiling. Equally innovative for Holland is his illusionistic Concert on a Balcony. The 'trompe-l'oeil' picture, which decorated the Palace of Nordeinde, shows, in steep perspective, life-size musicians and their companions in an architectural setting, but this one was intended as illusionistic wall not a ceiling. The prototype for Dutch illusionistic fields of walls and ceilings is found in decorative schemes executed for high-placed patrons in Italy. The unmistakable source for Honthorst's illusionistic paintings is Orazio Gentileschi and Agostino Tassi's life-size trompe-l'oeil frescoes, painted in 1611-1612 for Cardinal Scipione Borghese's garden 'Casino of the Muses', now part of the Palazzo Pallavicini-Rospigliosi in Rome. Honthorst had ample opportunity to study them when he worked for the Cardinal.
Margareta Maria de Roodere and Her Parents (1652, 140x170cm) _ The social status of the painters in the Dutch Republic varied from day laborers through independent masters to well-rewarded court artists such as Michiel van Miereveld and Gerrit van Honthorst, who specialized in portraiture of high officials. In one such portrait, van Honthorst represented yet another type of painter: a well-to-do amateur who painted for pleasure. Several women became accomplished painters in this way. Most master was men, but more than a dozen women are recorded as having attained master's status, most famously Judith Leyster [1609-1660].
Musical Group on a Balcony (1622, fresco) _ Honthorst was born in Utrecht; there he was Abraham Bloemaert's student. He is said to have been in Rome as early as 1610-12, but he is not documented there until 1616. Nothing is known about his artistic activity until the last year of the decade, and not a work painted before he went to south has been discovered. He became the best-known Dutch follower of Caravaggio. A typical example of his religious paintings executed in Italy is the Christ before the High Priest (National Gallery, London). Though Honthorst continued to depict scenes from the Scripture after his return to Utrecht in 1620, the religious pictures he made in Rome are from many points of view the climax of his work as a painter of biblical themes. During the 1620s he painted works in the Arcadian mode which shows that he had looked at the Carracci as well as the Caravaggio while in Italy. Besides religious and mythological scenes he painted at least one illusionistic ceiling, Musical Group on a Balcony, which was done for his own house in Utrecht. The painting, only partially preserved, is the earliest existing Dutch illusionistic painted ceiling.
Supper Party (1619) _ Honthorst's genre pictures of lighthearted gatherings had a great impact in Utrecht. He made such pictures while he was still in Italy. His Supper Party, painted during his last months in Italy, set a precedent for similar scenes done in the 1620s at Utrecht where artists favored the erotic as well as the ascetic side of Baroque art. This is already evident in Honthorst's Supper Party where the person who covers the light has the effect of 'repoussoir': the large dark figure in the foreground causes, by contrast, the merrymakers behind him to recede in space, and thus enhances the illusion of depth. The second advantage is the vivid reflection of light thrown on the figures and, in particular, on their faces, which are painted in reddish-yellow colors This helps Honthorst to overcome the harshness found in the work of other Caravaggio followers.
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