Archive for February, 2010

Blog #2 Rembrant

Rembrandt van Rijn
Elephant drawings
Netherlands 1637

The two drawings shown are two of several drawings by Rembrandt of a female elephant thought to have been an Asian elephant named Hanske who was known to have been in Holland at this time.

Rembrandt, one of the most important painters in Dutch history also completed hundreds of drawings and etchings during his lifetime. As an artist in Holland, an independent Protestant Republic, Rembrandt was not commissioned by the church or royalty and relied on the new merchant class to buy his work. Amsterdam was the commercial capital of Europe and was intensely prosperous. Rembrandt’s work was produced for the new wealthy merchants who bought a lot of art to display in their homes, and reflected the environment of the protestant merchant class. Most of Rembrandt’s drawings were unsigned as they were often for his private use and acted as a record of his thoughts on paper, providing a snapshot of contemporary life in Amsterdam.

The reason I chose these drawings and not a painting or one of his many self-portraits was to show another facet of his work and the care and thought he put into his drawings. These black chalk drawings of what was an exotic animal at the time, were treated with the same care Rembrandt would have used for a commissioned portrait for members of the new merchant class. I love how through careful use of the strokes of chalk he evokes the rough and wrinkled texture of the animals skin. It is so lifelike and evokes emotion as was common with Baroque era paintings. His drawings capture his observations of the world and are reminders that this was the period in which traders and explorers were discovering the world overseas. Everyone became fascinated by “the exotic” and Rembrandt was no exception.

Although Rembrandt was not thought of as a painter of animals he actually included them throughout his works and they can often be seen on the sidelines of his paintings.


Blog #1: Renaissance

“Netherlandish Proverbs”
Pieter Bruegel (Elder)
Painted in Antwerp, 1559
Currently displayed Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Pieter Bruegel has been described as one of the greatest Flemish sixteenth century masters. I was originally going to select his painting entitled “Peasant Wedding” but upon further investigation into his works I discovered the “Netherlandish Proverbs” and was so intrigued by this piece that I changed my mind.
This piece was originally titled “The Blue Cloak” or “The Folly of the World” and as such indicates that Bruegel was aiming to produce a study of human stupidity. The painting includes visual representations of more than 90 individual proverbs, some of which I will outline later. Proverbs generally refer to a common experience and are often expressed in metaphor, alliteration and rhyme. Proverbs were well known to the people of sixteenth century Flanders and the portrayal of them in this painting would not have gone unnoticed. Although proverbs had been represented in Flemish art before, this painting is the first to create a whole world of them. Bruegel uses images of proverbs to depict a Flemish village scene and this became one of his most popular paintings.¬†
I found this piece to be particularly appealing as on first glance it appears to show a superficial gaiety but upon further reflection you are drawn to his allegories of a foolish and sinful world. Bruegel produced brilliantly organised and very original artwork that has a complexity that is intriguing.
Bruegel was influenced by his teacher, Pieter Coecke and also Hieronymus Bosch. He was friendly with some of the most prominent humanists of the Netherlands and from 1556 he concentrated his work on satirical and moralizing subjects. It was the custom at that time to regard the country folk as figures of fun and in rustic life human nature was less disguised. Therefore, when artists wanted to show up the foolishness of humankind, playwrights and artists often took low life as their subject. Bruegel’s paintings reflected the interests and concerns of the humanists in the middle of the sixteenth century not so much by celebrating human achievement, more by portraying his own personal vision of human folly and morality. Humanism really allowed him to portray human nature including moral lessons of the time. Living in Antwerp he had a diverse society of influences to draw upon and he was able to focus on the relationships and interactions between different social groups and recognise humanistic themes. Working in the aftermath of the Reformation Bruegel managed to achieve a contemporary and insightful vision of the world and, brought a humanising spirit to traditional peasant scenes, whereby he was able to depict peasants’ philosophical problems humorously.
Here are just a few of the proverbs and their meanings as illustrated in “Netherlandish Proverbs”
To bang one’s head against a brick wall – trying to achieve the impossible.
To be a pillar-biter – being a religious hypocrite. I thought this one was particularly apt with him working in the aftermath of the reformation.
The world is turned upside down – everything is the opposite of what it should be, once again the reformation had changed the world, as they knew it.
To have the roof tiled with tarts – To be very wealthy, could be linked to the wealth of the Roman Catholic Church.
To run like one’s backside is on fire – To be in great distress.
To toss feathers in the wind – To work fruitlessly.
To put a spoke in someone’s wheel – To put up an obstacle, to destroy someone’s plans.

“Pieter Bruegel the Elder.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. 9 Feb. 2010 <>.