Houbraken Translated

RKD STUDIES

Volume 3, page 110-119


Page 110

guilders each and asked if that was satisfactory and if the master might come to Amsterdam to paint for him. The answer was yes. She left with that booty and Uylenburgh, encouraged by Van Pee and De Grebber, followed her that same evening (so that the hare might not escape him) with the night boat to Utrecht and himself spoke to Lairesse, who showed himself ready to depart from there, which could easily be done since he did not need a cargo ship to move his property. He then arrived for the first time in Amsterdam, and one morning around nine o'clock at Uylenburgh's, where Van Pee and De Grebber were, who, because of De Lairesse's ugly face, stood there looking at him in astonishment. Uijlenburgh showed him an empty canvas, and asked him when he wanted to commence. At once De Lairesse answered and continued: what would you have me paint on that? It makes no difference to me, said Uylenburgh, paint on it whatever your inclination is. At once a palette with paint and a crayon pen were given to him, and he set himself in front of the easel.

Until then he had kept one hand under his mantle, which everyone kept an eye on, curious about what he kept hidden there, until he brought out his violin from there, tuned the strings, and played a tune, so well according to the art of music, that De Grebber, who also knew about playing, stood amazed, even more so when after he put the violin aside, he took the crayon pen and in the wink of an eye made a sketch, or preparation for his piece, which depicted a stable for animals, and in it Joseph and Mary with her Infant. Then he took up his violin again and played a small piece,

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but quickly exchanged the violin for the palette, and that same morning painted the Child, the heads of Mary and Joseph, and the head of an ox so completely and artistically that they who had been standing there the whole time were amazed by it.

When over a period of eight weeks he painted various pieces for Uylenburgh, who showed and praised them to art lovers, our De Lairesse was soon sought out by others, who offered him greater wages for his brushwork, of which he took advantage.

It is not possible to describe all the art and cabinet pieces, ceiling paintings, rooms etc. that he painted. Or if it were possible, it would fill an entire book. There are also a multitude of drawings in red chalk and in pencil handled in a skilful and easy manner, of which the most important as well as the greatest number are now kept and highly esteemed in the art cabinet of Mister Jeronimus Tonneman.

Add to this the large number of his etched prints which, gathered and sold as a complete work by Nicolaes Visscher II as model for and service to artists, are also treated in a light and elegant way like his drawings.

All this does not only serve to amaze us, but the descendants will hardly believe (when they are told) that so much could be done in one human lifetime, unless it were added that he was exceptionally adept at painting. This may be seen from the following example.

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He took on a wager that he could paint on a fairly large canvas, in one day, Apollo and the nine Muses on Panassus, with their fetching accoutrements [1], and won it too. What’s more, he even painted the features of Bartholomeus Abba (who came to visit him in the late afternoon, being curious about how far he had progressed) after life for the figure of Apollo, so that anyone could see that Abba had posed for the god of Parnassus.

This said in general, we will now concentrate on some unusual aspects and speak to only a few of his art works taken from the great number of his brushworks which have pleased not only art lovers but also loosened the pen of poets to praise him. Just as Mister Ludolf Smids expresses himself regarding the natural and artful depiction of his Polixena,* killed on the grave of Achilles (where he also praises with a painters’ understanding and judgment about or concerning the correct use of poetic history writing).

No lover draws his sword,
And wounds his lovely bride.
Ovid, you never created
a more terrible lie.
It is
not Pyrrhus whose sword opens the breast of the maiden.


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* Polixena, the most beautiful and last daughter of King Priam and Hecuba, was pierced by Pyrrhus on the grave of his father Achilles on the suspicion that she had known about a treacherous undertaking against Achilles, who as he stood before the altar in the temple of Apollo to affirm his loyalty to Polixena, was wounded in his heel by Paris, so that he died.

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1
Gerard de Lairesse
De Parnassus, ca 1665-1670
panel (oak), oil paint 77,5 x 152,5 cm
Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden - Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, inv./cat.nr. 1233


Page 113

And stems his father’s ghosts with that bloodshed.
Master of love, how can your heart condone it!
Lairesse arranged it better, who knows the meaning of love.
He gives the knife to a papist, very old and unmoved:
Puts Pyrrhus in a corner, and covers his weeping eyes.
No lover draws his sword.

And wounds his lovely bride.

Still another by just mentioned poet Ludolf Smids on the depiction of Dido’s Death.*

Pels taught Dido (so Constantijn Huygens testifies) to die gracefully.
When he wrote that
poem, which had the quickly moved heart
Of a tender reader contract and loose its warmth
from fright.


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* This story about Dido is assumed to be an invention of Virgil, who elaborated on this marriage of Dido and Aeneas to taunt the Carthaginians, who after the death of their queen Elise had placed her amongst their gods with the name Dido (Maninne) because she had killed herself in such a manly way. That is also why M. de Fontenelle, in his Samenspraken der dooden, has Dido say, If the love actions which Virgil attributes to me were at all plausible, I would be able to agree that I should be suspected, but he gives me Aeneas as lover who lost his life three hundred years before, which is thus dubiously defended by the shade of Stratonica; What you say is already something special. It is true that you were brought into the world three hundred years after him, but Virgil had so many reasons for bringing you together that he judged that the three hundred years that separate you were no matter of importance.

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She dies much more gracefully in Lairesse’s paints.
Her breast sweats and is extremely distressed,
Her eyes are wide open with effort and work;
As if she
still has to see the thread of her life be carved.

While a tear flows, by drops leaks from it
And the joint is twisted, and bends and stretches,
And extends the veins and has the weakened muscles tremble.

The pen is then too weak to wrestle with the brush
A verse give way to a scene
But they are sisters, surely! Differences do no suit them
.

All good things (says the proverb) come in threes. We will attach still another, which though not large is taken for the best and most elaborate of his art works. It is to be seen with Mister Pieter Hunthum in Amsterdam and depicts the punished temple robber Heliodorus [2], about which the commendable poet Pieter Verhoek made this poem:

Here speaks the art of painting, while in my thoughts
It silently moves my heart with greater powers
Than even eloquence; vision goes before hearing.
I see as on a stage, how Heliodorus
Is punished for temple desecration, as mirror for all centuries:
I see and find
myself in the temple of the Hebrews.
What splendour, what loveliness of architecture flatters my eye.
How high that proud
hulk rises so wide, so deep, so high.

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2
Gerard de Lairesse
Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple (2 Maccabees 3:7-35), dated 1674
canvas, oil paint 89 x 77 cm
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud, inv./cat.nr. WRM 3646


Page 115

By labour raised from marble and blue stone!
Here silence respect and attentiveness will befit the spectator.
There the altar lies on the
ground in holy decoration,
The high priest begs God for help from on high.
One see them all clad in sadness,
This wide gallery
filled with the female sex
Which crying for God’s help show
their complaint
With
clenched hands or arms raised in amazement
To the heavens, for mercy and Divine protection.
Still the thief approaches, deranged by thirst for
gold
And ignores
the complaints and prayers,
While his henchmen
already rob the treasure of the Ark:
But God’s Almighty arm resists his pride from on high.
Here lies he who only
just impressive, great and full of splendour.
Entered the treasury, now
undone by the reception by
The spirits of heaven in the guise of youths;
While they standing to either side of him jump him.
He,
richly armed and well equipped compels
The fleet steed, which treads
on him with its hoofs
Who now by fear covers his face and cries out full of sorrow:
He deprives his brave armed followers of their
appetite for war
The golden harness of the knight on the horse
Illuminates their faces with fear, which
aghast,
Now
from behind their cover flee trembling from him:
You see Hebrews,
as they looked, amazed at this rumour
View with amazement heaven’s help to their consolation.

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Page 116

Thus rises the art of painting, like the sun in the East,
Which bestows colour on everything, fitting and with order.
Nature itself is joyful, who first urged the painter to climb
The stairwell of art, so roughly untread
And beset with thorns and admonishes Lairesse,
Accompanied by
Practice, to carry on this way.
This artful music of the eye braves the sounding of string.
The paints blended into one, eel, and soft,
There faint and sombre, there again in her full power.
And
delicate purity and harmony in the colours,
Satisfy the discriminating eye, as if one saw it happen.
Since every picture radiates the secret of passion.

It comes to mind that François van Hoogstraten I in a verse on a portrait of his brother and my master Samuel van Hoogstraten, said

He rhymes in painting and paints in poetry.

This also applies to our poet Pieter Verhoek, who with his pen, even as De Lairesse with the brush, displays the beautifully paired light and dark, observing the natural projection and recession and the pure treatment thereof, and that which is praiseworthy in the art work is sketched using letters. And this one may say of his brushworks in general. After all he has always let what is most important and essential speak in his works, while other commendable men in art have sometimes gaped at trivialities and spent more time on them than they deserve. Which is why I can also say to his fame that his selections,

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Page 117

or the objects of his selections, are praiseworthy, seeing that he rarely depicted anything with his brush that was not deserving of diligence and art. It’s true, not everything was equal in beautiful invention and brush treatment, but one should know that the ideas of artists are not always equally suitable, nor the passion equally great, all the more in one whose direction in life sometimes ran off the beaten track, and instead of the loosening the bow for the refreshment of the senses, could undertake exertions that wore out his spirit and powers.

No one will say that this is hatefully intended who knows that an upright history writer (which is how I should be seen with respect to this work), according to the saying of Polybius, should pay no attention to the persons, but to the issues as they are and speak about them in history as they deserve.

To continue now with our Liège phoenix, I have to say that in all elements of art he sought nature as his model. He dressed the male figures in drapery to study the broad folds. Light silk fabric, and various sparkling reflections, with thin crepe and fine linen, arranged in a lively way and naturally folded, are the adornment and dress of all of his female figures. He knew how to imitate silver, gold, and many kinds of metals, with their reflections and intense glitter. He brought no less gracefulness to his pictures with the depiction of different types of marble columns, vases, and portals etc. He especially excelled

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in painting low reliefs of white marble with many niches in the front entrances that grace the Keizers- and Herengracht in Amsterdam so naturally that people take them for sculpted marble surfaces. It pleases us to take one of these works, as well as the most important in the art of painting and inventive finds to give to painting youths as guide (should they encounter something of the kind) and as key to opening and explaining the contents.

This is an explanation of the five senses, painted in grisaille in the house of the art-loving Mister Philips de Flines [3-7]. The first piece, located above the light as you come in the door, represents the arts of painting, poetry, sculpture and drawing .

The Art of Painting stands in front, holding her implements -- palette, brushes and maulstick -- in her left hand, with her right hand lifting up a canvas on which several subjects are sketched. Behind her stands Nature, which she imitates through art and in which she has her origins or beginnings. The infant that stands before her with a smiling mask of laughter signifies the transformations in invention and imitation. Beside this one sees the Art of Poetry, holding in her right hand a trumpet and in her left a roll of paper* or rôle in a play. She wears a laurel wreath, because by her deeds she immortalizes persons, and sounds the praise of


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* To write on rolls of paper and parchment came into use from the oldest days, first with the Hebrews and later on amongst the Greek theatre poets (to assign each his particular part) and it remained in use amongst professional actors up to my early days. Since then the chambers, or artist societies with the motto Flowering in love, and others, have become entirely extinct in The Netherlands.

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3
Gerard de Lairesse
Allegory of riches, 1675-1683
canvas, oil paint, grisaille 288 x 153 cm
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv./cat.nr. SK-A- 4174

4
Gerard de Lairesse
Allegory of charity, 1`675-1683
canvas, oil paint, grisaille 288 x 160 cm
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv./cat.nr. SK-A-4175


5
Gerard de Lairesse
Allegory of the arts, 1675-1683
canvas, oil paint, grisaille 289 x 128 cm
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv./cat.nr. SK-A-4176

6
Gerard de Lairesse
Allegory of the sciences, 1675-1683
canvas, oil paint, grisaille 289 x 161 cm
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv./cat.nr. SK-A-4177


7
Gerard de Lairesse
Allegory of fame, 1675-1683
canvas, oil paint, grisaille 288 x 152 cm
lower left : G. Laires
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv./cat.nr. SK-A-4178


Page 119

heroes (signified by the trumpet). The infant standing beside her carries the instrument of Apollo, indicating that the god of the sun favours the art of poetry. One sees two figures standing behind the Art of Painting, representing Sculpture and Drawing. In her hand she has a drawing that includes some principles of art, to point out that she is the foundation on which the art of painting is built. The art of sculpture shares her symbolic sign; the child in the niche above is painted along with a sculpted human head to demonstrate how art consists of the regulated arrangement of well-formed members of the human body, of which the head is an important part.

Above each of these great sections is a smaller one, and within it, depicted with smaller figures, something that is applicable to the biggest or bottom niches, just as, referring to what is explained above, is depicted the Goddess of Wisdom beside a flaming altar, before which kneels Prudence, joined by other figures, to signify that whoever is elevated to completeness by her favour and has received admission to the temple of honour and glory, owes a debt of gratitude.

The first of the scenes, painted on the daylight side of the right wall, depicts the Goddess of Wisdom in the middle of the seven liberal arts: poetry, rhetoric, literature, astronomy, mathematics, geometry, and song or instrumental art. She stands as protectress in the middle of this distinguished company because she is deemed to be the wisest of the goddesses, which is also why the poets have embellished that she sprang from the brains of the upper

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