Houbraken Translated


Volume 2, page 170-179

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his life might be spared, and let be, as he had done nothing wrong. At this racket some people approached who, after having heard about the business, helped convince the beggar to let himself be portrayed, and instructed him so well that he finally agreed, though dragging his heels, and slowly, as the condemned climb up the ladder to be made knights of the hemp rope.

They got the beggar to sit down with much resistance in such a posture as the sketching on the canvas required, as if he were Saint Peter himself; and no matter what he was later promised to get him to sit once more, he did not wish to return, as he believed to have seen the devil and death. One can see both their portraits in Plate G. with that of Samuel van Hoogstraten above and that of his brother below, next to the portrait of Johannes Lingelbach to the left.

At this time lived a painter of Rotterdam named JAN van OSSENBEECK. Almost none of his works are to be seen in Holland, seeing he spent most of his life in Italy. He painted in the way of Pieter van Laer various breeds of animals, and figures, and arranged the addenda or backgrounds so strangely with caves, dilapidated Roman buildings, waterfalls and the like so much in the Italian manner that people said of him: He has brought Rome with him. Also, Samuel van Hoogstraten makes mention in a letter written in Vienna on the 9th of August 1651 of one Frans Luyckx (but



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what he did with his brush I do not know): Here comes a thundering rumour and new tidings. I am messaged the arrival of Germany’s greatest painter Joachim von Sandrart I who (as people say) seeks great honour and glory with the Emperor and seeks to knock the crown off the head of Luyckx, the chamber painter of his Majesty and to insinuate himself into the court, etc.

Change of food (says the old proverb) creates fresh appetite. Accordingly we wish to stimulate the reader to new appetite by serving up a digression.

For some words the adjective decides their precise meaning. For instance myter [miter] means a bishop’s cap or hat. Through the specification of the adjective kaas [cheese], it refers to its spoiling. Ezel [donkey] means an animal with long ears and by the addition of the adjective schilders [painters] it becomes the stand that carries their works. Maant [month] means one of the 12 parts of the year and when gelt [money] is added, it means to approach someone about debt. Nagel [nail] is the shell of the front part of our fingers, but the St. Joseph guild brothers understand spyker [nail] with this word. So it is also with thumbs, trees, feathers, pans, discs, swallow tails and other words take on a different meaning for some than for others and therefore need to be determined by an adjective. In the same way it is the supplements, dress and individual features which at first sight indicate the subject matter of scenes. Thus from oldest days the most famous painters have had the most


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important depictions in their work speak and used supplements to clarify what was previously lacking.

The most convenient way to follow them in this praiseworthy way of depicting people is to show the individuals that one wishes to depict in a history in such a form and in such dress and embellishments as are proper and belong to them, since it is the dress that differentiates a beggar from a king. An art practitioner must therefore pay heed to this or he will make himself ridiculous to connoisseurs.

The teachings that are always accompanied by reprimands (as with the monks) teach best, but I want to take the easier road and teach by examples.

If one wishes to depict the patriarch Abraham (to mention only one common example) when he sends off his maidservant Hagar with her son, one must first consider that he was a man of years and yet so strong that when foreign kings settled in the five cities of the valley of Siddin attacked him, killed his commanders in chief with the sword and, as part of the raid, also took his related friend Lot with them, he perused them with the natives of his house and tore Lot and the robbed booty out of their hands.

One should also consider that Orientals who were rich and head of peoples always went about hung with precious stones and dressed in expensive silks.

Do not imagine, painting youth, that I wish to burden you with pointless


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trivialities. You can baptize them with that name if you wish.

It will give your scene an uncommon lustre,
If you pay attention to all those
little things.

And you will discover in the end that they truly belong to the depiction of personages which, especially in an historical depiction, must be considered. Hear with what Horace, by way of his translator Andries Pels, charges the poets, which we apply with few changes to painters.

In addition it is necessary that a painter follow that which
Is known to everyone about heroes, renowned
In histories,
and everything that he would add in poetry,
Must conform to the speech of his hero.
If you render the ruler Achilles on panel,
Depict him brave, implacable, severe, irate;
He refuses to follow laws, justice and reason.
And have everything that touches him deflected by his
Medea shows herself cruel by nature, under no circumstances
Bribable. Ino must be
inclined to tears;
feeling sad . . . . . . . . . .

And a little further on,

So pay heed that your art presents everything in that guise,
That people are by nature and years.

Do not think to yourself, no one will pay close attention to such things, nor let the proverb: Not all art lovers are connoisseurs


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deceive you. This saying is also in use amongst writers, but they are of the worst sort, who mistakenly flatter themselves with it. Note what the before-mentioned poet said about it and apply it to yourself, so that it may stimulate your professional ambition.

But all readers, you may possibly say, are not at all
Connoisseurs. Should I therefore write arbitrarily
Like a wild man? Or expect of my reader,
That he will pass lightly over my mistakes,
excuse my failings as having no consequence,
Since I
merely write poems?
Very nice! One may easily excuse my straying to
the crude and coarse
But what praise, what honour, will I gain?

Think that way and speak that way to yourself until your desire to know much eventually grows so that you develop a taste for it and strive for it by itself. This has broken the thread concerning our comments about the depiction of the patriarch, which we now pick up again. If we then depict Abraham (whom we have already sketched as estimable in features and dress) as bare legged and poorly dressed, with wild hair like despair in the rendering of the passions by Charles Le Brun and behind him a hut of old planks as dike workers are wont to use as their quarters, I have to decide that the maker has not understood that part of art which is called the depiction of persons, because even if one sees from other addenda


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what a depiction means, it is still most important to know that the true depiction of the person has not been observed and that what has no meaning in itself, namely Hagar and Ishmael, is used for the purpose. Because if you paint Hagar and her child carrying only that meagre equipment of bread and a bottle of water without any supplements in a scene, who will take her for anything other than a tramp?

But someone may easily say that (even if Abraham is not dressed as required) people would still see by the addition of Hagar and Ishmael that Abraham is depicted. That may be so. However, it does not answer to the rule of the depiction of a personage, which must be paired with the supplement. For would it not be ridiculous to paint two female persons in poor and unobserved dress and expect to have them taken for Cleopatra and Sofonisba by the addition of an adder and a cup with poison? So that for such subjects the perfect depiction of the person must accompany the attribute.

The supplements are either integral or searched for. The integral ones we have just discussed. The invented are such that are only used out of necessity, when there are no others available. A painter will also encounter subjects that are only recognizable by their attributes because they offer no indication of sex other than that. If, for instance, he paints an old male figure crying bitterly and a female figure that laments her sins with downcasts eyes, would anyone


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be able to guess that the one depicts Peter and the other Mary Magdalene if one does not include two keys or a rooster with the first and an ointment jar with the second? But should the painters make Peter more ugly or Magdalene more beautiful than other examples, that is permissible for the artist. Just as when the brush depicts Andromeda (who was Moorish) lily-white, when Perseus frees her from the cliff and the jaws of the sea monster, because paintings serve to delight the eyes and as decoration of walls, when a lily-white nude had great advantage compared to a mole skin. With even greater freedom one may depict Jupiter with the premature Bacchus (saved from the fire that consumed his mother Semele) in his arm (just as we here depict it in print) although the fable shows that he hid and fed the child in his thigh, because it appears from the continuation of this fable that Jupiter placed Bacchus to be raised by the nymphs who inhabited a certain part of a mountain at the city of Nysa, in India, which is called Meros in the Greek language, which also means thigh. See Ludolf Smids on page 79 of his commentary on Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Many histories carry with themb their own embellishments and characteristics and give practitioners of art an opportunity to be able to depict them in various ways, by the turn of events that follows on these and from the multitude of changes that occur. Nevertheless a painter must show these histories at the moment at which the most certain characteristics present themselves and with which the



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depiction best reveals what is portrayed. And just as it is not fitting that a common soldier would not recognize his commander in the fray, no more is it appropriate when, for instance, one depicts the battle between Darius and Alexander, one would have to guess at who was Alexander but instead have to look for his horse Bucephalus. For the courage in his features and his clothing should indicate this. But a painter may avail himself of any such clear attributes, which one does not find so advantageously for all subjects.

In this case it goes with the art of painting as with actors. The more naturally they are able to present in clothing and style the people in whose stead they appear on stage, the more enjoyment they give the spectators thereby. Molière,* when he wished to bring the obstinate natural scientist Jacques Rohault on the stage, was able to obtain the latter's hat, folded in an unusual way, on loan. The players were able to use the same hat so well that all the spectators believed that Rohault himself appeared on the stage, and acquired great fame by this.

If someone should say that one does not always have such an aid ready and at hand, I will give as answer: That those whose portraits are depicted on coins and in marble indicate this by the refinement of their clothes.

* Johann Burchard Mencken, in his De quakzalvery der geleerden.


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The art of engraving should be enough help for painters if they do not always have opportunity to make use of marble statues.

The portraits of the oldest and most esteemed painters Apelles, Zeuxis, Nicomachus, Phidias, Pausanias etc., heroic and famous women like Semiramis and many others as also the ancient philosophers and poets, both Greek and Latin, are found in the books of Joachim von Sandrart I, and in the Greek antiquities of Thomas Stanley and Basil Kennett, specifying in whose art cabinets they are protected against consuming time, as are the portraits of Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Zeno, Antisthenes, Diogenes etc.

Ovid, Virgil, Horace, Tasso and other Italian and Latin poets, along with other famous men such as Seneca, Cicero etc., one finds, as based on their marble busts, on the title pages of their famous works. One finds the Roman Caesars based on their numismatic images with Joachim Oudaan and with Abraham Bogaert in his De Roomsche Monarchy, including the first twelve of them in the print depictions by Titian. Finally there are the worthy images of our Saviour Jesus after credible depictions conforming with the description that Pilate gave of these in a letter sent to the Roman Council, as recorded in the Church History by Irenaeus. In the De kerkelyke en weereldlyke historien by Willem Goeree one finds the images of Herod the child killer, Herod Antipas, with Herodias, Aesop and still others. Certainly if the correct portraits were to be observed for old historical subjects, the learned art lovers, including the lovers of medals and other antiquities


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would derive pleasure from it.

This presentation and direction has as its fundamental support the greatest light of art, Raphael di Sanzio of Urbino. In the great art work in the Stanza della Signatura in the Vatican depicting the School of Athens [1], he employed the most important wise men of the world, such as Aristotle, Plato, Diogenes etc., and in his representation of Parnassus, the portraits of the most famous poets up to his time, which lent great lustre to his art work.

Hear what Karel van Mander I has to say to Raphael’s renown in his biography on page 51. All the portraits of famous ancient poets, gathered from marble show statues and commemorative medals, he has painted in this work, and painted the living ones after life: Virgil, Ovid, Ennius, Tibullus, Catullus, Propertius and Homer, who blind and with raised head sings his verses, and at his feet one who while listening writes it down. One also see the learned Saffo, the graceful Dante, the lusty Petrarch and the amorous Boccaccio, Tibaldeus and many others, who in groups seated on the mount of song under the shade of laurel trees, or write, or sing, or play etc. It is also said that he followed the features of the muses, each in particular, after marble portraits.

Raphael was not the first to invent this. Examples by artists of earlier times have spurred him on to this praiseworthy practice. Do you want proof of the saying, which has been preserved in memory since the fall of Troy and


The School of Athens, 1511
stucco, fresco (technique) 500 x 770 cm
Rome, Musei Vaticani

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