Winter research



My practice is developing from an autobiographical perspective of my life's journey , so I have been digging a little deeper to research my own cultural heritage to help me have a more informed understanding about my own roots, who I am, and why I am the way I am....


I am working my way through a book The Embarrassment of the Riches -An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age, written by Simon Schama. [1]

Albeit is a very heavy read, it has been enlightening to learn about the mysteries of the temperament of Dutch behaviour. And how and why this came about.


Figure 1. Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches,2014


The first chapter begins with discussing 'The Batavian Temperament' - and begins by referring to the Dutch cultural peculiarity with cleanliness...



It is the peculiar genius of the Dutch to seem, at the same time, familiar and incomprehensible. Something like this reflection crossed the strenuous mind of Henry James in 1874 as he observed a Dutch housemaid washing the stoop. What ought to have been a banal chore seemed on closer inspection to be a bit odd, even a little compulsive. It was all the odder, since to the casual eye there seemed precious little to expunge. The canal walks were "periodically raked by the broom and the scrubbing brush and religiously manured with soapsuds." But the cleaner any surface seemed the more merciless the scouring it received.[2]



And then goes on to describe the population as a very broad stratum between artisans and trading merchants of the middle class who quintessentially were a bourgeois culture.



It described a world that was predominantly urban, surprisingly literate for its time; one that nourished a market for prints, engraved histories, poems and polemics. It worked and rested in what, by seventeenth-century standards, was a remarkably stable society. And it was stable in great measure because it was well fed and, most important of all for this overwhelmingly residential culture, decently housed.[3]



It was during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that the Dutch developed a very strong sense of their nationality as a result of the revolt against Spain, their tireless defence against the tyrant sea, and their resistance to Catholic absolutism.

In figure 2 an image of a map popularly featured, the leo belgicus ( the Lion) superimposed on the Netherlands, the "Lands of the United Netherlands".


Figure 2. Joh. Doetichum, Map of Netherlands,1598.



"Not surprisingly they turn out to be hardy, frugal, industrious, pious, brave, hospitable ( if a trifle bibulous) and addicted to cleanliness and liberty."[4]



Another very relevant point to note is that it was the Dutch who discovered and named both Australia and New Zealand.

New Holland is the historical European name for mainland Australia, first applied in 1644.

And New Zealand was named after a low-lying coastal area in the southwestern region of Holland called Zeeland.

Present-day New York City was also established by the Dutch West India Company in 1624 and was originaly named New Amsterdam.


While reading The Embarrassment of Riches I was delighted to discover a "Jacob Duym", below in figure 3, a lawyer and a playwright, who was born in Utrecht in 1547. [5]


Figure 3. H.W. Caspari, Jacob Duym ,1612. (ni.wikipedia.org)



During this research I also discovered a number of fascinating analysis videos on classical paintings by Dutch painters that have created a huge amount of discourse around Netherlandish socio-political issues and culture. The strong symbolism and ornate details providing so many clues to the narratives of these historical times.


One of which is figure 4, Hieronymous Bosch,The Garden of Earthly Delights : a triptych oil painting on oak panel, painted between 1490 and 1510. The intricacy of its symbolism has baffled scholars for centuries and lead to a wide range of interpretations whether it is a moral warning reflecting the influences of Calvanism, or a panorama of a paradise lost.


Figure 4. Hieronymous Bosch, The Garden of earthly delights,1503-1515.



The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan Van Eyck, painted in 1434 , depicts an incredibly wealthy and powerful merchant class couple from the medieval period, Giovanni di Nicola Arnolfini- and his wife Costanza Trenta. Most assumed it to be a marriage portrait, but there is another theory of it being a memorial painting for Costanza, given every intricate detail is packed full of information creating alot of questions around the situation.

Figure 5. Jan Van Eyck, Arnolfini Portrait,1434.


My favourite of the analysis videos was Rembrandt van Rijn, The Real Rembrandt. [6]

Mostly it discussed the search for authentic Rembrandt paintings. In the 19th century when Holland became a kingdom, nationalism flourished, the demand for Rembrandt's works rocketed, and so did the supply, lots of fakes emerged. In 1968 the "Rembrandt Research Project" was launched, a panel of scholars to analyse the works.

What I was really interested in was the discussion around how they could tell Rembrandt's paintings over copies, and the difference between his works and other artists of his time. In figure 6 below you can see the Rembrandt on the left, and a fake on the right. In the Rembrandt you can see the lighting is more effective, the complexion is fine and carefully applied, also a carefully applied structure of the nose and cheek, the hair has an endless variation...


Figure 6. Rembrandt van Rijn on left, copy on right, Self- Portrait, c 1628, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Online Art Education, YouTube, 2019.





In figure 7 you can see the fake on the right, gives the model a very unusual shaped forehead...

Figure 7. Rembrandt van Rijn on left, copy on right, Girl Wearing Gold-Trimmed Cloak, c 1632, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Online Art Education, YouTube, 2019.

In figure 8, this copy shows how the clothes are painted on the body, not draped over the body...

Figure 8. Man in Oriental Clothing, c 1635, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Online Art Education, YouTube, 2019.

And in figure 9, note the eyes on the left have a blank gaze.....as opposed to the Rembrandt on the right....

Figure 9. Rembrandt Van Rijn, Online Art Education, YouTube, 2019.



The documentary also noted how Rembrandt's models don't look as though they are sitting for him, they seem to have forgotten he's there painting them. And he had the ability to capture the emotional intensity - a genuine expression -the focus of the eyes, beautiful anatomy, incredible details, fragility...he also had an eye for body language, all details which immediately convince the viewer.

He was so clever, that today in 2021, connoisseurs are still trying to figure out how he did it.

[1] Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches: an Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (New York: Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., 2014). [2] Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches,3. [3] Ibid., 4. [4] Ibid., 78. [5] Ibid., 93. [6] Rembrandt Van Rijn - The Real Rembrandt [COMPLETE DOCUMENTARY]: Online Art Education, YouTube, 2019, https://youtu.be/HV5nwTFpgNY.


BIBLIOGRAPHY



Rembrandt Van Rijn - The Real Rembrandt [COMPLETE DOCUMENTARY]: Online Art Education. YouTube, 2019. https://youtu.be/HV5nwTFpgNY.



Schama, Simon. The Embarrassment of Riches: an Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. New York: Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., 2014.





ILLUSTRATIONS




FIGURES


1. Simon Schama, The Embarrassement of Riches, 2014, paperback, Auckland, accessed May 202, private collection, Henry Symonds.



2. Joh. Doetichum, Map of Netherlands,1598, Rijksprenten, Amsterdam, in Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches (New York: Vintage Books, 2014), 55.



3. Jacob Duym, 1612, 15 July, Jacob Duym – Wikipedia, ni.wikipedia.org



4. Hieronymous Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1503-1515, oil paint on oak panel, 2200mm x 3890mm, Museo Nacional Del Prado, Madrid, Spain.



5. Jan Van Eyck, Arnolfini Portrait, 1434, oil paint on oak panel, 820mm x 600mm, The National Gallery, Museum in London, England.



6. Rembrandt van Rijn on left, Self- Portrait, c 1628, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, accessed 17 June 2021, Rembrandt Van Rijn - The Real Rembrandt [COMPLETE DOCUMENTARY]: Online Art Education, YouTube, 2019, https://youtu.be/HV5nwTFpgNY.



7. Rembrandt van Rijn on left, copy on right, Girl Wearing Gold-Trimmed Cloak, c 1632, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, accessed 17 June 2021, Rembrandt Van Rijn - The Real Rembrandt [COMPLETE DOCUMENTARY]: Online Art Education, YouTube, 2019, https://youtu.be/HV5nwTFpgNY.



8. Rembrandt van Rijn, Man in Oriental Clothing, c 1635, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, accessed 17 June 2021, Rembrandt Van Rijn - The Real Rembrandt [COMPLETE DOCUMENTARY]: Online Art Education, YouTube, 2019, https://youtu.be/HV5nwTFpgNY).



9. Rembrandt van Rijn, accessed 17 June 2021, Rembrandt Van Rijn - The Real Rembrandt [COMPLETE DOCUMENTARY]: Online Art Education, YouTube, 2019, https://youtu.be/HV5nwTFpgNY.




















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