Tag Archive: art

Friday Jan 31st was “Inspire Your Heart with the Arts” day, so I was inspired to write another art post, as I haven’t done one since last fall. Sorry for the delay in posting it but with work and real life, I’ve been swamped. I’ve been wanting to write about an art post about John Everett Millais for awhile now, ever since listening to the audiobook biography about his wife Effie Gray and their relationship back in October. I’ve known about his work since my undergraduate career but never really thought too much of it. I mean it was nice, but I preferred Dante Gabriel Rossetti or Edward Burne-Jones more. The audiobook definitely gave me more of an appreciation for his work though, and made me want to study it further.

John Everett Millais was part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (or PRB). As I have said in a previous post, They called themselves “Pre-Raphaelite” because the artists in the group imitated artwork done in the Medieval through Renaissance style before Raphael. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website on the Brotherhood, it was:

“an art characterized by minute description of detail, a luminous palette of bright colors that recalls the tempera paint used by medieval artists, and subject matter of a noble, religious, or moralizing nature. In mid-nineteenth-century England, a period marked by political upheaval, mass industrialization, and social ills, the Brotherhood at its inception strove to transmit a message of artistic renewal and moral reform by imbuing their art with seriousness, sincerity, and truth to nature.”

One of his most famous paintings done during his time with the PRB, and the one usually recognized by the most people, was Ophelia. Despite the fact that it was rejected by critics when it was originally created, it has been voted the public’s all-time favorite PRB painting in Tate Britain, where the painting currently resides. I personally think there are better more interesting PRB paintings out there but that’s just my opinion. However, I will say that he is excellent at painting the coloring in her face, really makes her look alive (close-up of her face shown here). The subject matter was taken from the Shakespeare play Hamlet. The painting shows the moment that Ophelia has gone crazy after Hamlet, her lover, killed her father Polonius. She has fallen into the water after collecting flowers from a tree hanging over a river, and she starts singing to herself before she drowns. This is not seen by the audience in the play, but rather described by Hamlet’s mother Queen Gertrude.

Ophelia, 1851-52

Ophelia by John Everett Millais, 1851-52

The model for the painting was the famous Elizabeth Siddal, who was the muse and later wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, although she modeled for several of the PRB. Ms. Siddal modeled by laying in an antique gown in a slightly-heated bathtub for hours upon hours, resulting in a serious illness that her father demanded the artist pay for (he later did). Millais painted the landscape part of the painting in nature, which was not something usually done during that time period (a technique which was also made famous by the Impressionists in France). By painting in nature, he was able to be incredibly detailed, especially in his depiction of the flowers and plants. Millais’ son John Guille said the flowers were so realistic that “a professor teaching botany, who was unable to take a class of students into the country, took them to see the flowers in the painting Ophelia, as they were as instructive as nature itself.” In fact, according to Tate Gallery, some of the symbolism is taken directly from the play.

“The weeping willow symbolizes forsaken love. The nettle on the willow’s branches represent pain. The daisies floating near Ophelia’s right hand represents innocence. The pink roses symbolize youth, love and beauty. Violets are a symbol of faithfulness and they can also symbolize chastity and death in the young. The pale blue forget-me-nots in the immediate foreground carry the meaning of their name. The red poppy represents sleep and death.”

The second painting I would like to discuss is The Order of Release 1746. The painting’s subject matter is taken from the Battle of Culloden, where the Scottish and Bonnie Prince Charlie were massacred by the English, lead by Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (a younger son of King George II) on April 16, 1746. Here one of the Jacobites is being released from prison. According to the Tate Gallery, “Millais appears to have invented the incident, but may also have been inspired by the novels of Sir Walter Scott, which provided a wealth material for artists and illustrators in the second half of the 19th Century.”

The Order of Release 1746, 1852-53

The Order of Release 1746

The Jacobite soldier is wounded and exhausted from battle, and leans on his wife for support. She, in turn, is cradling her fast-asleep daughter as she hands over her husband’s release papers to the Redcoat guard. Their daughter has brought flowers to greet her father, but they have mostly fallen to the floor in her deep sleep. The dog is overjoyed to see his master and jumps up on him to show it. We can’t quite read the wife’s expression. The Tate Gallery believes that “she appears strangely detached from the action, and the suggestion is that she may have been forced to sacrifice her virtue in order to save her husband.” I don’t know whether that is true or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was. I think she might just be worn out. She looks like most mothers, taking care of  everyone and making sure everything is in order. Being the comforter, supporter, and responsible party is hard work. The cool thing about this painting, according to Sally King, is that “Millais designates primary power to the woman in this picture, contrasting the typically passive female figure he features in many of his paintings. The woman provides the emotional and physical balance to the picture.” Neither the wife nor the husband look out at the viewer has meaning. The husband is almost hiding his head in shame, probably from being defeated in battle, being captured and probably also from being released by his wife.

He used his future wife Effie Gray for the model of the wife, though he darkens her hair. He is incredibly detailed in describing the scene, making it almost photorealistic. “Millais’ photorealism upset many of his viewers at first, who could not see the point of rendering such a strange picture with such precision. In fact, it suits the genre of this piece, enhancing its life-likeness and suggesting that the scene actually occurred.” He made sure to copy an actual Order of Release, and took pains to get the tartans on the daughter and father right. According to the Tate Gallery, “For the tartans he consulted Robert McIan’s Highland Clans. The Jacobite wears the Gordon tartan and the little girl the Drummond, presumably the mother’s clan.” The work was greatly received by the public when it was exhibited in the Royal Academy’s Exhibition of 1853, so much so that they had to install a police officer to move the crowds along. It was one of the first paintings of Millais to move away from the Pre-Raphaelite style, which caused Williams Morris (who later helped Dante Gabriel Rossetti revamp the Pre-Raphaelite movement) to dismiss him saying “a genius bought and sold and thrown away”.

Portrait of John Ruskin, 1853-54

Portrait of John Ruskin - Millais

The next painting I would like to discuss is the portrait of John Ruskin. I will admit that I had seen this work way before I knew who the subject was or the story behind it. Ruskin stands on the rocks in front of a waterfall in Glenfinlas, Scotland in the Trossachs (near Stirling). Similar to the way he painted nature in Ophelia, Millais is incredibly detailed. You can almost hear the waterfall falling behind him. Ruskin wanted the picture to be painted outdoors in nature versus being created in a studio because he was hoping Millais would be the next great landscape, like his idol J. M. W. Turner. The portrait was commissioned by Ruskin for his father.

While it is an interesting piece, I think the story behind it is much more interesting. Renowned art critic John Ruskin invited John Everett Millais to Scotland with him and his wife Effie Gray in the summer of 1853. As mentioned above, Effie had posed as the female model for The Order of Release 1746. According to Dr. Rebecca Easley,

“The relationship between the young artist and the established critic began when Ruskin wrote two letters to The Times defending the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1851. Millais wrote to thank Ruskin, and Ruskin discovered a young artist he thought worthy of molding. Millais found the experience of [of painting the portrait] difficult, as Ruskin was an extremely controlling mentor, directing much of the production of the painting. He painted the background landscape of the painting during that summer, but Ruskin did not come to model for the actual portrait until January of 1854, but it was not finished until December 1854 when Ruskin’s father paid for the painting.”

While on holiday in Scotland, Millais and Ruskin’s wife Effie Gray fell in love. Her marriage to Ruskin was not happy. He was very controlling and they ended up annulling the marriage in April 1854 due to the non-consummation of their five year marriage and his “incurable impotence”.  She ended up marrying Millais about a year later and they had eight children together. Being a divorced woman in Victorian times was a huge social stigma, and for Effie this was accentuated by the fact that Queen Victoria herself wouldn’t receive her in court (she later did after a death bed plea from Millais). Thankfully Millais was eventually rewarded for all his hard work by being awarded a barony in 1885 and becoming the President of the Academy shortly before his death.

The History of Quilting

Normally I would not post on this topic, but I was asked by the one church committee  I participate with, to do a lecture on quilting for the art exhibition we are having at the church. I had previously done something similar for the Ethiopian Church Art exhibit we put on about 6 months ago. As I have explained before, my undergraduate degree is in Art History and I actually enjoy researching, especially if it is about art. I learned quite a bit, and yes, it was actually interesting, despite my initial trepidations. I’m not saying I want to quilt, but I have more respect for those who do. My talk was well-received by the people who came to the exhibit opening, so I’m happy about that.

Quilting Art Talk

The term “quilt” comes from the Latin culcita, which means “a stuffed sack”. Quilts came into existence as far back as “the Egyptian First Dynasty about 3400 B.C. Other examples were found in China, dating to somewhere between the first century B.C. to the second century A.D.”[1]Quilting was also found in Persia, Turkestan and Northern Africa. It arrived in Europe in the eleventh century. These quilts were first used as bed and wall coverings and they were passed down from generation to generation and seen as heirlooms. Wealthy family made quilts made out of whole fabrics, while poorer families used scrapped cloth.

“In the Middle Ages quilting was also used to produce clothing that was light as well as warm. It was also used for protective wear such as the padded jackets worn under armor to make it more comfortable or even, if very thick, as the top layer for people too poor to afford metal armor. Quilting was at its most popular in this country in the 17th century: in the early years for the quilted silk doublets and breeches worn by wealthy courtiers, and later on for petticoats, jackets and waistcoats.”[2]

Quilts were brought over to America by English settlers in the 18th Century. Unlike what most people think, most Colonial homes did not have quilts on their beds. This was reserved for the very wealthy, and again they were made them out of whole pieces of fabric. Most Colonial settlers used blankets, bed rugs or coverlets.

“Women did not sit by the fire and quilt in Colonial times, it was a romantic notion made up later in the 19th century. By about 1840 the textile industry had grown to the point that fabric was readily available to most families. Only then did quilting become an occupation of the everyday woman.”[3]

During the Civil War is when quilts really came into their own in America. They were originally made “to raise money for the war effort as well as to keep soldiers warm,”[4] although there were some with an even larger purpose. Quilts that featured a particular block pattern called the “Log Cabin” were put on a clothesline outside a home that was part of the Underground Railroad, which helped African slaves escape from slavery.

Let me explain what I actually mean when I use the term “quilts”. They are usually made up of two layers of fabric, the top and back, with a padding layer in-between called batting or wadding, that is all held together by stitching (which can be plain or in decorative patterns). Historically, quilts in America were made up of single pieces of cloth such as silk, cotton, wool or linen. Nowadays 100% cotton is the preferable material. Scrap quilts use many different kinds of material, for example, “Antique crazy quilts combined silk, wool and cotton.”[5]

Many different tools are used when creating a quilt. “For handwork, a needle, some pins, thread and a pair of scissors are enough to get started. For machine-sewing, add a sewing machine to the list. Basic sewing supplies such as a measuring tape, seam ripper, pincushion, colored pencils, graph paper, tracing paper, and a light box are just some of tools used by quilt makers. Today, most hand quilters prefer the use of hoops to the confinement of large floor frames, as they require a great deal of space.”[6]

There are many different ways to create quilts.  As I have mentioned before one technique is Whole Cloth or Plain quilts, which uses one whole piece of cloth as a top piece. “A whole cloth quilt is about color and texture – one color and a lot of texture; it’s simple and elegant.”[7] Another common type of quilting is Pieced, otherwise known as Patchwork, which uses different fabrics pieced together to create a design. A variation of Pieced Quilting is called Paper/Foundation Piecing, which layers the fabric over a paper pattern or foundation. The pattern is numbered which “guides the construction of the block or quilt from beginning to end, making it a little bit like color-by-number.”[8] Appliqué is the third most common kind of quilting, and is “the process of placing shapes onto a background and then sewing them to the background with one of a various number of hand or machine techniques.”[9] Memory quilts are also another very popular type of quilting. They are created to remember a loved one, celebrate an event like a baby’s birth, or he

A technique that has come into greater prominence since the 1960s is the Art quilt. These works of art are made to inspire the owner and are usually hung up rather than being used as a bed covering. “An art quilt’s style can be abstract or realistic. It often uses materials that are unusual in traditional quilts (paint, metal, Angelina fibers [a very fine fabric that reflects and refracts light and adds a touch of sparkle], or Tyvek [a building material], to name a few), and may be three-dimensional. It may employ surface design and construction techniques that are not used in traditional quilting.”[10]

When I was completing my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to work at the Valentine Richmond History Center as a Security Guard for a traveling quilt exhibition from the Smithsonian called Women of Taste: A Collaboration Celebrating Quilt Artists and Chefs. “It was organized with Girls Incorporated of Alameda County, California, [who] paired women chefs and quilters to create 50 dynamic culinary quilts.”[11] While the exhibit was going on, I not only protected the artwork, but got to do mini-tours around the 25 art quilts presented in the show.

[2] Taken 12/20/13 from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London at: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/i/quilting-introduction/, 2013.

[3] Taken 12/23/13 from Judy Anne Johnson Breneman of Patches From the Past at: http://www.historyofquilts.com/colonial.html, 2002.

[5]Taken 12/20/13 from House of White Birches at: http://www.quiltersworld.com/basics.php, 1999-2006.

[6] Ibid.

[7]Taken 12/20/13 from Geta Garma of Geta’s Quilting Studio at: http://cadouri-din-inima.blogspot.com/2013/03/how-to-make-wholecloth-quilts-tutorial.html, March 22. 2013

[8]Taken 12/20/13 from Pat Sloan of The Learning Center at: http://quiltinggallery.com/2012/03/06/quilting-types-and-styles/ , March 12, 2012.

[9] Ibid. 

[10] Ibid.

[11] Taken 12/20/13 from the Smithsonian’s list of archived exhibitions at: http://www.sites.si.edu/exhibitions/exhibits/archived_exhibitions/women_of_taste.htm, 1999-2002.

Other Resources Used

I  did not remember how much of an influence the painter Manet had on the Impressionists, most of whom he knew. I was reminded of this fact after listening to Christopher Moore’s excellent new book Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d’Art. The  author discussed these two paintings, Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia.  My favorite Manet painting is the The Bar at the Folies-Bergere, which I described in this post from last summer. In order to better explain Manet, I will give some background information on how paintings were exhibited in France in the nineteenth century.

The Academie des Beaux-Arts, or the School of Fine Arts, was the official school of French painting. It was established in 1671, and later merged with the Royal Schools of Painting and Sculpture, Music and Architecture in 1816. According to this website:

“The French Academy (as it is known in art history circles) decided on the ‘official’ art for France. It set the standards under the supervision of a select group of member artists, who were deemed worthy by their peers and the State. The Academy determined what was good art, bad art and even dangerous art! The French Academy protected French culture from ‘corruption’ by rejecting avant-garde tendencies among their students and those who submitted to the annual Salon.”

Famous French painters such as David and Ingres were both members of the Academy. The traditional artwork of the Academy took a  classical approach to paintings, especially in regard to subject matter and technique. The Realists, and later the Impressionists, did not want to be part of the official Salon. In fact, this was one of the reasons why the  Impressionists were such a crazy departure from the norm of French art. The French Realism movement (1840 – 1870s), “was based on direct observation of the modern world. Realists recorded in often gritty detail the present-day existence of humble people, paralleling related trends in the naturalist literature of Émile Zola, Honoré de Balzac, and Gustave Flaubert.” Famous painters from this movement included Gustave Courbet and Jean-Francois Millet.

Edouard Manet was the bridge between the Realist painters and the Impressionists. Though during his lifetime, he considered himself to be a Realist painter, he has been called the father of Impressionism (though he never joined the movement). Manet did not coin the term “Impressionism“; that was taken from a 1872 Monet painting where he used “quick, visible brushstrokes of unblended color, which was adopted as a stylistic hallmark of the movement.” But let’s back up a few years to talk about the Salon des Refuses. In 1863, the French Academy rejected  over half of the 2,000+ painting submissions it received for the Salon (the annual exhibition given by the Academy) which ended up in a separate exhibit called “The Salon des Refuses,” or the Salon of the Refused, being created to display all the work that the Academy deemed unfit. Manet submitted Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) to the Academy that year and it was rejected, but made it into the Salon des Refuses, where it caused a humongous scandal.

The Luncheon on the Grass by Edouard Manet,  1863


The painting was supposedly denied to the original Salon of 1863 due to it being too immoral, the then-emperor Napolean III saying “It offends against modesty.” It is interesting to note that the artist considered the nude to be worthy of painting because it was the way to gain fame within the Salon. He originally titled the painting The Bath. Manet wanted to do the nude a different way and, according to this article,

“was clear that he meant to include the people who bathed in the Seine.  These would have been the urban poor who had no other recourse for cleanliness or recreation than the city’s river. Manet was also familiar with Giorgione’s Fête champêtre  (1508), a country or rustic scene with a theme of humans living in harmony with nature.  Apparently, Manet combined the ideal rustic scene with the actual and current way in which ordinary people used nature.”

He was also influenced by Raphael’s drawing The Judgment of Paris, which he most likely had seen from the engraving done by Marcantonio Raimondi. The right bottom grouping of people are the ones he modeled his figures after. In his painting, Manet showed two fully clothed men, most likely students or artists, and one completely nude woman in front with another female bathing in her undergarments in the background. He used Victorine Meurent as the model for both this painting and Olympia, however, as it is explained in this article, “it is clear that it is her head in the painting but it is definitely not her lithe body; it is more likely that the [nude] body belongs to the more curvaceous and ‘love-handled’ Suzanne Leenhof, his wife.”

Not only was it taboo for the woman to be naked with two clothed men, she’s also staring straight out at the viewer. It’s also interesting that the two men seem to be paying no attention to her whatsoever and are in the middle of a vigorous discussion. According to the Musee D’Orsay (where the painting now resides),

“The presence of a nude woman among clothed men is justified neither by mythological nor allegorical precedents. This, and the contemporary dress, rendered the strange and almost unreal scene obscene in the eyes of the public of the day. The painting became the principal attraction [of the Salon des Refuses], generating both laughter and scandal.”

I’m never quite sure if the nude woman is a prostitute or just very confident. Scholars disagree on this point as well. I think, as others have suggested that the women are instead highlighting the prostitution problem in Paris’s parks, a topic that was not discussed in public. If you go off of Christopher Moore’s interpretation, the nude woman just had her way with the two men who are now just going about their day.


Olympia, which was shown two years later in the actual Salon, caused even more scandal. According to PBS, which produced a documentary on the painting, “Many scholars believe that Olympia was admitted to the Salon because jurors didn’t want to be accused of censorship following the strong negative reaction to Déjeuner. Instead, they decided to expose the artist and his work to the wrath of the real critics — the public. As expected, Manet was vilified by Salon-goers. Guards have to be stationed next to it to protect it, until it is moved to a spot high above a doorway, out of reach.”

Manet used one of Titian’s most famous pieces, Venus of Urbino, as well as Goya’s Maja Desnuda as his guide in creating Olympia. The woman in Manet’s painting is a courtesan, and she is portrayed as a real woman of the time period and not as an idealized female, as women were usually portrayed in French Academic art. To better understand the difference between a common prostitute and a courtesan, check this link. In both The Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia, the nude woman stares directly at the viewer. However, in this  painting, it is in a faintly disinterested way as if to say “This is what I am, what of it?” Her black servant has brought her a bouquet of flowers from a client but she isn’t even paying attention to it. She lies on top of a embroidered Oriental shawl and a little black cat at the end of the bed. It wasn’t only the subject matter that disturbed the public and art critics, but also the way Manet handled the paint. “Rejecting his traditional art training, Manet chose instead to paint with bold brush strokes, implied shapes, and vigorous, simplified forms.” He contrasts the bright body of the nude courtesan and the white sheets of her bed, with the complete darkness of the rest of the room. All in all both paintings were ones that challenged the Academy and the way the French people looked at art, and paved the way for the Impressionists.

I first posted about Rembrandt back in July, but I had so much material, I decided to do two separate posts. In the first one, I covered a basic life story and featured paintings that described the man himself, namely a self-portrait (he completed more than 90), and paintings of his wife Saskia, son Titus and common-law wife Hendrickje. These three are probably my favorite paintings by the artist. I will describe them chronologically by date produced.

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, 1630


I first discovered this painting in the gift shop of the Rijksmuseum, when I had gone back at age twenty-one to further explore the museum. My first trip was very rushed as we were part of a tour group, but for the second trip I was on my own and could take my time. I am a little embarrassed to say I don’t think I actually knew it was by Rembrandt, but just liked the look of it, especially the chiaroscuro aspects of it (the way the artist paints the light and darkness to explain the subject matter). According to the Bible, Jeremiah prophesied about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, which resulted in the beginning of the Babylonian Exile of the Jewish people. It is crazy to think that this painting was done when the painter was only 24 years old, as it shows a level of maturity not only in the subject matter but the way he handles it.

In the painting, as the title suggests, Jeremiah is upset over the destruction of Jerusalem, something he foretold but no one listened to him (rather like Cassandra during the Trojan War). The city of Jerusalem burns in the background of the painting. He leans on a Bible or what might be the Book of Jeremiah or the Book of Lamentations, and it is supporting him. He has managed to secure a few of the holy relics that were kept in the Temple of Solomon, seen burning in the background. To get a glimpse into the mind of the prophet, I found this website which seems to best describes it: “Jeremiah had failed as a prophet of the Lord to convince his people of the city’s destruction and was punished for it by the king. Though the fault was not his, the guilt must have weighted heavily on his mind. The guilt and the pain of a failed prophet was revealed in this painting.”

The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenhurch , 1642

 The Night Watch - Rembrandt

As I have said in the previous post, I first saw this painting when I was sixteen on my first remembered trip to Europe. I was in awe of its size at first glance (nearly 12 x 14 ft), though it was many years and Baroque art history class before I could actually tell you anything of consequence about the painting. The title it is known most often by isThe Night Watch, which is ironic, as the original painting was not set during night-time but the day.  A dark varnish had been applied for most of its life, due to the brown that Rembrandt was found of using, and that combined with several hundred years of dirt had made it appear dark.

The painting shows a group portrait of a city militia led by Captain Frans Banning Cocq, who was also the mayor of Amsterdam. According to this Guardian post,

“Companies of urban militia were part of the everyday life of the Dutch Republic, as it asserted its independence from the Spanish empire. Instead of a distinguished company of worthy officers and well-trained men Rembrandt shows a baroque profusion of gestures and expressions, a raggle taggle crowd of comic types from an old soldier hunched over his gun to the preening figures of the militia captain and his lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch. Rembrandt’s masterpiece in modern times has come to epitomize Dutch national pride.”

The piece was commissioned by the Captain and 17 members of his guard. There were more members of the company of men, but only 18 paid, so they were featured in the painting. Rembrandt added an additional 16 figures to make the scene more animated. According to this page, ironically by the time the painting was completed, watches were no longer needed. “Their meetings had been diverted chiefly to social or sporting purposes; if they may be said to have any particular destination in the painting, it is perhaps to march into the fields for a shooting contest or to take part in a parade.” The painting was originally placed in the Kloveniersdoelen, or the headquarters of the Arquebusiers (Musket-bearing civic guard) in Amsterdam. It was later moved in 1715 to Amsterdam’s Town Hall and it was then that the painting was damaged and two figures on the left side were cut off to make sure the painting would fit. It eventually ended up in the newly finished Rijksmuseum in 1885 and has remained there ever since.

The painting is unique as it was “by far the most revolutionary painting Rembrandt had yet made, transforming the traditional Dutch group portrait into a dazzling blaze of light, color and motion, and subordinating the requirements of orthodox portraiture to a far larger, more complex but still unified whole.” The men in the painting are shown in action, in the middle of getting ready for a patrol. You can almost hear the men shouting, the drums being played, the dog barking and muskets being loaded as everyone prepares. The Captain is featured in the center of the painting in dark clothing and a red sash, with hand outstretched. His lieutenant is dressed in yellow with a white sash.  Yellow was seen as the color of victory, which is completely different than its connotations nowadyas. Rembrandt reportedly placed himself in the painting in the center, to the left behind the Captain. The man immediately to Rembrandt’s left is holding up the company’s colors with the flags. There is a dog  to the right of the lieutenant, though he may be hard to see, as part of the dog is on the spot where the painting was attacked in 1975 and there was a zigzag rip in the piece. The little girl bathed in golden light to the left of the captain is a bit of a mystery. Some believe that she is the mascot of the company, as she is shown with, according to this Wikipedia article “the claws of a dead chicken on her belt represent the clauweniers (arquebusiers); the pistol behind the chicken stands for ‘clover’; and, she is holding the militia’s goblet.” Some believe that Rembrandt’s wife Saskia was used as a model for the girl, and I must say that there is a resemblance. I can’t say for sure if this is true as she died the same year the painting was completed.

To learn more about this piece, check out this CNN article. To check one way that The Night Watch has influenced popular culture is to check out this flashmob created by the Rijksmuseum called “Our Heroes Are Back” done at a Dutch shopping mall in April 2013. I thought this was a great idea, especially as it was highlighting the reopening of the museum (after its’ 10 year remodeling closure from 2003-2013). I wish people would do things like this in American shopping centers to celebrate art.

The Jewish Bride, c. 1665-1669


This painting is known as one of the greatest portraits ever created, and is one of the best the Rembrandt painted in the final years of his life. It is not actually known who the painting is supposed to depict, but most art historians believe the painting to be a couple portrait with the figures representing Isaac and Rebecca from the Old Testament. According to this website  (which quotes the Rijksmuseum – where the painting resides):

“The painting became known as the ‘Jewish Bride’ in the early 19th century after the Amsterdam art collector, Van der Hoop, identified the subject of the painting as a Jewish father hanging a necklace around his daughter’s neck on her wedding day. In light of this interpretation, several scholars claim the couple could be figures from the bible, perhaps Isaac and Rebecca (having masked the true nature of their relationship to the Philistine king Abimelech), Jacob and Rachel, Judah and Tamar or Boaz and Ruth, or a variety of figures from the New Testament and the Apocrypha.” For more information on whether or not The Jewish Bride is actually Jewish or not, check out the above link.

On to the content of the painting itself. I will admit that the first time I saw this painting, I thought it was a little pervy. Is he coping a feel, putting a necklace on or pledging his love to her by placing his hand over her heart? Having studied art history in past and more to the point, Baroque art, especially Rembrandt’s work, I would go for the final answer. My interpretation is backed up by this website which says, “The man places his hand on the woman’s bosom, while she moves instinctively to protect her modesty, in keeping with the new aesthetics of Protestant Reformation Art (c.1520-1700). Yet both show every sign of tenderness towards each other, so this is hardly a typical seduction scene.”

Whoever the subjects of the painting were in real life, they are obviously very well off, as exemplified by the rich reds and golds used. According to this website: “Rembrandt used a palette knife instead of a brush to apply the gold on the man’s sleeve with thick strokes which reflect the light, and in the woman’s red dress some parts are laid on so thickly that the paint itself creates light and shadow. The man’s coat consists of several layers of paint not only applied but also scratched and scraped to give the effect of cloth of gold.”

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

Self-Portait, 1659

Rembrandt Self Portait 1659

Since Rembrandt’s 407th birthday was on Monday, I figured now would be as good a time as any to do another art post, as I really enjoy them even though it takes me forever to create one. Pretty much everyone has heard of the painter Rembrandt. His name brings up the image of some of his more famous works, such as The Nightwatch or one of his many self – portraits. If you would like to know more about the artist, check out this biography. I was first exposed to Rembrandt the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, when I took my first European trip. I was born in Germany and lived there for a few years, but this is the first trip that I remember. We had gone to the Rijksmuseum (State Museum) in Amsterdam, and I had briefly seen The Nightwatch by Rembrandt on a whirlwind tour through the museum. I was amazed that one painting could be so enormous, as it took up an entire wall, floor to ceiling. I didn’t get to examine it in thoroughly until about four years later, while on Spring Break during my Study-Abroad to Italy. Around this time, my mom became totally enthralled with his version of Return of the Prodigal Son , and had a large poster of it in her office when she was a parish priest. I also viewed his work and others like it for a Chiuroscuro exhibition at the Rembrandt House . This was where the artist lived and worked for about 20 years before it became too much of a financial burden, and it is now a museum. During my undergraduate degree in Art History, I took a class on Baroque art which featured his art along with many other artists.

For this blog post, I plan on examining this famous artist by discussing key aspects of his life, in particular his relationships with others. In particular, I would like to focus on his wife Saskia, his son Titus and his mistress/common law wife Hendrickje. I would also like to discuss two of his most famous works, The Nightwatch and The Jewish Bride (Isaac and Rebecca) because I enjoy them, but will do so in a separate post.

He met Saskia through her cousin Hendrick, in whose house Rembrandt was living in 1633, and she became a regular sitter for his artwork. She died of Tuberculosis in 1642, and their son Titus was born just seven months before her death. In addition to making him Titus’s sole guardian, Saskia’s will also, according to this paper from the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University, “dictated (as was usual) that Rembrandt would forfeit his interest in Saskia’s property if he ever remarried; for whatever reason, he never did.” The painting I would like to examine is one that he completed only a year after they got married. It is entitled Saskia van Uylenburgh in Arcadian Costume. According to this blog post on the two of them, “Rembrandt has dressed her as a deity of youth, rebirth and beauty, along with her rustic shepherdess’s staff. This idyllic and pastoral setting was very popular with the upper-class Dutch society in the early seventeenth century. They had a love of all things to do with the romantic ideal of life in the countryside which they perceived as unadulterated bliss.”

Saskia van Ulylenburgh in Arcadian Costume, 1635


 I’ve always been fascinated by Saskia, as he always seems to paint her with almost ethereal quality with her light-colored hair in a halo around her head. They were only married a very short time but he seems to think of her as the love of his life and is devastated when she dies before the age of 30, and only married for seven years. I guess I am a little curious what she saw in him. After all, all though he seemed to have a good education, he came from a less prosperous family (his father was a miller) than her very large wealthy family. Not to say he’s a bum or a mooch, but it is hard for people from two social classes to get along properly at times. It is interesting to note that her family approved of the match, but his family did not because of religious reasons (he cut ties with them after this). Obviously from the viewpoint of Rembrandt it was a good match because her cousin Hendrick was a well-known art dealer who helped him advance his career.

Rembrandt’s son Titus is the first living child out of four that his mother Saskia brought into this world. He became a painter like his father and married a silversmith’s daughter. It is interesting to note that the woman he married was a relative of Saskia, Titus’s mother, and was specifically chosen to avoid any further lawsuits from her against Rembrandt, in the future, over money issues. Titus lived to age 27, dying of the plague one year before his father and his wife had a daughter 6 months after that. My favorite painting of him is one that is in the Rijksmuseum, and shows him in a monk’s habit.

Titus van Rijn Dressed in a Monk’s Habit, 1660

Titus van Rijn in a Monk's Habit by Rembrandt

Hendrickje came into Rembrandt’s life originally as his housekeeper/maid. At the time, he was having a relationship with Titus’s nurse Geertje, but it was not as serious as his relationship with Hendrickje, with whom he fathered a child. I did find it sort of amusing on this blog post that “in June 1654 the Council of the Reformed Church of Amsterdam got wind of this relationship and summoned Rembrandt and Hendrickje to stand before them. Rembrandt was not a practicing churchgoer so the matter against him was dropped. Hendrickje however was accused of whoredom and of living with a man, unwed [oh yeah blame the female maid and not her employer]. Being six months pregnant there was little point in denying the charge. Her punishment was being unable to receive communion.” Another part of the reason the church made such a big deal about the two of them was because Hendrickje was 20 years younger than Rembrandt, and she had posed nude for the Bathsheba painting. Hendrickje gave him a daughter in June 1654. She, and possibly Geertje, become his common-law wives.  She died 9 years later, likely of bubonic plague.

For awhile, she was his muse and he painted and probably drew her image multiple times. The most famous painting she posed for was Bathsheba at Her Bath, now in the Louvre. The story is taken from the Old Testament of the Bible. King David is standing on the roof of his palace and sees a beautiful woman taking a bath. He finds out that she is Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite. David starts lusting after her and sends her a letter asking her to come/summoning her to the palace, where they will eventually consumate their relationship. As soon as he realizes that she is pregnant with his child, David sends Uriah on a deadly battle mission and he is killed in action. The king marries Bathsheba but the child does not survive, as it has been cursed by God, thanks to David’s method of consummation. Normally most versions of this painting show Bathsheba as David first spies her, but Rembrandt sets the scene a bit later, after she gets the summons from the king and is holding it in her hand and trying to decide what to do. Should she be unfaithful to her husband? Or should not even consider this and just be faithful to her king and do his bidding? She is sad in her contemplation, and perhaps a bit guilty. A servant kneels at her feet and washes them. She is surrounded by a golden brocaded robe, and yet holds a simple white shift in her hand. I like that the woman in the painting does not look like a supermodel, but more  like someone’s actual wife. It is as  this article says “The models were no ethereal beauties, but ordinary Dutch women, who could make good use of the money they earned by posing. But Rembrandt also had prints in his collection after paintings by Italians, whose canvases usually represented women of ideal beauty. He put Bathsheba about halfway between the two.”

Bathsheeba at Her Bath, 1654

Bathsheba at Her Bath - Rembrandt 1654

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