Houbraken Translated


Volume 3, page 130-139

Page 130

but that they wished to pass it over with eternal silence, took up the pen and made a lengthy lamentation to an everlasting remembrance of his dying, of which the title reads thus.

On the silence of the Amsterdam Helicon about the death of the renowned painter Gerard de Lairesse. It begins thus:
What times I experience, aye! Illustrious denizen of the Amstel,
Now that the light of the greatest artist disappears.
has lived here illustriously for so many years,
And does not roam in your thoughts after his death.
Is then that spirit not worth, for all his art
And effort, that your pen may write his praise for the last time?
Where painter and poet, of one nature and
The spirit and invention go paired like sisters.

And so forth ..... About which Willem van der Hoeven was thus heard:

Love of art brings us our Lairesse before the eyes,
Whose unlimited spirit, flown off to heaven,
Lights the way for painters like a bright morning star,
Like Aurora’s beautiful face, or like the chariot
Of Phoebus, when it first shows up in the East.
Then Van
Halen’s pen has no reason for complaint,
While no poet’s eye cries over this hero painter,
Who most beautifully competed with nature for beauty?
is deft hand was driven by so high a spirit,


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That he revived the perished with his art.
This death regretted,
she put out Lairesse’s eyes,
As if
insane and provoked, when the fate of death restrained her,
So that the art of painting would not defy her power.

A little lower:

Van Halen, who calls Lairesse his light, his lodestar
behaved most laudibly after his death.

And finally:

Lairesse lives again through him in lithography and poetry.
The singers hesitated to celebrate the man’s worth:
This gave Van Halen grounds to condemn them for ingratitude

Who also had the portrait of Lairesse (engraved by himself on copper) [1] printed for the elegy and at the back of his grave inscription, so that the remembrance of his passing would not perish together with his body.

The repeatedly mentioned Arnoud van Halen is also the owner of one his best artworks, depicting the deification of Aeneas, about which Pieter Rixtel made this verse:

Here Numicius rinses away Aeneas’ humanity;
Who, after much disaster, in the end joins the gods:
The praise of military courage, survives the grave forever.


Arnoud van Halen after Pieter Schenk (I)
Portrait of Gerard de Lairesse (1641-1711), 1707-1732
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv./cat.nr. RP-P-OB-17.180

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Lady Venus descends to invite him on high.
One often rewards bravery slanderously, with envy.
Thus she mounts on high, and becomes immortal by battle.

Finally we still need to say to his own fame after his death that he well-understood the depiction of persons according to the rules of art, which is why his art scenes indicate from the first moment what they wish to depict, and seldom made mistakes in this respect. For it requires no proof that great masters sometimes made a mistake. Who is without failings? So if I wanted to name no one a top painter who was perfect in all he did, I do not know who might appear at the top of my list of my colleagues in art. Which is why in this respect I say for them as Andries Pels* does for the poets:

Not that I desire a poem just so perfect,
That I would not excuse a mistake by the poet,
When striking a lute a string may sometimes give another tone.
When heart and hand desire, one grasps by adventure,
Even if one expects to play B major, one may get B minor.
Nor does the arrow always hit what eye and bow aim for.
Thus, I know how to make allowance for a blemish or two,
Which springs from neglect or human weakness:
As long as the greatest part of the work is excellent.

Our Gerard de Lairesse had three brothers, Ernst or Ernest, who was older and Jacques and Jan who were younger. Jan de Lairesse, who is still alive, daily practices with the brush.

* In Quintus Horatius Dichtkunst, page 33.


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Ernest de Lairesse, who was early on advanced in art, excelled particularly in the painting of all sorts of animals, of which he compiled a whole book with his own portrait painted in detail in watercolours in front, which when it came into the hands of the chancellor of the Prince of Liège [= Maximilian Heinrich von Wittelsbach], he took such pleasure in it that he took him into his service, but sent him to Italy at his expense to continue his art after commendable models. Returned from there he died in the service of mentioned prince in Bonn, about 40 years old.

Jacques de Lairesse, who followed our Gerard, painted everything, including figures in grisaille to place in niches, but what he understood best was flower painting, he descended from Liège to Amsterdam where he practiced his art to the end of his life.

Gerard de Lairesse left three sons. The oldest, named Andries, having no inclination for art, went to France to live with a merchant, after whose death he left for the Indies. The two others, Abraham de Lairesse and Johannes de Lairesse practiced art, as did their nephew, the eldest son of Jacques [Abraham de Lairesse II], who is spoken about with praise, so that the name of the Lairesses is not likely to disappear.

In an address on page 334 of our second book we have tested what good guidance can achieve for those who possess a slight spirit and concluded that it is impossible to lead them by that route to great undertakings in art. Now remains for us to fulfil our promise at the end of our last address.


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While the candles are being trimmed the strings sound.

We concluded the last address without answering the question: whether natural passion or education can each individually create a good painter, and whether the painters who possess a greater intellect than others are always the greatest masters in art.

I am reminded that I have once heard someone say that all men are born with an equally great intellect, and I have also heard sensible people argue for or against this proposition and also about whether the intellect of men is deposited with generation, that is with conception, or at another point in time. Certainly if a difference arose about the configuration of the bones of the legs of a mosquito, or about the diagonal or crossing thread-like tissue of their wings, one would only need to help oneself to the famous magnifying glasses of the Delft Leeuwenhoek to escape the dozing, but to view the hidden things locked away in a dark cellar of nature, my vision is too clouded and I do not know where truthful glasses to see them are anywhere for sale. It will therefore be best if we pronounce our opinion via examples. Those are matters about which one does not need to quarrel, seeing that they are accessible to the human intellect and more or less formed by it. Because, depending on guidance, human concepts either stray or are well-directed. And just as a sculptor shapes a statue by chipping away at his block after the appearance which it must serve, so is human


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intellect prepared by the shaving of an intelligent chisel to such tasks as it has to achieve. But just as all wood is not equally suited to shaping, so it follows that not all intellects can be equally well polished for one and the same practice, but that the one can be made competent for this and the other for something else, even though it is shaped by one and the same guidance.

Thus the preparation of the human intellect for the execution of intelligent works does not entirely depend on competent guidance but on both the natural or innate inclination and good guidance, so that the intellect is made competent for intelligent treatment neither by guidance nor natural passion, each isolated by itself, but by both at the same time, so that if either of the two is lacking, a good painter can hardly be formed.

This saying will be indicated even more clearly by Mister Petrus Francius in his Redenvoering van eenen volmaakte redenaar, where pleading for the necessity of outer gestures and voice guidance, he said this:

One owes the first beginnings to nature, the rest to art and daily practice. Without art, nature is weak and incomplete. And art, when it is not based on nature, is vain, for there is not truth in what she practices. That is why, in my opinion, they are altogether mistaken who attribute all this outward eloquence only to nature, and decry as artificial everything that is taken from art,


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and opine that no one can speak naturally and artfully at once.

You stray, whoever you may be and do not thoroughly understand what belongs to nature and what to art. However, I understand it thus: that all that is natural is artful and all that is artful is natural. I may seem to be pronouncing an incantation and yet nothing is more true. Because nothing is completed from nature unless art is involved, and nothing by art unless nature precedes it
etc. Applied to practitioners of painting, we deem this to be comprehensible enough to have answered the proposition : whether natural passion or instruction can by itself produce a good painter., but we would like, for further confirmation, to introduce the testimony of Andries Pels, who on p. 30 of his translation of Q. Horatius Flaceus Dichtkunst, says this:

Most people, that is to say a great many fools,
Who mock all art and reflection,
Believe that only the spirit creates poets,
And that art, or practice, does not touch poetry:
So that these people of sense and judgment whistle
Outside the mount of Helicon, and its borders.

and on pages 5 and 36.

People have quarrelled as of old, and quarrel to this day,
Whether someone becomes poet through art or nature.
For me I judge that whom the art goddesses hate,
Neither practice nor
cramming will be of any help
Nor is there, I think, anything of value on the other side
To be hoped for
from a quick but uncultivated intellect.


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The one requires the aid of the other, a fertile vein
Of both nature and art, ought to be harvested
Together before one can join the famous number
Of the greatest poets.

This verdict applied together with that of Francius to the art of painting (which is the same with respect to poetry) seems to rule out any further strive. But it is a common saying, and experience confirms its truth, that there is no rule without exception, for although it is generally true that sensible men have confirmed this with good reason, that one cannot become a master in art without both natural inclination and direction, we still know examples of men who, without direction, solely through inclination and affection, became artists, as they themselves testified. But I do not doubt that if they were asked seriously if in their tutelage things did not go much like a traveller trying to find the right way where there are no houses, and therefore having to circle a long distance until sweating to reach the right road, they would have to admit, and say yes.

Just as it is generally not certain that one will not become a good painter without guidance, it is also not generally true that the greatest intellects and autodidacts are the greatest or best artist.

My master Samuel van Hoogstraten possessed a great intellect in almost all subjects. He especially understood the fundamental rules of art so completely in all parts that I believe


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that no one after him has understood these better. But he was not therefore a high flyer in the application of the same. On the contrary, it has been observed that others who possessed a less than average intellect outstripped great intellectuals. It pleases us to add an example to confirm our saying and amuse the reader, Herman Saftleven, the esteemed painter of the Rhine stream. He was so inept in understanding of the world, so silly in his behaviour and so simple in his understanding outside of art that in a full assembly of artists in Utrecht (where Gerard Hoet was also present) told how (coming with the wagon from Deventer to Utrecht) he had been told by the driver that it is customary in Gelderland and Overijssel when a young couple amongst the farmers marries, that the neighbours and friends all contribute something to celebrate the wedding, which is called a gift wedding. And when all that had been assembled is not eaten during that jollity or that the young couple could not use to advantage, that everyone carries something back home. And that a farmer maid took a loaf of bread back and arriving at a wide and slimy wagon trail, not wanting to get her wedding slippers and white stockings dirty, laid her loaf in the track to step on it, but (the abuse serving as mirror) her feet remained immobile on it, without being able to move from that place. And the good old man recounted this with such a serious face that they were astonished at his silliness, believing as truth


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what a farcical wagoner had pinned on his sleeve as farce.

It could be that our painter was a member of that church in which such things, and even stranger ones, have to be believed without examination, while the remainder of the company are such as attach no belief to stories unless these are founded on probability. Which we can easily excuse a little.

The reason why the most intelligent amongst the practitioners of art, and those who are experienced in history, antiquities, and other sciences may fall short in the art of painting, originates in this, that owing to their great knowledge they are occupied by many and different ideas that to the same degree flatter and spur them on to application, so that it happens that they do not excel in any of them, seeing that each part of art requires a human life if one wishes to excel above others. Yes this goes so far that experience has shown us that a genius whose inclination swings indiscriminately to everything and cannot apply himself to a specific choice of any particular part of art, often cannot move beyond others who only practise the least of art.

It is true. We do not have much praise for low spirits who out of cowardly inhibition never put their ability to the test and, as Quintilian says, crawl along the ground for fear of falling. But also those who closely follow on the heels of all others in their activity and practice (out of too great an estimation of their own ability), but always lag behind,


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