Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, loaned from the City of Amsterdam
oil on canvas, Amsterdam Museum
Update: The Dutch will stay through August 31, 2017! Thank you, Dutch!
Earlier I had written: It is with great sadness that I report that the handsome men pictured above have left the West Building at the National Gallery of Art where they have been in residence for the last five years. (Now, you can still see them and swoon!)
As they moved from gallery to gallery, place to place, sometimes on opposite walls, sometimes together during their reign, I followed them, a groupie of 17th century Dutch Golden Age men!
They, like magnets to see their confidence, their bravura, their looks of invitation (the youngers), or, at least, that's the way I liked to interpret their expressions, all the while noting their similarities and differences and finding something new each time I dropped in for a visit.
They welcomed me!
They liked me! What fun it all was. And yet, quoting Chaucer here, all good things must come to an end [of a relationship].
What can I tell you about these beguiling men?
They were among Amsterdam's elite, all but one of them members at various times of the city council, who were also "governors" of the headquarters of the Kloveniers, one of city's three militia companies. Three were burgomasters (mayors). Several were related by "strategic marriages."
In the painting on the bottom is a woman on the right believed to be Geertruyd Nachtglas, who was the administrator of the Kloveniersdoelen, the militia's building, which is the setting for both pieces. Ms. Nachtglas was appointed to her position after the death of her father (in the first painting, holding the drinking horn) and who, I believe, held the position prior to his daughter.
The works were painted 13 years apart by two classical Dutch artists: Govert Flinck, (1615 – 1660), and Bartholomeus van der Helst, (1613 – 1670).
Both Flinck and van der Helst were "two of the most renowned portraitists of their time," says the handsome color brochure. Flinck trained under Rembrandt in the early 1630s and like his teacher, "specialized in both history paintings and fashionable portraiture."
To stand and study these works was always of immense pleasure during each visit, and subsequent trips to their residencies always revealed new "finds."
Look at their grandeur! The majesty. I tell you clothes make the man. I still prefer a dressed-up man (tie) to the casual appearances most sport nowadays like he is on a perpetual trip to a soccer match.
But where was I?
In the first, the painting on top, Flinck captures the more serious tones, expressions, and clothing of his gentlemen, including ghostly complexions of the dead. Blood flows more rapidly in the youngers below, illustrated by their ruddy flesh tones.
In the top, the men looking at the viewer seem sad, wistful, expressions absent from the second. They seem distracted and weary. Life is a long journey! They exude the baggage they carry in their stern faces. "Now, it's your turn."
The younger men seem to be having a better time, and look! On the right are women. Clothing styles have changed.
Note the importance of the hands in both works, and how the artists emphasized them with light. See their gestures and the central figures in each, how each turns around to address the viewer, the man in the second who seems to say: "What are you doing here? You want to join us? You have news?"
What does the pointing to the viewer's right mean?
These are but two of 135 known Dutch militia portraits created by artists in the Netherlands' Golden Age during the 16th and 17th centuries. The National Gallery's Henrietta de Bruyn Kops, who wrote the brochure, said at the exhibition's opening, that the men were "movers and shakers" of the Dutch Republic, "really big men."
Her Excellency Renee Jones-Bos, then the ambassador of the Netherlands to the U.S., who also spoke at the opening, called the "friendship between the two countries, enormous," which, no doubt, helped bring about their loan to the U.S. (Dear Netherlands, we are exceedingly grateful!)
Which leads me to wonder that, with warmer relations between the leaders of Russia and the U.S., perhaps we can pursue loans from the Hermitage and vice-versa. Maybe?
What does this all mean? Whatever you want it to mean, including the words of English poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674) writing in 1648 about the same time as the paintings "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" which has its basis in Ausonius or Virgil, and Horace (my high school English teacher would be so proud):
You see what art can do!
- Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
- Old Time is still a-flying;
- And this same flower that smiles today
- To-morrow will be dying.
- The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
- The higher he's a-getting,
- The sooner will his race be run,
- And nearer he's to setting.
- That age is best which is the first,
- When youth and blood are warmer;
- But being spent, the worse, and worst
- Times still succeed the former.
- Then be not coy, but use your time,
- And, while ye may, go marry:
- For having lost but once your prime,
- You may forever tarry.