At the end of the Late Renaissance, a new style of art was beginning to emerge. The detail and attention that had previously been placed on complex composition and contorted, elongated, and muscular figures was becoming tiresome and pretentious. This Mannerist style was beginning to transform into a more subtle explanation of space, movement, and immediacy now known as Baroque art. This new style also began to focus on thought, the thought process, and the inner workings of the mind. It strove to illustrate the psyche and bring forward a sense of emotional depth. The subject of light and cast shadow also became an important issue during this time.
It is a large step towards modern art, because there is less focus on craft and precision (although these elements are certainly not disregarded), and more concentration placed on the psychological factors in the art. In the Seventeenth Century, during the period of Baroque art, a European country began to thrive economically, socially, and academically. This country was known as the Netherlands. The Dutch people were the "most urbanized in Europe and the country had the highest literacy rate".
(1) These elements all played an essential role in creating an unusually high development of art during the seventeenth century. "Every year, 70,000 pictures were painted" (1) and this inevitably lead to "an unusually large number of people owning works of art". (1) People in the Netherlands began to paint scenes of everyday life, like shopkeepers, farmers, bakers, or barkeeps, known as "genre paintings". There were different levels of "genre paintings". A "high genre" painting was of a historical event, whether it was factional or fictional, recorded in history books or mythological ones. A "low genre" painting was a painting about the everyday or peasant life.
Also, some artists painted only landscapes and seascapes, just depicting a peaceful scene or attempting to show the divine spirit in nature. And other artists began to paint only the architecture and housing of the Netherlands. During the Seventeenth Century, it was very hard for an artist to make a living solely on his or her artwork. They had to produce about five paintings every week in order to keep up economically, and sometimes even that was not enough. So, some artists were forced to move into other areas of employment, while still producing their artwork. Even though most of this art may have been created in order to make a living or survive, most artists still produced emotion, intent, and purpose in their work.
An important scene that began to appear in much of the Dutch artwork of the Seventeenth Century was the interior painting. Many different artists, like Johannes Vermeer, Emanuel Witte, Nicolaes Maes, and Pieter de Hooch, used this type of painting in a wide variety of ways, both "low" and "high genres". While others painters, like Caravaggio or Judith Lester, would avoid the background space all together, whether the scene was placed indoors or outside. This is not to suggest that denying the background space is wrong, just to define it as a new and different way of handling a paintings atmosphere.
For example, Caravaggio, also a Baroque Dutch artist, used a technique called tenebrism in his paintings, which created the illusion of an atmospheric haze or darkness in the background and lighting, and engulfs his figures in shadow. So, the interior space, nor the exterior space, is rendered at all, except for as it was depicted in the tenebrism. And in his later work, Rembrandt began to use this method of shadowing in his paintings. But, Rembrandt still usually provided the suggestion of an interior space. This allowed Rembrandt the opportunity to access the inner drama and theatrical lighting of his paintings, and the ability to compose his work with cast light and shadows. On the other hand, there were many other artists that chose to utilize the interior space for their own artwork.
Probably the most famous painter of Dutch interior spaces is Johannes Vermeer. He was born around 1632 in Delft, and became famous for his artwork during his lifetime. His work's style and composition became very evident and characteristic. It is not known who taught Vermeer the art of painting, but certainly influences from past art can been seen in his work.
Most of his interior paintings include one to three figures, a window on the left wall of the room (this may be because his studio was set up as such), and light coming in through the window, creating form and shadow in the composition. It is said that his subject, is light itself. He constantly plays with light and the manner in which it fall upon an object. Vermeer was not only a painter of interior spaces with light and shadow.
He included meaning and purpose, and there were lessons to be learned in his artwork. The Dutch sought to teach a person, while they entertained them. Good morals were a very high priority in the Netherlands in the Seventeenth Century. The Dutch even had games where one could read an entertaining story and then they would have to reflect back, and find the moral of the story. It was very common for a Dutch artist to include messages of proper ethics and principles into his or her artwork. Vermeer is also thought to have used camera obscura, which is a darkened enclosure with a lens, through which light from external objects enters to form an image of the objects on the opposite surface.
This is apparent in some of his paintings, because there are areas where "circles of confusion" can be seen. These "circles of confusion" are areas that were out of focus on camera and were transferred into the painting. So we know that not all of Vermeer's paintings were painted from real life. Bottom of Form 0 In Vermeer's, "The Geographer", he includes a single man centered in the room, gazing out of the window on the left. He holds a graphing instrument in his right hand, and his left hand is placed on a book. Centered above and behind him is a globe and down on the wall, to the right, is a hand drawn map.
Now, this is probably part of a stimulated interest in geography, cartography, and the world as they knew it, which was created by Galileo's investigation of the planets. He had discovered that the earth is not the center of the universe, and this had startled everyone; including the people's own religions. So, I think Vermeer's, "The Geographer", is a response to the mapping of the world. The geographer keeps his hand on the book while he stares out, through the window. This may be interpreted as staying grounded with knowledge while contemplating about the unknown or the uncharted. He leans forward into the light, as if being blessed by the divine light, or perhaps being hit with an idea.
He sees the light and he sees the answer. Another painting of Vermeer's that holds an underlying ethical idea is his "Woman Holding a Balance". This painting includes the window at the left of the room with a female figure on the right. She gazes down at her scales with affection. She is weighing pearls or gold (it is not known which) and counting how much she has. But, behind her is the painting of the "Last Judgment", where Saint Michael weighs his scales, which hold the souls of people, and is the deciding factor of whether they go to heaven or hell.
Now, it is pretty obvious as to what the moral is here: she loves her gold and pearls, but does that make her a good or bad person. How will she be judged? It was not uncommon to include a painting within a painting. It was a useful tool for learning and teaching morals, history, and religion. It also acted as a reference to further a point, or to contradict one. Another Dutch artist who is known for his interior paintings and genre scenes, and who, in fact, resembles Vermeer, is Pieter de Hooch.
He was born in Rotterdam in 1629, and "was probably the pupil of Nicolaes Ber chem, a landscape painter". (2) In his paintings, he uses "linear perspective and the contrasts of light and shadow to suggest three-dimensional space and forms. Hints of de Hooch's association with Vermeer are found in his study of light" (3) and cast shadow. In de Hooch's, "A Mother and Child with It's Head in Her Lap", the floor tiles create a strong perspective and the atmosphere is deepened by the use of windows and doorways. This technique is called "the doorkijkje", which means looking from one room to the next. This painting depicts the scene of a mother checking her child's head for lice (which was a common task in the Seventeenth Century).
This subject "was popular with artists because combing and cleaning ones hair was associated with physical and spiritual cleanliness. Because this is was one of his later interior paintings, the scene is filled with more light and the shadows are not as dark as his earlier paintings. Although his interior scenes are important to the Dutch Baroque era, he is more recognized for his courtyard and town scenes. Even though these are not indoor scenes, a feeling of enclosure still prevails. The walls, ground, doorways, and figures all create a strong perspective space, and one gets the feeling they are inside these Dutch courtyards as the wall raps around you. Another artist who was interested in "the doorkijkje" is Emanuel de Witte.
He was born in about 1617 and never stayed with one genre of painting. Later in his life, he mostly painted so he could have room and board for free. In de Witte's, "Interior with a Woman Playing the Clavecin to a Man in Bed,"the doorkijkje" is used beautifully. In the center of the canvas is a doorway, which leads into another doorway, which leads into a window full of green trees and daylight.
In each room is a window (which cannot be seen) that lets in light that is cast onto the floor, creating contrasting shadows and lights. As the woman plays the clavecin, you can almost feel the music being made, as your eye is dances from light to shadow to light into the next room. This scene may also be seen as "a message of the healing power of music". (4) The man, whose clothes and hat are thrown on the chair in the foreground, is forced to lye in bed in the middle of the day. The woman plays a song from the clavecin to him, in hopes that it will revive him. Unlike de Witte, Pieter Saenredam devoted the majority of his art to one theme, the interiors of churches.
His father was an engraver and from this, he also learned by making engravings. This played an important role in Saenredam's art by making his paintings very linear. He would make drawings of the interiors of churches and using them later for making paintings. Saenredam was well known for his rendering of cast light on architecture and whitewashed walls. "He only made one trip to Utrecht, but used the drawings he made there for the rest of his life".
(5) In his painting, "The Interior of the Buurkerk, Utrecht", he composes the painting from a grounded point of view. Sometimes he would elongate the perspective "in order to increase the sense of height". (5) The small figures placed in the foreground and mid-ground also help in increasing the height of the architecture. Light shines through the stained glass windows illuminating the interior of the church. This suggests the presence of God and his divine light, assisted by the awesome structure, architecture, and columns in the House of God. While Saenredam painted the churches in order to show the power of God and the place to worship, Adrian Bouwer painted scenes of vulgar behavior showing us what not to do.
He is most famous for his portrayal of Dutch bar scenes full of sin. He also worked with depicting the Five Senses. This was used to create an interaction between the viewers and create a "doorway" into the painting. "Bouwer was a very skilled painter and used a mostly dark palette creating dark shadows and subtle highlights". (6) His, "The Smoker", portrays peasants in a tavern indulging in beer and tobacco. The dirty figure in the foreground looks out at the viewer as he lights his pipe.
A man beside him slouches back in his chair and exhales smoke as he stares at the ceiling. An old woman in the back holds a cup of beer up as she turns to shat with another woman through the window. This is another painting showing us the Dutch Morales, and telling the viewer about sin. The window and a faint wall in the background define the interior. Because of his use of dark shadows, a precise location, here, is indefinable. Jan Steen is also known for his portrayals of the "low genre" peasant life and sin.
He was born in Leyden, around 1625 and was one of the first Baroque artists. His, "The Dissolute Household", shows a room full of chaos. A woman is passed out with her head on the table as a child reaches into her pocket, watching her face, hoping she will not catch him stealing from her. Beside her a man drunkenly looks down at the floor, where playing cards, clothing, and food are scattered about. A prostitute next to him gladly passes him a glass of wine as his leg is thrown on top of hers. Behind them a drunken man plays the violin for a woman as she reaches for another drink from a cabinet.
A monkey stands on top of the bed and reaches to pull the clock string. This is not a celebration of joy and playfulness, but an example of what happens "when things go terribly wrong". (7) Another prime example of a Steen's painting is the "Village School". The composition is thrown about with children all over the room. Some are sleeping, some are playing, some are fighting, and one child is dancing on top of a table yelling and singing. There are to adults in the room, but they are not paying any attention to what the children are doing around them.
In the right corner, a child reaches up to hand an owl a pair of spectacles. Because owls were thought to symbolize stupidity or drunkenness in the Netherlands (not wisdom), this shows us that the owl fits right into this scene. This is another example of the Dutch Moral beliefs and what not to do. Adrian van Ostade is another Dutch painter who made paintings depicting comical and grotesque interior scenes of peasant life. He was born in Haarlem in about 1610, and may have been a pupil of Frans Hals, a well known Dutch portrait artist. Ostade's, "The Golden Wedding", depicts a drunken, fowl wedding inside a Dutch home.
Everyone is slouching from their drunkenness and dancing carelessly. Even children are present in this house of drunken sin. His palette is like most of the Dutch work from this period and his use of dark shadows in the background bring our eye forward and around the crowd of people. Many different artists used the scene of an interior to portray their view of civilization in the Seventeenth Century Netherlands. Some used it as a setting for a philosophical notion.
Others used the interior to paint teachings of ethics and morals. Some artists chose to render churches showing the presence of a divine spirit, while others painted their interiors in bars full of sin. And other artists chose to show material objects in shops and town houses. For the majority of Dutch artists in the Seventeenth Century, morals and lessons could be discovered in almost any situation. And even though these painters of "low genre" are sometimes known as the Dutch "little masters", (as compared to Rembrandt and Vermeer) their talent is still very evident and should not be overlooked. In any light, one must remember that these paintings were crafted in a time and place much different from ours.
And also, we should not forget to analyze these works accordingly. It was the Golden Age of Dutch Painting and is now fully of history, even though some of this history may never be shown to us.