Esau Sells his Birthright by Hendrick ter Brugghen

Esau Sells his Birthright by Hendrick ter Brugghen (c.1626)

In the book of Genesis (25:29-34) we learn about the twin brothers of Isaac and Rebecca.  Esau was the first-born followed by Jacob.  In those ancient times, the birthright belonged to the first born child and thus the birthright belonged to Esau as well as his right to have the chief portion of the inheritance.   But it was more than just a title to the physical assets of a family; it was also a spiritual position.  However Esau did not appreciate what he had as the tale unfurls:

“…When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, ‘Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.’ Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ Esau said, ‘Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?’ And Jacob said, ‘First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.”

It is this biblical tale which is depicted in today’s painting, Esau Sells his Birthright by Dutch artist, Hendrick Jansz ter Brugghen.   He completed the painting around 1627 and is now part of a collection of his work in the Gemäldegalerie Berlin.  Ter Brugghen or Terbrugghen was born in The Hague in 1588 but shortly after the family move to the predominantly Catholic Utrecht.  Hendrick was apprenticed to Abraham Bloemaert, the Dutch painter and printmaker.  Terbrugghen spent time in Italy in his late teens to gain some artistic experience and was in Rome during the time of Caravaggio and would have come under his artistic influence and other Italian Caravaggisti such as Gentileschi, Carracci and Reni.

He returned to Utrecht around 1616 where he and fellow artist and friend, the Utrecht painter Thijman van Galen, whom he had lodged with whilst in Milan, were registered as master painters.  In that same year Ter Brugghen married Jacomijna Verbeeck, the stepdaughter of his elder brother who was an innkeeper.  They went on to have eight children.  Neither he nor his wife were active churchgoers.  He considered himself to be a Protestant but rejected the hard-line Calvanist approach to religion.   He must have had some sympathy towards the Catholic cause by the way he treated Catholic subjects in his paintings.  

Today’s painting in which Esau returns hungry from hunting and sells his birthright to his brother Jacob for a dish of lentils draws life entirely from the expressive, but silent dialogue between the brothers.   The fateful deal is concentrated on their hands, which are holding the bowl of lentils.  Directly above this gesture, whitish-yellow candlelight forms the centre of the picture and illuminates the beautifully formed profiles of the boys, turned eloquently towards each other.  The parents, Isaac and Rebecca are present in the room but seem untouched by this bargain.  To the left, Isaac is bending over the table spooning up his soup whilst Rebecca, whose shadow is reflected on the side wall, busy but restrained, is behind the table carrying a copper plate.  She is holding herself stiffly but with a positively dignified expression.

Hendrick ter Brugghen died in 1629 three years after completing this painting, aged 41.

Dam Square in Amsterdam by Jacob van Ruisdael

Dam Square Amsterdam by Jacob van Ruisdael (1670)

Today, Jacob van Ruisdael is my featured artist in My Daily Art Display.   He was born in Haarlem in 1628 and was brought up in an artistic household.  His father, Isaak van Ruysdael and his uncle, Salomon van Ruysdael were both landscape painters.  Little is known about Jacob’s early artistic training but it is thought that his father probably taught him with guidance from his uncle.  At the age of twenty he was admitted as a member of the Guild of St Luke in Haarlem.  The Guild of Saint Luke was the most common name for a city guild for painters and other artists especially in the Low Countries.   They were named in honor of the Evangelist Luke, who was the patron saint of artists.

Unfortunately during his lifetime Jacob van Ruisdael’s artistic talent was not appreciated and by all accounts he led a poverty-stricken existence.  At the age of fifty three the Haarlem council was petitioned for his admission into the town’s almshouse.  He died in Amsterdam a year later in 1682 and his body was brought back to be buried in Haarlem

Jacob van Ruisdael travelled considerably during his lifetime but seldom went outside his own country.   He was a prolific painter with over seven hundred paintings and a hundred drawings attributed to him.  His great love was to paint countryside scenes showing fields of corn and windmills as well as woodland scenes.  He was also a renowned painter of trees and their foliage.    Another favourite subject of his was seascapes and the neighbouring dune lands.  He also liked to paint waterfalls based on the work of Allart van Everdingen, the Dutch painter, who had travelled extensively in Scandinavia.

Today’s painting, The Dam Square in Amsterdam, completed in 1670 is neither a landscape nor a seascape.  The subject is Dam Square in Amsterdam, a place which he was very familiar with as he lived on the south side of the square at this time.   The square was dominated by the old Amsterdam municipal weighbridge and one can see several bales of goods under the canopy waiting to be weighed.   On the right of the building one can see the Damark with its sailing boats and the tower of Oude Kerk.  In the foreground of the painting there are a large number of figures.  It is not thought that Ruisdael actually painted these as he was not an established figure specialist.  Experts believe they may have been painted by the Rotterdam artist Gerard van Battem.  The pale light from the left of the painting casting long shadows across the square suggests that it is daybreak.

 His artistic works although not fully appreciated during his lifetime have since his death been highly praised and he is now often considered the greatest Dutch landscape painter of all time.

The Moneychanger and his Wife by Marinus Claeszoon van Reymerswaele

The Moneychanger and his Wife by Marinus Claesz van Reymerswaele (1539)

Yesterday’s painting by Jan Gossaert was termed an “occupational portrait” and today I offer you another one.  This painting entitled The Moneychanger and his Wife was painted by the Dutch artist Marinus Claeszoon van Reymerswaele in 1539.  It is almost certainly an adaption of a painting of a similar name painted in 1514 by the Dutch painter Quentin Massys whom he met whilst in Antwerp,.   Marinus was born in 1490 in the “lost coastal city” of  Reimerswaal , which was flooded in 1530 and totally lost to the sea in 1634.  He studied at the University of Leuven in 1504 and trained as a painter in Antwerp in 1509.  He was known for his satirical paintings.

It is interesting to note that the Spanish Association of Accounting and Business Administration (Associatión  Española de Contabilidad y Administración) (AECA) adopted a section of this painting as a symbol of their association. 

The reason they wanted to use it was given as:

“The painting which has inspired our logotype is internationally famous as an image of financial activity during the Renaissance: it shows a scene typical of the counting house of a banker of the period. The subject of the pair of moneychangers shows us a new profession which has appeared in the period, a profession related to the world of finance, taxes and commercial accounts. Reymerswaele adapts the subject of the banker and his wife from Massys’s painting now in the Louvre in Paris. In Reymerswaele’s painting, the bourgeois married couple are seen counting out gold and silver coins, and the husband is weighing them with great care in a small set of scales, since most of them would be clipped or scraped. The coins are probably the product of tax-collection, an exchange of foreign currency or the repaying of a loan. This would imply the use of the abacus which the banker has at his right on the table, and then the setting out of accounts in the accounts book which the wife is holding in her delicate fine hands.”

Take a close look at the two figures in the painting.  They both exude an air of elegance in their wearing of expensive and lavish clothes.  There is a definite air of opulence.  Puyvelde, the Flemish art historian, wrote that the realist portrait of the Moneychanger and his Wife is a caricature of  rapacious and greedy business people commenting that “the profit motive is more clearly marked in the faces and thin fingers”  In sixteenth century painting, long curved fingers was a sign of greed or even avarice.  Long fingers and long noses were also used to represent Jews.  The male person in this painting could well be Jewish and at this time, as it is nowadays, the Jews played a very important part in the economic activity of Flanders.  In those days the main bankers were Italian Lombards but the Jews acted as money lenders to the less wealthy members of the public such as butchers and bakers.  Unfortunately, many of those who borrowed the money had trouble repaying their loans and this probably reinforced the strong anti-Semitic feeling which was prevalent at the time.

The Prado museum guide comments on the painting:

“In this painting we find all the characteristics of Northern European painters: minute detail, fine quality raw material, an empirical approach to reality, and above all, the naked sordidness with which Van Reymerswaele approaches one of the principal evils of his time: usury, the greater of all possible sins in a commercial society such as Flanders. Corruption and fraud affected all levels of society, even the clergy, producing a critical reaction on the part of writers, theologians and artists”.

Most art historians have seen in Reymerswaele’s paintings a satirical and moralising symbolism, The Money Changer and his Wife being the representation of greed. Others think that the picture shows economic activity in a respectable way.  Flanders at that time was the centre of a flourishing industrial and commercial activity, and also was the centre of a mercantile trade in works of art. Both things led to a representation of the professional activity of moneychangers, goldsmiths, and bankers in a way that shows those activities as respectable professions. The second view is the one implicitly shared by economists when choosing this picture to illustrate many books on economics or business

So, what do you make of the picture?

Portrait of a Merchant by Jan Gossaert

Portrait of a Merchant by Jan Gossaert (c.1530)

Today’s featured painting is by the a Netherlandish artist who was also known by his place of birth.  Jan Gossaert was born around 1478 in the town of Maubeuge  a town which now lies in present day France, from which his other name, Mabuse, derived.  He worked around Bruges in the early days and in 1503 was in Antwerp where he became a master in the painter’s guild.  Five years later he entered the service of Philip of Burgundy and travelled with him and his entourage to the Vatican.  In 1509 he moved back to the Netherlands to Philip’s castle in Middelburg where he remained until 1517.  In that year Philip was made Bishop of Utrecht and Gossaert went with him to Duurstede Castle.  Philip of Burgundy died in 1524 and Gossaert returned to Middelburg where he entered the service of Philip’s half-brother Adolf of Burgundy as court painter.  He spent most of his last days here and in the Zeeland area in the South West of Netherlands.   Jan Gossaert died in Antwerp in 1532 aged fifty four.

My Daily Art Display today is Gossaert’s Portrait of a Merchant, an oil on panel painting, which he completed around 1530 just two years before his death.   The painting belongs to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC but is likely to be included in an exhibition of the artist’s work at the National Gallery, London in March 2011.

This work of art is termed an “occupational portrait” and were traditional forms of art at this time in northern Europe.  The subject of this work is believed to be Jeronimus Sandelin a businessman and later a tax collector in Zeeland.  In the foreground we see the businessman’s tools of his trade; writing implements, sealing wax, scales and a pile of coins.  Behind him are two sheaves of papers, one marked “Alrehande Missiven” (miscellaneous letters) and the other is marked “Alrehande Minuten (miscellaneous drafts)

As is the case nowadays, successful businessmen and bankers in those days were viewed with great wariness and mistrust even though they were a necessity of life.  Look closely at the expression on the face of the subject.  How would you describe his facial expression?  Is it an almost haughty arrogance in his look towards us?   Maybe it could be described as a furtive look.  On the other hand is his arrogant gaze a counter to his insecurity felt by many of his kind who were aware of their own unpopularity.

The sixteenth century Dutch humanist and theologian Erasmus questioned the morality of such businessman asking “ When did Avarice reign more largely and less punished

Sounds like something we would read in today’s newspapers !!!!!!

The Glass of Wine by Johannes Vermeer

The Glass of Wine by Jan Vermeer (c.1659)

My painting today entitled The Glass of Wine was painted around 1662 by the Dutch Artist Johannes Vermeer and now hangs in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.  The picture shows a woman seated at a table drinking a glass of wine.  Her face is almost hidden by the nearly empty glass. She is elegantly clothed wearing a red satin tabbaard with its dazzling ornate gold brocade suggesting that she has dressed to please her guest.  An elegantly dressed and debonair looking man stands at her side, keeping a respectful distance from her.  He looks straight at her with his hand, enclosed by a ruffled cuff, on a porcelain pitcher and seems to be waiting to fill her glass.  His drab coloured clothing is in contrast to the woman’s attire and aids the visual divide between the two characters in the painting.

A number of song books lie on the table which is covered by a heavy ornamental cloth.  On the Spanish chair there is a blue cushion on which sits a cittern, a stringed instrument dating from the Renaissance.   This is an instrument that often occurs in Vermeer’s pictures and symbolises both harmony and frivolity.  Should we believe, that moments before, the man had serenaded the woman?   Vermeer gives no indication as to the relationship between the man and woman or whether consuming alcohol will lead to the softening of her heart towards the gentleman.   Maybe Vermeer just hints at a relationship. 

The stained glass window to the left of the picture features a woman holding a level and bridle, personifying Temperantia (temperance).  The level symbolises good deeds and the bridle symbolises emotional control. The coat of arms has been identified as that of Janetge Vogel, first wife of Moses van Nederveen, who lived in a house on the Oude Delft canal.   Why this coat of arms?  Janetge Vogel had died in 1624, eight years before Vermeer was born and some thirty five years before he painted this work and even though Vermeer lived close to this house, it is unlikely that he had ever lived in it.  This coat of arms also appears in another of Vermeer’s painting The Girl with Two Men. 

The clothes of the figures, the patterned tablecloth, the gilded picture frame hanging on the back wall, and the coat of arms in the stained window glass all suggest a wealthy and high-class setting.  Vermeer has an interesting way of showing the light coming in through the leaded window and how it interacts with the people and objects in the room.

Boreas abducting Oreithyia by Peter Paul Rubens

On Saturday, despite the heavy snow, I trudged through the streets of Vienna to visit the Academy of Fine Arts.  The Academy was opened in 1688 as a private academy by Peter Strudel, the court painter to Emperor Leopold I.  In 1877 a new building was constructed, where it remains today.  In 1907 and again in 1908 a prospective art student applied to join this seat of artistic learning but failed on both occasions to pass the entrance exam.   The student’s name was Adolf Hitler. 

It has had university status since 1998, but has retained its original name. It is currently the only Austrian university that doesn’t have the word “university” in its name.   It offers almost one thousand students a variety of courses which range from painting and sculpture to photography and video, performance and conceptual art, and also includes architecture, scenography and restoration. 

The Picture Gallery of the Academy is Vienna’s oldest public art museum that, since 1877, has maintained its collection at the same location.  The gallery, as a whole, represents the sum of countless acts of patronage.  The major one being seven hundred and forty Old Masters from the painting collection of Count Lamberg, which was bequeathed upon his death in 1822.  

After its renovation and restructuring, the Fine Arts’ Gallery of Paintings was reopened in September and is now accessible to the public again.  It has a world ranking collection of European painting from the 14th to the 19th centuries.

Boreas abducting Oreithyia by Rubens (1615)

Today’s work of art for My Daily Art Display can be found at the Academy and is a painting by Peter Paul Rubens  circa 1615 entitled Boreas abducting Oreithyia,  part of the Lamberg bequest.  It is Rubens’s interpretation from an episode in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  Boreas, the Tracian god and ruler of the north wind, carries off the daughter of Erechteus, King of Athens, who had been refused as a bride for him……

“…..Boreas shook out the wings which, as he beats through the air, causes great gusts of wind to blow over the earth and shrouded in darkness, engulfed the panic stricken Oreithyia in his dusky winds….”

The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck

The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck

Today’s painting in My Daily Art Display is one that art historians have written about probably more than any other with the exception, maybe, of Da Vinci’s Last Supper which of course received renewed speculation after Dan Brown’s novel.

The Arnolfini Portrait which can be seen at the National Gallery, London was painted by Jan van Eyck around 1434.  The two main characters in the painting are Giavanni  Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami.  Art historians have looked at the painting and tried to decide whether this is a picture of their wedding  or just one of their betrothal ceremony.  Was the lady pregnant or was that just a fashion style of the day?  Much has been written about the symbolism of the dog, the oranges, the mirrored reflection and virtually anything you can see has been given an interpretation of its symbolism.  Notwithstanding the symbolism and the many interpretations I believe it is a painting of haunting beauty.

The Seven Joys of the Virgin by Hans Memling

The Seven Joys of the Virgin by Hans Memling (1480)

Hans Memling was born circa 1433 in Seligenstadt, a small town close to Frankfurt.  Although German by birth, after serving his apprenticeship in the Cologne/Mainz area he moved to the Netherlands where he is believed to have been worked under the tutelage of Rogier van der Weyden.  He later moved to Bruges and was admitted to the Painters’ Guild of Bruges in 1466.  He soon became the most popular Netherlandish painter of his day.  His popularity as a painter earned him many commissions especially from the rich Florentine merchants of the city, such as Tommaso Portinari, whose portrait he painted.  He soon became one of the wealthiest citizens of Bruges.   He painted many portraits and religious paintings and his works can be seen in all the major galleries of the world as well as a museum in Bruges which is devoted to him.   Memling died in Bruges in 1494.

My Daily Art Display Today is Hans Memling’s Scenes from The Seven Joys of the Virgin, painted in 1480 and now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich.  The painting was commissioned by the tanner and merchant Pieter Bultnyc and his wife Katharina van Riebeke for the chapel of the Tanner’s Guild in the Church of Our Lady in Bruges.  The painting incorporates the figures of Bultynyc and his son kneeling at the lower left, outside the stable where Christ is born.  Katharina van Riebeke is also in the painting, at the lower right, in front of the scene of the Pentecost.

This is a picture with an astonishing combination of scenes illustrating parts of the New Testament. The landscape is very much manipulated, segmented into neat vignettes.  It is sumptuous, showing all the various possible geographies of earth: land, mountains, sea. There are towns and castles, meadows and winding roads. There are no fewer than twenty five scenes beginning with the Annunciation of Christ’s birth to the Virgin Mary in the upper left part of the painting through to her death and assumption in the upper right segment of the work.   The ‘Nativity’ is the central scene. Other smaller scenes are the ‘Resurrection’, the ‘Visitation’, and the ‘Entry of Christ into Jerusalem’.

A View of Delft by Carel Fabritius (1652)

On October 12th 1654, a gunpowder store exploded destroying much of the Dutch city of Delft.  More than a hundred people were killed and more than a thousand were injured.   One of the casualties was a thirty-two year old local artist Carel Fabritius, who at the time was painting in his studio close to the gunpowder store.   Many of his paintings were also destroyed .  Fabritius had trained in Rembrandt’s studio in Amsterdam and was a contemporary of Vermeer.

Today’s Art Display is Carel Fabritius’s A View of Delft.  He painted this in 1652 and the view shows part of the Dutch town of Delft.  The actual view is looking north west from the corner of the Oude Langendijk and Oosteinde.  In the centre of the painting is the church, Nieuwe Kerk, behind which is the town hall.  In the foreground is the booth of a musical instrument vendor. It is thought that the painting may have been formed using a perspective box giving rise to an exaggerated perspective.  To the left of the lute one can see the painter’s name “C FABRITIVS 1652” scrawled on the wall