Baroque and Rococo


Baroque and Rococo Art Map


The Art of the Portrait


Masterpieces of European Portrait-Painting




  The Art of the Portrait
  The Great Age of the Portrait
  Origins of the Portrait
  Jan van Eyck: Tymotheos
  Jan van Eyck: The Marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini
  Jan van Eyck: The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin
  Rogier van der Weyden: Portrait of a Lady
  Jean Fouquet: Etienne Chevalier Presented by St Stephen
  Hans Memling: Man with a Roman Coin
  Antonello da Messina: Portrit of a Man, known as "Il Condottiere"
  Early Portrait of a Ruler
  Piero della Francesca: Federigo da Montefeltro and his Wife Battista Sforza
  Portraits of Renaissance Women
  Pisanello: Young Lady of the Este Family
  Leonardo da Vinci: The Lady with the Ermine (Cecilia Gallerani)
  Leonardo da Vinci: Mona Lisa (La Gioconda)
  Giorgione: Portrait of a Young Lady ("Laura")
  Piero di Cosimo: Simonetta Vespucci
  Agnolo Bronzino: Laura Battiferri
  The Psychological Portrait
  Lorenzo Lotto: Young Man before a White Curtain
  Lorenzo Lotto: Man with a Golden Paw
  Moretto da Brescia: Portrait of a Young Man
  Portraits and Caricatures
  Quentin Massys: Old Woman (The Queen of Tunis)
  Portraits of Renaissance Humanists
  Luca Signorelli: Portrait of a Middle-Aged Man
  Agnolo Bronzino: Portrait of Ugolino Martelli
  Raphael: Baldassare Castiglione
  Lucas Cranach the Elder: Dr. Cuspinian and his Wife
  Hans Holbein the Younger: Erasmus of Rotterdam
  Mythologising Portraits
  Agnolo Bronzino: Andrea Doria as Neptune
  Nicoletto da Modena (?): Francis I of France as an Antique God
  Portraits of Popes and Cardinals
  Raphael: Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giuliano de' Medici and Luigi de Rossi
  Titian: Pope Paul III, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and Duke Ottavio Farnese
  Portraits of Artists and Collectors
  Lorenzo Lotto: Andrea Odoni
  Titian: Jacopo de Strada
  Artists' Self-Portraits
  Albrecht Durer: Self-Portrait with a Fur Coat
  Nicolas Poussin: Self-Portrait
  Rembrandt: Self-Portraits
  Portrait of a Friend
  Hans Holbein the Younger: The French Ambassadors to the English Court
  "Teste Composte"
  Giuseppe Arcimboldo: Vertumnus
  Portraits of 16th and 17th-century Rulers
  Titian: Emperor Charles V after the Battle of Miihlberg
  Anthony van Dyck: Charles I of England, Hunting
  Hyacinthe Rigaud: Louis XIV of France
  Philippe de Champaigne: Triple Portrait of Cardinal Richelieu
  Marriage and Family Portraits
  Peter Paul Rubens: Rubens and Isabella Brant under the Honeysuckle
  Jacob Jordaens: The Artist and his Family
  Portraits of Children
  Giovanni Francesco Caroto: Boy with a Drawing
  Jan van Scorel: The Schoolboy
  Diego Velazquez: The Infante Philip Prosper
  Dutch Civic Guard Portraits
  Rembrandt: "The Night Watch"
  Portraits of Regents
  Frans Hals: The Governors of the Old Men's Almshouse at Haarlem
  Anatomy Lessons
  Rembrandt: The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp
  Portraits of Fools and Dwarfs
  Diego Velazquez: The Dwarf "El Primo"



Portraits of Regents


See also:

Frans Hals

Frans Hals

The Governors of the Old Men's

Almshouse at Haarlem


Frans Hals
The Lady-Governors of the Old Men's Almshouse at Haarlem
Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem


The governors of hospitals and almshouses were among the most important patrons of the Netherlandish group portrait. Unlike the sitters for paintings of militia companies or archers' guilds, however, these regents and regentesses, as they were called, were not members of traditional professional associations, but the honorary governing bodies of charitable institutions; men and women, usually of aristocratic background, who were appointed by the citv's ruling elite.
Since the late Middle Ages, the care of the aged in towns had become a matter of public concern. The growth in commodity relations and the partly violent expropriation of peasant farmers had led to the lat-ters' rum and consequent migration to towns, where they were exposed to a ruthless system of capitalist exploitation and extortion. Poverty and begging now increased to such an extent that traditional forms of charity, which had existed since the Middle Aees, such as those based on the ideas of Francis of Assisi or Elizabeth of Marburg, no longer sufficed. Following Luther's example, reformers began to put pressure on municipal councils to seek a long-term solution to the problem by setting aside appropriate funds to cover the cost of looking after old people. Wittenberg itself, with its edict of 1521 proclaiming the founding of a "common purse", was exemplary in this respect, and Nuremberg, with its "Rules for the Dispensation of Alms", perhaps even more so. Nuremberg even appointed public servants to care for the needy. In the Netherlands, the Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives demanded the endowment of charitable institutions in his book "De subventione pauperum" (On Supporting the Poor).
The mass phenomenon of begging was a source of constant irritation to the burghers and ruling strata of the towns, who found beggars difficult to distinguish from the "traditional" poor. This presented a moral dilemma, since the poor had never been held responsible for their plight. In the Middle Ages, after all, poverty had been accepted as God's will. Soon, however, the ruling strata began to view persons who were suffering hardship, or who were socially marginalised, as lazy or unwilling to work. The upper classes, whose economic interests, based on the principle of wealth accumulation, had led to the widening of the gulf between rich and poor in the first place, thus tended to see the resultant misery as deriving from a congenital ignobility of character in members of the lower classes.
While early sixteenth-century charitable practice had adhered to Martin Luther's dictum "Love serves without regard to reward", increasing penetration of every sphere of human life by the capitalist principles of wages and profit soon undermined ideals of chanty and encouraged demands for the poor to be detained in institutions which would serve their correction. The poorhouses were little more than prisons - sometimes even called so - and were organised according to the principle of centralised manufacture. Their inmates were forced into gruellingly hard labour in return for a mere pittance. Some of the worst working conditions were found in the rasp-houses, where dyeing powder was extracted by rasping logwood. The exploitation of this cheap labour force led to grand profits. Orphanages, or foundling hospitals, and sometimes mental asylums, each with their own regents, or governing bodies, were often found attached to the workhouses. However, there were also charitable institutions offering asylum to those who had fallen on hard times. These included homes of refuge for the ill and aged.
In the sixteenth century, it had been customary for works of art to show the poor in the company of their benefactors - in The Seven Works of Charity, for example, or in the scenes accompanying The Last Judgement. In seventeenth-century Netherlandish portraits of the governors of charitable institutions, however, human misery itself, with few exceptions, was evidently subject to taboo, or at least was banished from sight; an invisible barrier thus existed between "selflessly" or "generously" acting dignitaries on the one hand, and the inmates of institutions on the other. The governors remained aloof, avoiding prejudice to their social status which might derive from being seen in company with those whom the age had already branded as virtually criminal: the company, in other words, of persons entrusted into their care. The most they could bear was the presence of a servant, or a wardress; and even then, the servant's lower status was clearly indicated by their being shown bareheaded. The governors would usually sit for their portraits at one of their regular meetings, and they would have themselves shown keeping the minutes, or counting money.
Frans Hals's pair of large-format group portraits of The Governors and Lady-Governors of the Old Men's Almshouse at Haarlem, painted in 1664, were among the last works commissioned from him. Indeed, he had now become a pensioner himself, receiving, during the last four years of his life, an annual stipend of 200 guilders, awarded by the municipal authorities. Hals executed the portraits in the manner outlined above, at the same time modifying the dominant portrait type: the "regents and regentesses" were no longer placed in a narrative context, depicted carrying out certain typical forms of activity. This had been a compositional achievement of the first half of the century, to whose attainment Hals himself had greatly contributed. Here, however, he showed the sitters in full-face view: plain, rather formal figures, without the faintest hint of swagger. In deference to the sitters' wishes, each of whom paid the artist individually, Hals retained the principle of showing their faces separately. On the other hand, a new quality now entered his work via an unconventional, pre-Impressionist mode of painting: the direct, spontaneous application of paint to the ground ("alia prima"), with its tendency to favour more open forms.

Frans Hals
The Lady-Governors of the Old Men's
Almshouse at Haarlem

Frans Hals
The Lady-Governors of the Old Men's
Almshouse at Haarlem




Scholars have frequently suggested that these structural innovations - appearing as they do to anticipate the (aesthetic) rebelliousness of a later avant-garde — must be seen in conjunction with Hals's allegedly critical attitude towards the governors and lady-governors of the almshouse. It has been said, for example, that the governor whose hat sits askew was given to drunkenness, or to the abuse of drugs, and that Hals wanted to poke fun at him. However, it is demonstrable that the man was actually suffering from facial palsy. It is therefore misleading to indulge this late nineteenth-century cliche by attributing to Hals the motive of revenge for ill-treatment he is reputed to have endured at the hands of his patrons.
As usual in genre portraits of "regents and regentesses", the figures in both paintings are shown against a dark background. On the wall behind the lady-governors is a landscape painting. This probably represents a "paysage moralise", a morally significant landscape, whose purpose is to provide a "clavis interpretandi", a key to understanding the work: the narrow path winding upwards into the mountains may be an allusion to the "path of virtue", a symbol often encountered in Renaissance art and "emblem books". If so, it may indicate what kind of behaviour was expected of the inmates by the lady-governors.

Frans Hals
The Governors of the Old Men's Almshouse at Haarlem
Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem



Anatomy Lessons


see also:



The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp


Doctor Nicolaes Tulp Demonstrating the Anatomy of the Arm


In his "Introduction to Anatomy" Leonardo da Vinci wrote that he had "dissected more than ten human bodies, dismembering every other part and removing every tiny piece of flesh surrounding the arteries without spilling more than a few drops of blood from one or two capillary veins... And even if you are interested in such matters, you may well be deterred by a feeling of disgust; and should this not repulse you, you still might be disturbed by fear of spending your nights in the company of horribly flayed and mutilated corpses; and if this prospect does not put you off, you may yet have failed to acquire the proficiency in drawing which is necessary for such studies..."
Leonardo was by no means the first artist to study pathological anatomy in order to perfect his ability to depict the human body. His teacher Andrea Verrocchio, and Andrea Mantegna, painter to the Mantuan court, had both experimented in this field. Century-old church prohibitions against the dissection of human corpses had gradually relaxed during the last decades of the quattrocento. Various tentative postmortem examinations had been carried out in the Middle Ages, too - by Mondino de Luzzi (c. 1275-1326) at Bologna (1306), for example. A textbook based on his examinations had somehow managed to escape prohibition for over two centuries.
However, Pope Boniface VIII had forbidden, under penalty of excommunication, all further experiments involving the dismembering or boiling down of human corpses. Leonardo's words, cited above, reveal the sense of novelty, disgust and horror which accompanied the first breaches of this prohibition to be undertaken in the spirit of "curiositas", or scientific curiosity. For even teachers of medicine at the universities had avoided all contact with human corpses. In the late fifteenth century Italian woodcuts had depicted professors of medicine removed from their listeners behind raised lecterns, as they delivered abstract lectures based on anatomical knowledge derived solely from Classical sources like Hippocrates, Galen or Dioscurides, while beneath them, surgical assistants dissected real corpses.


Doctor Nicolaes Tulp Demonstrating the Anatomy of the Arm

Johannes de Ketham
Anatomical Section


This did not change until the sixteenth century. One of the most important testimonies to new developments in anthropotomy, or human anatomy, is the work, based almost entirely on his own observations, of the Netherlandish anatomist Andreas Vesalius ("De corporis humani fabrica", 1543). This work also expressed its author's theological views, for Vesalius saw the human body as a "product of divine handiwork". One interesting aspect of the woodcuts (possibly by Jan Stephan van Calcar) which accompanied the book is the way in which the corpses, depicted to illustrate various systems of arteries, tendons, muscles and bones etc., seem paradoxically vital, moving and behaving as if they were living beings, indeed even reflecting - in a manner possibly also illustating the artist's macabre sense of humour - on the transience of all earthly life.
Rembrandt's famous painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632), an example of a type of group portrait cultivated particularly by Netherlandish artists, shows the changing relationship of medical science to the human corpse in the early days of empiricism. A more secular view of death is apparent here in the matter-of-fact attitude towards the corpse demonstrated by the professor and his students. The professor, the only figure shown wearing a hat, has exposed to view the tendons and muscles of the left arm. The corpse - dissections were usually performed on the bodies of executed criminals - lies almost diagonally across the picture space. The listeners, some portrayed in profile, others "en face", are grouped around the dead man's head. They are bending over to compare the empirical data with an open textbook, placed rather inconspicuously in the shadows at the foot of the bed.

"Rembrandt met his sitters' demands to portray each one of them individually. He also enabled his main subject, an anatomy lesson, to be seen for the first time in its own right." The truth of this statement can only be fully appreciated by comparing Rembrandt's painting with the earliest known painting of an anatomy lesson, executed by Aert Pietersz in 1603, in which the 28 members of the Amsterdam Surgeons' Guild, together with their lecturer, are shown standing in three paratactic rows. The arrangement reveals their desire to be portrayed as separately from one another as possible. The effect is partly to conceal the corpse, making the assembled company look as if it has been engaged in some form of clandestine pursuit.

Gerard David
The Flaying of the Corrupt Judge Sisamnes

Attention has too rarely been called to the fact that Rembrandt's composition builds on an earlier type of painting, developed by Gerard David to depict the course of justice when the corrupt Judge Sisamnes was flayed alive at the behest of King Cambyses (The Flaying of the Corrupt Judge Sisamnes). The humorous parallel suggested here by Rembrandt - between an executioner's assistant flaying someone alive and a professor of anatomy dissecting a corpse - may have introduced a latent element of criticism in the painting.

The Anatomy Class of Dr. Joan Deyman

Andrea Mantegna
The Dead Christ

The appropriate sense of sobriety brought by Rembrandt to this painting does not seem to have precluded his imbuing it with an equally apparent emotional depth. This is confirmed in a second - albeit fragmentary - "anatomy lesson", presided over by a Dr. Joan Deyman (The Anatomy Class of Dr. Joan Deyman) and executed in 1656. A preliminary study in bistre and ink (now in the Rijksprentenkabinett, Amsterdam) shows that the painting, which was largely destroyed by fire in 1723, was composed symmetrically. Small groups of figures are shown standing to the left and right. Behind the corpse - which belonged to a certain Joris Fontein, condemned to death for robbery on 27 January 1656 - is the lecturer, whose hands, holding a scalpel, are all that now remain of him. The top of the skull has been lifted off to reveal the cerebral hemispheres. When viewed from a distance, the scalp, peeled off and hanging down at either side of the head, resembles long, flowing hair, so that the frontal view of the dead man's face recalls certain renderings of Christ. Indeed the compositional arrangement of the dead body, with its feet stretched out towards the spectator, closely follows that of Mantegna's Christo in scurto (c. 1480), one of the most impressive devotional paintings of the early Renaissance. The formal parallel here implies that the dead man in Rembrandt's painting, who has been outlawed by society, and whose mortal remains have been denied all sanctuary and due respect, is redeemed in Christ's words: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matth. 25, 40). Spirituality, and, by extension in Rembrandt's painting, social pathos, had played an increasingly important role in the artist's work during the 1650s. The subject of the painting may even have been a deliberate reference to the biblical passage cited above.




Portraits of Fools and Dwarfs


see also:


Diego Velazquez:

The Dwarf "El Primo"


The Dwarf "El Primo"


It was customary at the courts of Europe during the seventeenth century - indeed, right up to the French Revolution - for monarchs to keep dwarfs. Together with other "prodigia" (monsters), these "errors of Nature", as one contemporary referred to them, provided a source of amusement. "Considered rare attractions at the royal courts, dwarfs were bought and sold throughout Europe. They were decked with finery, adorned with jewellery and gold, and shown off at ceremonies of state, or on festive occasions. Often, they were presented as gifts, or as a surprise spectacle, a fashion to which not even church dignitaries were immune."218
This "fashion", which had spread to Europe from the Ottoman court, was linked to yet another, similar custom. For their entertainment aristocratic households would keep a number of fools who were privileged to make witty or pointed remarks and to engage in provocative parodies, thus challenging legal and conventional taboos and providing an anarchic counter-balance to the vacuum of critical opinion at court. Undoubtedly, this showed the survival - albeit in isolated pockets, and in much reduced form - of the medieval tradition of "fooles", whose carnivalesque origins probably lay in the Roman Saturnalia, and whose burlesque goings-on set up a kind of popular political and ecclesiastical opposition for a short period of every year (between the end of December and Epiphany on 6 January), exposing many feudal institutions, especially those of the church, to ridicule and criticism. The tradition of oppositional jest had then entered the early absolutist courts via the travelling conjurers, the "loculatores".


Sebastian de Morra


Since the late fifteenth century there had been an increasing demand for the normative ideals of logic in reason and regularity in appearance - the attempt, for example, to establish a canon of proportions for the expression of ideal beauty has been referred to above. Deviations from such norms must increasingly have come to appear comical, or grotesque, or as crimes against a nature whose very essence was thought to be ordered uniformity. Indeed, without the existence of norms, the mere sight of deformed, crippled or mad people, or the lack, or imaginary lack, of "iudicum" (powers of discernment), could not have provided occasion for scorn and ridicule. At the same time, the image of the fool tended to oscillate between one that saw him as unnatural, the representive of everything that was evil and sinful, and its opposite, in which the fool's wisdom lay precisely in his innate access to a language mentally distorted enough to adequately describe the absurdity of reality. The latter notion played a role in Erasmiamsm, a humanist school of thought, widespread among the Spanish, educated elite of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, based on works such as Erasmus's. "In Praise of Folly" (Monae encomion). Enlightened parodies of conventional thinking now began to attribute a positive meaning to terms such as "stultitia" (stupidity) and "insania" (madness).
It is not known whether Diego Velazquez sympathised with Erasmiamsm. Nonetheless, his sympathy for the fools and dwarfs of the Spanish court is obvious: in the pathos and humane understanding demonstrated by the single portraits with which he (and he alone) paid tribute to them. It has been pointed out that courtly etiquette - for seating arrangements at audiences, for example, or for seat-numbering at bull-fights - placed Velazquez in the same category as dwarfs and fools. As "Pintor del Rey" (Painter to the King) he was relegated to the fourth row among the barbers and footmen.


The Court Dwarf Don Antonio el Ingles



A particularly impressive portrait is Velazquez's painting of the dwarf Don Diego de Acedo, alias El Primo (The Cousin), probably commissioned by the court and executed at Fraga in about 1644. Like the midget Sebastian de Morra, who served in the retinue of the Infante Don Fernando and Prince Baltasar Carlos, El Primo is shown sitting, and is viewed slightly from below. The effect of presenting them from this dignified aspect is to raise their status in the eyes of the spectator. El Primo is portrayed leafing through the pages of an enormous tome. His small size makes the books surrounding him appear even more gigantic than they are. His occupation here is undoubtedly a reference to his administrative duties at the court. At the same time, it is probably an example of humanist satirical jest, which would often decry the senseless writing and reading of books as a contemptible vice. Contemporary spectators would never have accepted that a dwarf knew how to use the attributes of a scholar; the artist thus seems to be using an apparently grotesque discrepency to poke fun at the pseudo-scholars of his day. The satirical tradition had spread throughout Europe via the humanists, and Velazquez's knowledge of it is evident in his use of ideal types in portraits of the Cynic philosopher Menippus (MOENIPPVS, c. 1636-40) and the Greek composer of fables Aesop (AESOPVS, c. 1636-40), possibly painted for the hunting lodge Torre de la Parada, near the Buen Retiro Palace. It was here, too, that many of his portraits of court fools and dwarfs were hung, possibly including that of El Primo. Aesop's face with its flattened nose was probably not — as is commonly thought — painted after a man of the people (even if the painting did attempt to show a simple man whose features were marked by toil, and who therefore represented the Cynic ideal of the modesty and wisdom of the people). The portrait seems rather more reminiscent of Giovanni Battista della Porta's physiognomic parallels between various types of human faces and the heads of animals associated with certain temperaments. Aesop had, during Classical antiquity, been seen in conjunction with the Seven Sages; Menippus was known as a castigator of hack philosophers, whom he satirised in different literary genres.226 It is to the vice of sham scholarship, too, that Velazquez's portrait of the dwarf El Pnmo seems to allude.

Diego Velazquez


Diego Velazquez


According to Plutarch, Aesop was a counsellor to the Lydian King Croesus (6th century).
Velazquez was suggesting a parallel with the situation at the Spanish court.
The two portraits of philosophers, together with the portraits of fools and dwarfs,
were intended to warn the king not to lose touch with the common people and their wisdom.


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