Category

Northern Baroque

“She’s Got the Look!”: Portraits of Prospective Royal Brides

Hans Holbein, Portrait of Anne of Cleves c. 1539. Parchment mounted on canvas, 65 x 48 cm Musée du Louvre, Paris

I’ve chucked a few times today about the post “Anne of Cleves Gables,” which is especially if amusing if you are familiar with both the Anne of Green Gables series and the story behind the portrait by Holbein (above). I guess if Henry VIII hypothetically could have known the popular song “She’s Got the Look!” by the group Roxette, he might have sung the lyrics when looking at Holbein’s portrait of Anne, but probably would not have thought of that music when he actually met Anne in person.

Holbein was sent to Düren in 1539 to create a portrait of the widow Anne of Cleves for Henry VIII; the king wanted to see whether he would like to take Anne as a bride. There is no doubt that Holbein must have felt a lot of pressure. Henry VIII was in his late forties and already had been married three times before this point. Henry VIII was very displeased upon seeing Anne in person (finding her to be a “fat Flanders mare”), which seems to suggest to me that Holbein created Anne to be more flattering than her actual appearance. There are no records of Henry VIII’s actual reaction to Holbein’s portrait, however. Interestingly, we know that Henry VIII was quite smitten with a portrait that Holbein previously created of Christina of Denmark, who also was considered by Henry VIII as a prospective bride (see below).

Hans Holbein the Younger, "Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan," 1538, oil on oak, 179.1 x 82.6 cm. National Gallery of Art, London

It is recorded that Henry VIII had musicians play all day long when he saw this portrait of Christina, so he could feast all day on music (the food of love). However, Christina wasn’t selected as a bride. All in all, these portraits may have been helpful for Henry, but not the ultimate decision-making tool for marriage. Historian David Starkey claims that influential courtiers convinced Henry VIII to marry Anne instead of Christina.

Several other Renaissance and Baroque artists were commissioned to paint portraits of prospective brides or husbands for rulers. This idea of painting the likeness of a prospective spouse really seems to be a new phenomenon for the Renaissance, which makes sense due to the rise of both portraiture and naturalism in Renaissance art. I thought it would be fun to create a list with information about prospective bride and/or betrothal portraits, so I started a list here:

  • Charles VI of France (c. 1380-1422) is recorded to have sent his painter to three different royal courts to create portraits of prospective brides.
  • Jan Van Eyck, Portrait of Isabella of Portugal, 1428 (now lost, although a copy is thought to exist). This was painted as a betrothal portrait after the marriage agreement had already taken place (to function as a visual assertion of Isabella’s identity for when she arrived in Burgandy).
  • Catherine de’Medici expressed disapproval in the portrait of Elizabeth I that was created for her son Charles IX. Luckily, Catherine blamed the portrait on the portraitist, not on Elizabeth herself. Consequently, on 3 July 1571, Catherine wrote to Monsieur de la Mothe-Fénelon, ambassador in London, requested a new portrait be created: “I pray you do me the pleasure that I may soon have a painting of the queen of England of small volume, in great [de la grandeur], and that it be well portrayed and done in the same fashion as the one sent be by the earl of Leicester, and ask, as I already have one in full face, it would be better to have her turning to the right.”
  • Nicholas Hilliard (also spelled “Nicholas Belliart”) was sent by Catherine de’Medici to Sweden and Denmark in 1574 to paint portraits of prospective wives for Catherine’s son, Henry III.

Rubens, Henry IV Receiving the Portrait of Marie de'Medici, 1621-1625. Oil on canvas, approx. 13' x 9'8" (3.94 x 2.95m), Louvre

  • Marie de’Medici was so proud of her “prospective bride portrait” that was sent to Henry IV that later, after she and Henry were married, she commissioned Rubens to depict Henry falling in love upon seeing her portrait for the first time!

Anything else we could add to this list? I couldn’t pinpoint images for several of the portraits mentioned above, so please comment and leave a link if you know of their existence online. Also, please feel free to share further examples and thoughts on this topic in the comments below.

And I go: la la la la la / She’s got the look!

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Eckhout’s Eight Brazilian Portraits

Modified (slightly cropped) depictions of Eckhout's series of eight figures (c. 1641). Top row (L-R): "Tapuya Man," "African Man," "Tupi Man," "Mulatto Man." Bottom row (L-R): "Tapuya Woman," "African Woman," "Tupi Woman," "Mameluke Woman." Oil on canvas. Each painting is approximately 8'9" x 5'4" (about 274 x 167 cm). Click on collage to see paintings in greater detail.

I am just about to finish teaching a course on colonial art in Brazil. At the beginning of the course, my students and I explored the brief period in the 17th century when the Dutch were located in northern Brazil (1624-1654). We explored how the Dutch artist Albert Eckhout depicted the flora, fauna and people of Brazil – and then we discussed how Europeans developed misconceptions about Brazil, based on how other European artists appropriated the imagery from Eckhout’s original works of art.1

Eckhout, "Tapuya Woman," 1641

I particularly like Eckhout’s series that depicts people from eight types of minority groups found in colonial Brazil (shown above). I’ve had an affinity for these ethnographic paintings since graduate school, when I wrote a paper on Eckhout.  For one thing, I think these paintings are an interesting contrast with the “casta” paintings that were created in Spanish America during the colonial period. Eckhout’s paintings also have historical value as well: this series contains the only available representations of the Tapuyas (Tarairius), a group which had died out by the beginning of the nineteenth century. Due to Eckhout’s portraits, we have some visual information about the physical aspects and material culture for this specific Amerindian group (see above).2

We don’t know where these paintings were originally located. I personally like the argument that these portraits originally were intended to be displayed in Brazil, probably at governor Johan Maurits’ Vrijburg Palace in Mauritsstad (now Recife). Although there are no seventeenth-century documents to support this theory, I like the visual analysis that has been explored by Rebecca Parker Brienen to support this theory.3 In fact, this is the argument that I explored with my students earlier in the quarter.

In order to be objective, though, I have been keeping up with some other scholarship on these paintings. Such theories and analyses are discussed in the fabulous book, Albert Eckhout: A Dutch Artist in Brazil.4 I wanted to recap some of the ideas that interest me:

  • Some scholars suggest that these paintings were never created in Brazil, but were based on compositions and drawings that Eckhout had made while in Brazil. This argument is partially made because the large-scale canvases are in good condition, as opposed to the still life paintings by Eckhout which were transported in the seventeenth-century. However, it is unclear as to whether the still life paintings were damaged when they were moved from the Netherlands to Denmark (in 1654), or in an earlier transport from Brazil to Europe (p. 32).
  • The spelling of Eckhout’s name in the series “signatures” differs from documents signed by Eckhout, which suggests that someone else added the signatures. Verified documents are signed by “Albert Eeckhout” but these paintings are signed as “Albert Æckhout” (p. 110). The questionable nature of the signature is supported because the painting of the mameluke is unfinished (see cashew fruit in lower right corner), but still bears a signature and date. Additionally, these questionable signatures explicitly state that the paintings were made in Brazil, which is unusual (p. 32). It is thought that the signatures may have been added when these paintings were presented to the Danish monarch Friedrich III (a distant cousin of Johan Maurits) in 1654 (p. 124).
  • It is important to note that the series of paintings were not shown as an ensemble in the Mauritshuis (the European house of Johan Maurits) after Maurits returned in the Netherlands in 1644. There would not have been enough wall space for these large portraits, due to either fireplaces or rhythmic partitioning of the wall (p. 35).
  • It has been suggested that Eckhout’s series might have been cartoons for tapestries. We know that other paintings by Eckhout were intended to be used for tapestries, including at least eight paintings that Maurits gave to Louis XIV. (p. 35-36).

I think it’s good to be familiar with the other ideas that exist about this portrait series; I might cover more of these points with students when I teach this same course again. But personally, I think that Rebecca Parker Brienen still gives a pretty solid argument for why these paintings were intended to be created in Vrijburg Palace (in Brazil). At least, it’s the best (and most comprehensive) argument I have yet to see. The Buvelot text even mentions that “the uncertainty about the original purpose of the paintings makes it difficult to arrive at an in-depth interpretation, especially where the figure pieces are concerned.”5 Until more convincing in-depth interpretations and theories are presented, I’m going to have my art history students continue to explore Brienen’s argument.

1 See discussion about misconceptions and the European usage of Eckhout’s imagery in Virginie Spenlé, “‘Savagery’ and ‘Civilization': Dutch Brazil in the Kunst- and Wunderkammer,” in JHNA 3, no. 2 (2011). Available online here: http://www.jhna.org/index.php/past-issues/volume-3-issue-2/142-spenle-dutch-brazil

2 Quentin Buvelot, ed., Albert Eckhout: A Dutch Artist in Brazil (Zwolle: Waanders Publishers, 2004), 66.

3 Rebecca Parker Brienen, Visions of Savage Paradise: Albert Eckhout, Court Painter in Colonial Dutch Brazil (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006), 181-199.

4 See Buvelot, 32-36. See also a specific chapter in the Buvelot text: Florike Egmond and Peter Mason, “Albert E(e)ckhout, Court Painter,” in Albert Eckhout: A Dutch Artist in Brazil (The Hague: Mauritshuis, 2004), 109–27, esp. 110.

5 Ibid., 35. This text was before the 2006 publication by Brienen, but the text does cite earlier publications by Brienen.

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Intentional Damage: The “Night Watch” and Temple of Artemis

I don’t like it when works of art get damaged (not by any means!), but I’m intrigued when such catastrophes occur. I’ve blogged about this topic before, discussing instances when Michelangelo’s Pietà and Malevich’s Suprematism (White on White Cross) were damaged by mentally-unstable individuals. (I’ve even decided to start an “intentional damage” label for these kinds of posts.)

I wanted to write about two works of art/architecture that have been intentionally damaged over time. The following two works of art may seem unrelated to most, but they are connected in my mind: I learned more about the damage done to these works during my recent trip to Europe. I had an extended layover in Amsterdam and got to visit the Rijksmuseum (where I saw Rembrandt’s The Night Watch) and finished my trip in Selçuk/Ephesus, where the Temple of Artemis is located.

Rembrandt, "Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq" (The Night Watch), 1642

When visiting the Rijksmuseum, I was reminded that “The Night Watch” was greatly damaged in 1975, when a mentally-unstable school teacher, Wilhelmus de Rijk, slashed the painting with a bread knife. You can see some of the initial damage in the following YouTube clip. Don’t those slashes just pull at your heart strings?

Although the 1975 incident is the most famous example of damage to Rembrandt’s masterpiece, there are actually a few other times in which the “Night Watch” has been attacked. An unemployed shoemaker slashed the painting during World War I, to protest his inability to find employment. (Which is so ridiculous! Who would want to hire someone who just slashed a priceless painting?)1 In April 1990, it was reported that a jobless Dutchman sprayed an unknown chemical substance (later determined to be acid) on the painting, but luckily the damage was minimal. (Note: The Rijksmuseum’s site also mentions that the painting was sprayed with acid in 1985, but I think that this date is actually referring to the 1990 event.)

Detail of "Night Watch" text label from Rijksmuseum, showing the area where evidence of the 1975 damage is still seen on the painting

The other intentionally-damaged art that I recently learned about is the Temple of Artemis, near Ephesus. Before my trip, I already knew that this structure (which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) is now a ruin (see below).2 However, I didn’t realize that this structure was burned in 359 BC, by an allegedly mentally-unstable person named Herostratos (also spelled Herostratus) who hoped to make his mark on history.3 Interestingly, this fire was also said to occur on the same night that Alexander the Great was born. Although there isn’t a way to verify that the fire took place on this exact date of July 20th or 26th (beyond what is mentioned in historical writings), archaeologists have noted that the some ruins from the site bear traces of fire.4

Herostratos was executed for his crime, and the Ephesians also created a decree to ban the mention of the Herostratos’s name. Obviously, the ban was not followed, since the story has been recorded by historians like Theopompos of Chios.

Parts of the ruined temple later were used to help build the nearby Basilica of Saint John. So, I guess, in some ways you can go and see some of the Temple of Artemis when you are in Selçuk, although the materials have been reconfigured to help form a different religious structure!

Ruins of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (modern Selçuk), Turkey (begun 8th century BC)

In November 2011, plans were announced to build a $150 million reconstruction of the Temple of Artemis. I didn’t hear anything about this reconstruction while I was in Turkey, which makes me wonder if the project received funding. If the temple does get rebuilt, though, we’ll need to make sure that arsonists stay away!

Want to read about more damaged art? Artdaily has compiled a good list. Do you know of more examples of intentionally-damaged art? Does anyone have a thought as to why mentally-unstable people would be drawn to damage art (as opposed to something else)?

1 In many respects, Rembrandt’s painting is actually “priceless.” Although the members of the civic guard paid Rembrandt 1,600 guilders back in the 17th century, there is no other price attached to this piece. The museum does not insure the painting (it is in loan from the city of Amsterdam), in accordance with Culture Ministry policy.

2 Several temples were built on this site over time. A few reconstruction of the temple are found HERE and HERE.

3 Albert Borowitz, Terrorism for Self-Glorification: The Herostratos Syndrome (Kent State University Press, 2005), 4 – 19. Citation can be viewed online HERE. This citation also follows the historiography of a allegation that Herostratos burned the Temple of Artemis on the same night that Alexander the Great was born.

4 Ibid., p. 5. Citation can be viewed online HERE.

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A Meaty Post

I belong to a really fantastic book group. This month we have been reading The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory by Carol J. Adams. This book is really fascinating to me. It explores how meat consumption is related to patriarchal values; meat has longstanding associations with power, strength, virility, and wealth. Adams makes some interesting parallels with how the “masculine” consumption of meat is related to the sexual consumption and objectification of women, too. (You can get a sense of the parallels made between meat and women-as-meat in Adam’s slideshow.) There is a lot more to this book too, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in theory, literature, or the history of vegetarianism.

While reading this book, I continually thought of how meat is represented in art and visual culture. Although I have yet to read Adam’s other book, The Pornography of Meat, I feel like I’ve already come up with a substantial list. In many ways, the following representations of meat can also be related to patriarchy and power. I find it telling that the majority of the depictions of meat (that I have come across, at least) were created by men. And I also think it’s interesting that male artists like Rembrandt and Snyder (see below) decided to include women with the carcasses of dead animals. Are these artists merely referencing the fact that women have been delegated the responsibility to prepare meat (for male consumption)? I think we can we make deeper associations between what objects are construed for “the male gaze” in these images, especially from our modern-day perspective.

Rembrandt, "The Slaughtered Ox," 1655

Frans Snyder, "The Pantry," c. 1620

Along these lines of sexuality and male consumption, it is especially interesting to consider how Snyder depicted the maidservant with birds on a platter. The Dutch word “vogelen” (which means “to bird”) not only refers to fowl, but also to the sexual act. This painting, therefore, seems to reference worldly temptations or physical love.

Artists in the 20th century also were interested in exploring “meaty” subject matter. One work of art that immediately comes to mind is Francis Bacon’s Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef (1954, see below). As an air raid warden in London during WWII, Bacon saw many of the horrors of war (a grisly enterprise which, I think, can be interpreted in many respects as a “masculine” endeavor). With two slabs of meat flanking the sides of a ghostly figure, Bacon explores parallels between meat and death.

Francis Bacon, "Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef," 1954

Other 20th century artists have made some interesting parallels between meat and male consumption, including the Surrealist artist Meret Oppenheim. Her work, The Governess (see below) depicts a pair of stilletto heels (objects which can signify female sexuality and arousal). The heels are tied together and decorated with paper crowns – the type of decoration sometimes found on a leg of lamb or chicken.

Meret Oppenheim, "My Governess," 1936

One of the most influential works of art involving meat is Carolee Schneemann’s performance Meat Joy (1964). This performance, which is very aggressive and controversial, involved men and women who danced, rolled on the floor, and played with a mixture of raw flesh (e.g. partially-plucked bloody chickens, raw fish, and raw sausages). The sexual connections between meat and “pleasures of the flesh” are quite clear in the performance.

I also think that it is unsurprising that audience members would squirm during Meat Joy. After all, Schneeman is including bloody and partially-plucked chickens, something that relates to what Carol Adams calls the absent-referent. When people consume animals today, the flesh is usually cooked and modified (and sometimes given a different name than the actual animal, like “veal” or “beef”) to help obscure the reality that a once-living creature has comprised the meal. So, in essence, animals are absent-referents on the dinner table. They are there, but they are also not there. Schneeman’s aggressive reference to flesh and blood in her “happenings” performance restores the absent-referent, which undoubtedly contributed to why viewers squirmed.

Many artists have been influenced by Carolee Schneeman. In fact, in 2008 exhibition titled Meat After Meat Joy brought together the works of various artists who have explored different meanings between meat and flesh. (You can read one blogger’s take on the exhibition here.) One of the videos on display in this exhibition was Zhang Huan’s performance, My New York (2002, see below).

Zhang Huan, "My New York," 2002. Video still from performance.

Many of Huan’s performance works involve endurance and masochism. In this particular performance, Huan walked through New York wearing a heavy suit with actual pieces of raw beef. Looking like a “beefed-up” body-builder (which alludes to masculinity and virility!), Huan would occasionally release doves during the performance.  It was interesting to interpret this performance in a political light, given the recent 9/11 attacks.  The small figure of the artist (within the powerful, beefy costume) was a reflection on how America (and New York itself) were vulnerable – as a nation and as a city.

And finally – I can’t finish this post without a pop culture reference. Lady Gaga has clad herself in “meaty clothes” a few times, once in a meat bikini on the cover of Vogue Hommes Japan. Soon after, Lady Gaga also appeared in a “meat dress” at the 2010 Video Music Awards, complete with a steak on her head (see below).

Lady Gaga's "meat dress" at the VMA music awards, 2010

Although Lady Gaga said in an interview that her dress was a statement about fighting for rights (and asserted “I am not a piece of meat”), I can’t help but see how her dress just reinforces the associations with the masculine consumption of women (which other feminists, including Carol J. Adams, have observed). In this outfit, I think Lady Gaga is suggesting that she is available for consumption on two levels: to satiate sexual and physical hunger. And because of the associations with animals and meat, Lady Gaga seems to reinforce her sexuality by suggesting that she, too, is animalistic.

Any thoughts? Have I spoiled your appetite? (Sorry!) I’m curious to see what other depictions of meat are out there. Do you know of any more? I’m also reminded of Pieter Aertsen’s two works The Butcher’s Stall (1551) and Cook in Front of a Stove (1559). Another example is Van Gogh’s Still Life with Apples, Meat, and a Roll (1886).

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The Turkey in Art

Happy Thanksgiving! This morning I’ve been wondering a little about the history of the turkey bird and its representation in art. I’ve learned a couple of interesting things, particularly from the book More than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual and Reality by Karen Davis. This book not only discusses the history of the turkey in connection with the Thanksgiving holiday, but also a broader history (and consumption) of the bird. The turkey was first shipped to Europe from Mexico in the early 16th century. The turkey was then bred in Europe (Davis specifically mentions Renaissance England) and eventually the domesticated bird was brought back over to the Americas.1

I think it’s pretty safe to say, then, that the turkey was viewed by Europeans as an “exotic” bird, at least initially. As I’ve been looking at some representations of turkeys this morning (all by European artists), I can’t help but wonder which of this artists might have viewed the turkey in an “exoticized” light, and which (later) artists may have seen the turkey as an integrated part of European life.

Here are some of my favorite turkeys in art:

Giambologna, "Turkey," 1560s. Image courtesy of Squinchpix.com

Johann Joachim Kändler, Turkey model, c. 1733. Getty Museum. This turkey was one of eight models which were made by the Meissen manufactory. Kändler, a sculptor, was hired to help with the royal commission for large porcelain animals.

Pieter Claesz, "Still Life with Turkey-Pie," 1627

Metsu, "The Poultry Seller," 1662

Michiel van der Voort the Elder, detail of pulpit, 1713, Cathedral of Our Lady (O.-L. Vrouwekathedraal), Antwerp

The turkey depicted on this pulpit is found on the left side of the image, halfway up the staircase. Its distinct tail feathers are especially noticeable. In addition to the turkey, this pulpit shows a variety of other birds, including a parrot, heron, owl, and peacock. These birds are included to emphasize the natural world, which was thought by Saint Bernard to be a source of inspiration for the faithful. (I bet this is the only instance in which the turkey bird serves as a point of spiritual inspiration!) I’d love to research more about this pulpit (if anyone has any sources to recommend, please leave a comment!). So far I have only found a few sources online: the Web Gallery of Art and this online forum. You can see another detail image of the pulpit here.

Goya, "Plucked Turkey," 1812

Do you have any favorite depictions of turkeys? Happy Thanksgiving!

1 Karen Davis, “More than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual and Reality” (Brooklyn, New York: Lantern Books, 2001), p. 54. Citation available online here. Davis’ book also goes into some depth discussing the difference between the wild turkey and domesticated turkey (see, for example, p. 79). She also mentions that the turkey was not a widespread part of Thanksgiving meals (outside of New England) until after 1800 (see p. 53).

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.