Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age: What Not to Miss

The Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age: What Not to Miss

by Danielle Carter

featured image: Rembrandt (1606 – 1669)  The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Deijman, 1656

If you can’t get enough of Dutch Golden Age art at the Rijksmuseum, the Hermitage Amsterdam is a wonderful additional option to expand your knowledge with the exhibition: Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age.

evert-elzinga_herm-ams_small

image: Elvert Ezinga

From late 2014 through to the end of this year, the Hermitage Amsterdam, in collaboration with the Rijksmuseum and the Amsterdam Museum, is hosting an array of portraits from the Dutch Golden Age, including some of the oldest civic militia portraits from the period. A Squad of Civic Guards (1529) by Dirck Jacobsz. is the oldest in the gallery and features civic guards who appear far different from the likes of the men in Rembrandt’s (1642) The Night Watch, which is displayed in the Gallery of Honour at the Rijksmuseum. These older civic militia portraits reveal the typical way of painting civic militia portraits. The men are lined up in efficient rows in a manner that equally displays all of their faces. Furthermore, seeing these civic militia portraits grouped together in a hall more accurately recreates the way they would have been hung at the time. During the Dutch Golden Age, there were 20 districts in Amsterdam, each with its own civic militia. The Night Watch, along with at least seven other civic militia portraits, would have hung across from and next to one another in the Arquebusier’s headquarters; thus, viewing these portraits together at the Hermitage Amsterdam is almost a glimpse of what it would have been like to view these paintings back in the 17th century.

Highlighted in this exhibition are thirty so-called “brothers and sisters” of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. These additional thirty paintings help to give more context to the importance of group portraiture during the Dutch Golden Age, especially as these portraits were not limited to civic militia portraiture and that their function was often to display wealth and justify status in a society that largely lacked royalty and aristocracy as a means of establishing hierarchy. One example of these paintings is The Governors of the Binnengasthuis (1617-1618) by Cornelis van der Voort, which is the first portrait of a group of governors of a charitable institution. Such a painting can be compared with Rembrandt’s The Syndics, which can also be seen in the Gallery of Honour at the Rijksmuseum. As with Rembrandt’s painting, Van der Voort positions his figures around a table in order to demonstrate their administrative skills, which were important for the governors of these guilds and organisations. During this time, nearly everyone (except for the very poor) belonged to some sort of organisation or guild, but some were hierarchically more esteemed than others, demonstrating the wealth and status of its governors or board members. The surgeon’s guild was at the pinnacle of the hierarchy of guilds and Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Deijman (1656), not to be confused with his famous The Anatomy Lesson (1632) at the Mauritshuis, depicts the Surgeon’s Guild in Amsterdam performing its annual autopsy.

However, unlike the paintings displayed at the Rijksmuseum, many of the group portraits now featured at the Hermitage Amsterdam emphasise the importance of charity and social welfare during the Dutch Golden Age, both as a means of structuring society as well as a means of supporting the Netherlands economically. In other words, as with civic militia portraits, getting oneself painted as the governor of a charitable institution was a way of expressing one’s status and wealth in society. The people depicted in The Governors of the Binnengasthuis, for example, paid approximately 318 guilders each, which is equivalent to nearly 4500 euros in today’s currency. Obviously, these people had to be quite wealthy to have themselves included in these paintings, which would often then be hung in public places to further parade the subjects’ wealth.

The significance of these charitable institutions during the Dutch Golden Age also indicates the relatively high level of social welfare in the Netherlands compared with its European counterparts at the time. These social welfare institutions, such as hospitals for lepers or orphanages for children of victims of the plague, were often seen as economically responsible: social unrest was deemed as negative for the economy.

The Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age at the Hermitage Amsterdam is structured in such a way that allows visitors to follow the narratives of four residents of Amsterdam at the time, revealing the struggles of these people in attaining power and status in a time of social and financial mobility that was nearly impossible in other societies dominated by royalty and aristocracy. The entire exhibition is worth consideration, but the Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Deijman and the hall of group portraits (mostly featuring governors of social welfare institutions) are unmissable in this exhibition.

The Hermitage Amsterdam is located at Amstel 51, it is open daily from 10.00-17.00, with a ticket price of 15 euros for adults and 5 euros for children aged 6 to 16 (children under 6 are permitted free admission). For a custom private tour of the exhibition, please contact us.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

The Significance of Rembrandt’s Marten and Oopjen

Danielle CarterWe are delighted to welcome Danielle Carter, owner of Tangible Education and museum educator for Thinking Museum, to write for us. You can learn more about Danielle’s research, educational and practical experience here.

 

There have been numerous images of Rembrandt’s Marten and Oopjen (1634) splashed across billboards and walls throughout Amsterdam for the past few months. Some solely featured Marten’s extravagant shoe. Some featured Oopjen’s coy half-smile and smouldering eyes. However, it’s hard to really understand the significance of these portraits without more context. This is where we, at Thinking Museum, can assist: the importance of Marten and Oopjen from the museological, historical, and art historical perspective.

From a museological standpoint, the display and acquisition of these paintings is what counts. These paintings have only been shown once in public—in 1956 in the Rijksmuseum for Rembrandt’s 350th birthday. Other than that, they have remained in private hands over the past three and a half centuries—unseen by the public eye. Thus the fact that we have the special opportunity to see these paintings is quite amazing in itself. Furthermore, these paintings were revealed in the Rijksmuseum shortly before Rembrandt’s 410th birthday (on July 14th of this year), a serendipitous arrangement that has given me goosebumps several times. The paintings will go into restoration for a year starting in October, so they will soon be out of the public eye once more.

Additionally, these paintings were—to say the least—pricey. Paintings by Rembrandt are hard to come by and a situation in which one (or two!) comes onto the market is very rare. Even more importantly, however, is that the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre partnered to purchase these paintings. This is unheard of in the museum world thus far, but seems to be a solution to a prevalent issue in the contemporary art world; the fact that private collectors are able to outbid public museums and artworks are thus swept into private collections rather than preserved for the public eye. Technically speaking, the Louvre purchased Oopjen and the Rijksmuseum purchased Marten, but the two museums have agreed that the two paintings will remain together forever. The two paintings are married just as the couple once was.

Historically speaking, these paintings indicate a large amount about the Dutch Golden Ages. During this time, the Netherlands was waging war with the Spanish crown to gain its independence, after which it would establish a republic (rather than a monarchy). During the Dutch Golden Ages, royalty are typically the only ones who have full-length portraits painted; Rembrandt has painted these two “civilians” in this manner, symbolising the status of the wealthy in the Netherlands as well as the (lack of) status of the aristocracy. Oopjen herself was the heir of her long-established Amsterdam merchant family’s fortune in trading gunpowder and grain, whereas Marten was the son of an Antwerp merchant who fled from the cruel Spanish regime enforcing the Inquisition at that time. Again, societal structure was much more based on affluence rather than aristocratic title, lending Rembrandt the authority to paint Marten and Oopjen in this manner that would typically be preserved for royalty.

Finally, for the art history lovers out there, there are many reasons to gawk at these portraits. Rembrandt was relatively new on the scene in Amsterdam at the time that he painted these portraits. They were painted during the same period that he painted The Anatomy Lesson, which is often regarded as the painting that initiated his fame as well as his status as the most prominent portrait painter in Amsterdam. However, because Marten and Oopjen were truly part of the elite, it is very plausible that these wedding portraits launched Rembrandt’s notoriety among the highest and wealthiest of circles in the Netherlands, skyrocketing his reputation—when he was just 28 years old.

Furthermore, these portraits are the first—and only—full-length, life-sized pendant portraits that Rembrandt ever painted. And he painted every single detail of them, rather than having one of his apprentices help with the fabric or background (as he often did with other paintings). These paintings are also relatively typical of Rembrandt’s style early on in his career in Amsterdam. Although the Night Watch (1642) is definitely his most famous painting, his technique and style becomes much more loose by that time, making the juxtaposition of these masterpieces in the Gallery of Honour that much more remarkable.

Make sure you get a chance to marvel at these two portraits at the Rijksmuseum before 02 October!

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin