1111The Thys de Castella Collection: The Baroque Musician in PaintingImages: the paintings, drawing and etching collection.
No collection of baroque would be complete without an iconographical part. These works reflect the joy of music: making and celebrating it.
Also they are from the places where instruments and musicians flourished like the Lombardy of Campi and Bettera. A particular attention is devoted to the celebration and birth of music in the bacchanalia, a tradition of letting go through sounds that is the rapturous sense of music itself. Also alive in Steen's drawing and personality.
And obviously the vain sense that accompanies the descending of time: VANITAS. The folly of being a musician, the deep fragility evoked by Coisijn, Valck, amongst others. A portrait, a condition, a joke. The history of an edgy character: the baroque musician.
Jan Steen Leyden 1626-1679, Holland "A Musical Meeting" ink drawing
Steen was born in Leiden, where hi well-to-do, Catholic family were brewers who ran the tavern "The Red Helbert" for two generations. He was the eldest of eight or more children. Like his even more famous contemporary Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan Steen attended the Latin school and became a student in Leiden. He received his painterly education from Nicolaes Knupfer (1603-1660), a German painter of historical and figurative scenes in Utrecht. Influences of Knupfer can be found in Steen's use of composition and colour. Other sources of inspiration were Adriaen van Ostade and Isaac van Ostade, painters of rural scenes, who lived in Haarlem. Whether Steen actually studied with Ostade is not known. In 1648 Jan Steen and Gabriël Metsu founded the painters' Guild of Saint Luke at Leiden. Soon after he became and assistant to the renowned landscape painter Jan van Goyen and moved into his house on the Bierkade in The Hague. On October 3rd 1649 he married van Goyen's daughter Margriet, with whom he would have eight children. Steen worked with his father-in-law until 1654, when he moved to Delft, where he ran the brewery De Slang ("The Snake") for three years without much success. After the explosion in Delft in 1654 the art market was depressed, but Steen painted A Burgomaster of Delft and his daughter. It does not seem to be clear if this painting if this painting should be called a portrait or a genre work. Steen lived in Warmond, just north of Leiden, from 1656 till1660 and in Haarlem from 1660 til 1670 and in both periods he was especially productive. In 1670, after the death of his wife in 1669 and his father in 1670, Steen moved back to Leiden, where he stayed the rest of his life. When the art market collapsed in 1672, called the Year of Disaster, Steen opened a tavern. In April 1673 he married Maria van Egmont, who gave him another child. In 1674 he became president of the Saint Lucas Guild. Frans van Mieris became one of his drinking companions. He died in Leiden in 1679 and was interred in a family grave in the Pieterskerk. Daily life was Jan Steen's main pictorial theme. Many of the genre scenes he portrayed, as in "The Feast of Saint Nicholas", are lively to the point of chaos and lustfulness, so much that "a Jan Steen household", meaning a messy scene, became a Dutch proverb (een hishouden van Jan Steen). Subtle hints in his paintings seem to suggest that he meant to warn the viewer, rather than invite him, to copy this behaviour. Many of Steen's paintings bear references to old Dutch proverbs or literature. He often used members of his family as models, and painted quite a few self-portraits in which he showed no tendency of vanity. Steen did not shy away from other themes; he painted historical, mythological and religious scenes, portraits, still life's and natural scenes. His portraits of children are famous. He is also well known for his mastery of light and attention to detail, most notably in Persian rugs and other textiles. In 1945, Sturla Gudlaugsson, a specialist in Dutch seventeenth-century painting and iconography and Director of the Netherlands Institute for Art History and the Mauritshuis in The Hague, wrote The Comedians in the work of Jan Steen and his contemporaries, which revealed that a major influence on Jan Steen's work was the guild of the Rhetoricians or Rederijkers and their theatrical endeavours. It is often suggested that Jan Steen's paintings are a realistic portrayal of Dutch 17th century life. However, not everything he did was a purely realistic representation of his day-to-day environment. Many of his scenes contain idyllic and bucolic fantasies and a declamatory emphasis redolent of theater. Jan Steen's connection to theater is easily verifiable through his connection to the Rederijkers. There are two kinds of evidence for this connections. First, Jan Steen's uncle belonged to the Rhetorician in Leiden, where Steen was born and lived a substantial part of his life. Second, Jan Steen portrayed many scenes from the lives of the Rederijkers, an example being the painting "Rhetorician at a Window" of 1662-66 that is now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The humanity, humor and optimism of the figures suggest that Jan Steen knew these man well, and wanted to portray them positvely. This could not only be a concert but actually a reunion in fact of the Rederijkers, trying out with music before a show. It would be typical of Steen's attitude. It's clearly a drawing of a live scene, made rapidly, a sketch for a major painting. The archlute in the front is almost a scenographic trick that opens onto the scene. The interior might as well be one of his brewery, the violin and cornett raising their sounds in the damp atmosphere full of beer. The style is fast, the shadows subtle, like in the many of Rembrand's drawings of the time. Effects enhanced by the colour shift between the ivory paper and the sepia ink.
First image top left: "A musical meeting" (detail), 42x43
Top right: The Effect of Excessess, 1663-1665 circa
Self-portrait; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
A self-portrait as a liute player
In luxury, be careful 1660, oil on canvass, 105x146 cm
The lute player
Dal Catalogo La Collection Thys De Castella - A musical baroque cabinet des merveilles Eds. B4Baroque by Emiliano Marinucci (edizione limitata) 2016 Return to archive