Houbraken Translated


Volume 3, page 140-149

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are of even less benefit to the school of art.

But if painting youths will listen to good council, let them heed the wise Spanish saying: One must first try out one’s shoulders whether they are strong enough to bear the load that one wishes to take on, and put their intellect and powers to the test, paying attention to what their natural inclination most inclines, to which they must then hold, if they wish to be of service to themselves and art. Just as I would point those who to the contrary, being too lose, undertake things that are out of their reach, to the old Dutch saying which teaches, that no one should try to jump further than his pole can vault.

No one should conclude incorrectly from our address that we deem understanding and facility in all sorts of competences to be useless for a painter, or that nothing would be able to provide some help to the intellect. The two adduced examples only show that it may thus at times happen and have only served to satisfy the question: whether painters who possess a superior intellect than all others are always the greatest masters in art.

In order to arrive at a conclusion from the examples and all the arguments for and against, we say this: first, that common intellects have sometimes excelled in some part of art or another. Secondly, that it can happen that great intellects adept at many sciences and accomplishments that are needed to be a good history painter, are not always overachievers in art according to their intellect and accomplishments. But this is always


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certain, that all the high flyers in art who have earned eternal renown with their brush, have always been great intellects and highly knowledgeable. Experience has taught us this and it is certain that the greatest practitioners of art have also excelled in understanding and sciences and made use of them in their time, which they clearly demonstrated in their brush works in which their astute finds, reflections and added embellishment gave clear evidence that their elevated spirit understood the nature and basis of the depicted items when they were able to indicate them by allegories and supplements.

It pleases us as confirmation of our saying to copy a remarkable example of inventive finds painted by Rubens’ brush and described by Vondel’s pen in the dedication of his tragedy of the Gebroeders.

Here I desire (says he) to treat a divine and royal scene by Rubens, the glory of the brushes of this century like a tragic play. He sets to drawing, composing and painting but his alert spirit does not rest until the work is completed. David sits depressed on a high throne. Through an arch in the distance one sees the dry, bare and thirsty agriculture pine. Up in the vault of the splendid marble and cedar court, one sees some angels who, according to the inventiveness of the most intelligent painters, are each busy in competition to depict precisely what is to the point. One netseems to pass the judgment of the brothers from a half rolled up sheet. Another indicates


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with a sealed off water spout that the sky is closed. Another indicates with a smouldering torch and another with a fan fanning in the face, heat and closeness. The others appear to depict two tribes, to wit, one that of Judah, the other, who with amazed and sad face and with bent head appears to be grasping after the falling crown, Benjamin. Others prepare an iron chain to close around the criminal necks. Another with scales and sword expresses the righteousness of the punishment. Saul’s dumbfounded descendents stand before the judge’s seat and look most pitiable how Benajas draws the lame Mesiboseth and the small Micha from the crowd and the indication of the king’s eyes and extended sceptre, while the Gabaonners with vengeful and glowing faces on the one side insist on their right and on the other side he is hedged in by the clamour and tears of the most oppressed Michol, next to whom the ancient widow, while shaking with her right hand on her cane and leaning with the left on the shoulder of her lady’s maid, announces with a laughing face that, having set to musing by sorrow, does not know what she is saying.

But he already equally rigid knows of no mercy. Nor is he distracted by tears or moaning.

Certainly there is no one who reads who does not have to agree that such a depiction requires understanding and as a consequence Rubens was a man of developed sensibility.

But not withstanding that this way of


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depiction clearly indicates the sense of the history, still all those who wish to practice the painting of history must take this for a lesson, that when one is able to go beyond embellishment to have the actual appearance of a history speak, one should avoid additions. But not being able to do that, one must maintain a certain moderation in things, so that the history is not lost in the added decoration. In which regard we also differentiate between profane or heathen histories and Biblical material, in which less freedom is permitted and which for various reasons argued elsewhere needs to be kept in closer bounds.

The great Joost van den Vondel is here of the same opinion as we. I read these words in his introduction to his play Lucifer (where he speaks about poetry, which we apply to painting): In the meantime we in no way deny that the holy material is more confining and binding for poets of the stage than are the profane histories or heathen decorations, regardless of the old and famous precept of poetry, expressed by Horace, in his Poetry, with these verses:

The Painter and Poet both received the power,
To live off anything that each finds serviceable.

And even clearer in the dedication to the Batavische Gebroeders in which we will at once see that all those who would treat the arts as required have to be sensible and closely observant.

One should (he speaks about poetry)


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grant her a fitting abuse, or rather a necessary freedom, as in other arts.

The painter, though he is nothing other than an imitator of nature, nevertheless often decorates some pleasing shadow to have it appear like other work or paints nudes or other
ornamentsd which lend elegance to the history. Thus he subjects the brush to his judgment and arranges the paints which get along best together. Musicians have whole and half tones and sweet and harsh sound to titillate the ear with greater sweetness and pleasure. The comparison of things opposite each other has great power and at once gives the matter which remains the same in itself another appearance. Nevertheless it is not unknown to us that in the telling repeating and showing of histories, written with that pure and show-white pigeon feather (pulled from the wing of the heavenly dove which on the shore of the Jordan descended on the radiant head of the immaculate one) is required to maintain an exceptional moderation and respect, while with the profane histories, even more in heather embellishments, one may sail more freely but always between the piers of probability.

Certainly we must conclude that the grizzled father exercised his intellect in his association with the Amsterdam painters when we hear him chat thus about art on firm ground and his own unusual observations.

He aimed for knowledge and knew no delusion.
His tree bore fruit from beginning to end.


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Do you then desire, oh painter spirits, to coax the brush to playful displays? Well then we want to launch a natural argument about it in the service of art, so that inexperienced in the flourish of ancient feast customs might not (as they say) wildly poking around but depict them in their true nature. We could not have introduced you to a clearer rendering by pen than that of Daniel Heinsius, who thus described the feast of Bacchus with its entire ado, with clarification of the facts and persons mentioned in it on the occasion of the abandoned and lamenting Ariadne on the island of Naxos:

And while she 1) still poured forth her complaint 2) and lamenting speech
On the sad beach,
Bacchus 3) comes along.

Of what her lamentations consisted is mentioned by the poet Lukas Rotgans in the following verse:
1) Ariadne,
2) Listen to the complaint of your lover
And take me to your paternal beaches,
And temples, where Minerva burns sacrifices.
Return! Return! Here the princess of the realm is silent.
Her heart collapses, The sorrow consumes her strength.
She sinks alone and without aid in the sand.
But Theseus calls: farewell: and leaves the land,
Hardened and deaf to Ariadne’s
3) Bacchus, the son of Jupiter and Semele, saved from the flame which consumed her. Before he was carried to term Jupiter stuck him in his thigh, from which he was later born in Nise, a city in Arabia, and placed under the upbringing of the mountain nymphs. But Macrobius and others


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With his drunken bunch, which averse to discipline,
Shout so that it resounds in the air,
When approaching the beach. Ten
snorting Maenads 4) approach,
Surround his coach and as many Laenads.
Each had a long spear, 6) overgrown on all sides,
With ivy leaves, in her right hand.
he satyrs jumped and Silenus,
7) filled with drink

write that he was born in Nida, a city in India, not far from the mountain Meros, which means a thigh in the Greek language. Others want him to have been born on the Rhine, to which the following verse alludes
............ everyone says his version,
But I believe that you were born on the Rhine.
............ That is where your altars were,
On which your name is still marked ....

to wit, in Bacharach, which name has it origin in Bacchi ara, the altar of Bacchus.
4) Menades. That is what the women who helped celebrate Bacchus’ feast were called, after the Greek word which means crazy and furious.
5) Lenades. That is what the priestesses of Bacchus are also named, after the Greek word which indicates from the press, with which the juice is pressed from the grapes.
6) Long Spear. Named Thyrsus, thickly covered with vine leaves or ivy. Nonnus says this.

A Thyrsus was his spear, thickly covered all over
With leaves from vinyards: the shaft was of iron.
And Euripedes: He gave the Thyrsus in the hand,
Full of climbing herbs on all sides.

7) Silenus. Some poets say that he raised Bacchus, but most say that he only steadily accompanied him with his donkey, which was later deified. To


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Came with his donkey* slowly bringing up the rear.
In one hand he carried the divine
basket 8)
And in his other hand a great full pitcher
Two gods of the group
who knew about his nights, 9)
They carried the secret 10) in two locked chests. 11)

which Aratus refers when he says: That people have no reason to complain about this, seeing that some remain on earth.
* Donkey. Eastern peoples, even kings, have used donkeys on which to ride, and though it is no longer customary to hitch them before wagons or coaches, they were not averse to this in olden days. See Columella de Asino, book 2, chapter 1, where they were also used to pull the plow and to walk in the horse mill, according to the testimony of Josephus, Varro, Pliny, Ovid, etc.
8) Wan. Some say that it was his cradle because the Greek word wan means cradle, but Virgil translates it as a wan, saying: the holy wan of Bacchus.
9) Nights. This refers to the religious practices and feasts of Bacchus, which were also celebrated in the night, for which reason Virgil calls the Citheron mountain, where this religion happened, Nocturnum after the night. He himself was therefore called Nycteleus by the Greeks.
10) Secret, öpyia. That is the secret equipment of Bacchus.
11) Closed chests. The Greeks called those locked chests of Bachus xiσαs Tubullus: Et levis occultis conscia cista sacris.

That is: And also next to the light chest,
Which knew his hidden things

That the ancient heathens had the habit of carrying their gods around in splendidly decorated chests, beneath covered tents, is not only clear for the turn of phrase with Amos chapter 5, verse 26, but also from the testimony of Apuleius and Plutarch. Pausanius also speaks of such a


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Them followed Maron, 12) and quenched his thirst,
While going down the road with sweet and fresh must.
The drunken Staphylus
13) and Botrus without feathers
Came from behind with all the family,
And Methe,
14) full of wine, that rash woman,
Often fell while going. Sylvanus, right next to her
Droned course sound, mixed with
15) cymbals
And the great banging of the hammers filled hill and dales,

chest with the Trojans which, with the capture of their city was opened, in which were found the statue of father Bacchus, and the Suda. Also speaking about that he says: That they kept the secrets of Bacchus, Ceres and of Proserpina. The reason why this was required amongst the heathens was that the ground which supported their religion (devised only through trickery of their priesthood) consisted of nothing other than deception and falsehood, and that there was no better means to create common respect for it, and to hold it, than to keep them from the eyes of the people and to create awe and respect than through the illusion of a great secret. Yes, how secret they wished to keep this pile of garbage also appears from the severe punishment that was meted out when someone who knew the secret passed it on to others through carelessness.
Appius Coecus was robbed of his eyes because he had made the secrets of Hercules’ sanctuary known to the slaves.
12) Maron, a priest of Bacchus or one of his following to whom, Athenaeus says in the 6th book, the wine which the Latins called Vinum Mareoticum owes its name.
13) Staphilus and Botrus, friends of Bacchus. According to Nonnus, the first got his name from the Greek word which means grapes. The latter means Denuded of Feathers, because drunkards are generally naked and bare.
14) Greek word METHE a name for drunkenness
15) Cymbals. Nonnus everywhere attributes cymbals to Bacchus, as also the hammers.


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And Naxos’ shore, Echo followed along
And called out
with doubled volume Oh Evan Evoë.16)

While we have now expansively dressed up the procession of Bacchus with all its embellishments, there is finally something still to be said concerning the depiction of the god of wine, in which art practitioners often offend or reach for the wrong thing as crept in by incorrect practice, whereby people depict a glutton who is fat and coarse, resembling Bacchus, even though he is depicted as a frail young man on the oldest Greek commemorative medals and marble depictions.

In his Cabinet of Medals, Guillaume du Choul shows us a very old coin (which we depict here in print) [figs. next page] in which one sees the bust of Bacchus crowned with ivy,

That Bacchus was the inventor of cymbals,
And hammer sounds,
And used them at your feast.

What kind of tools these were and what form they had, we have indicated in the Voorloper der Psalmen by Professor Salomon van Til, being two hollowed out metal half spheres, of which the outer rounding had a handgrip or belt which encircled the hand. During the dancing and jumping they were slid or struck against each other, by which changes in sound were made to join them to the tones of the singing or strings.
16) Evan was one of the names of Bacchus, but because the priests, priestesses and all who helped celebrate the feast were want to call out Evan Evoë, found everywhere in all his feast poems, they were called Evantes.


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