Flying penguin on 17th-century painting

Flying penguin, by Dirk de Quade van Ravesteijn (1565–1620)

Apparently, penguins could not only fly on this video, but also on this 1610 painting.

Leiden University weekly Mare in the Netherlands writes about it (translated):

The flying penguin

[Dutch painter] Dirk de Quade van Ravesteijn (1565-1620) painted at the [Prague] court of [Habsburg emperor] Rudolf II, and made two animal albums there: one about four-legged animals, and one about birds.

He had a great interest in animals that were interesting from a natural history perspective. [Art historian] Rikken: “He chose animals with abnormalities, such as a chicken with three legs, or species that had just been discovered.” The Magellanic penguin was then a fresh discovery. Biologist Carolus Clusius – in Leiden known as the first boss of the Hortus Botanicus – described the species in 1605.

But what did Quade know about that? And how is it that the drawing of the coat is so accurate, while Clusius’ publication was in black and white? Again, Walker suspects that the artist has seen a stuffed specimen. “How the animal moved, about that he had of course no idea. You do see more artists struggling with penguins; they are so different from other birds!”

Are armadillos ungulates?

Armadillos, probably by Lambert Lombard

We continue with another blog post about the research by art historian Marrigje Rikken into depiction of animals in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This drawing shows two armadillos; American animals, unknown to Europeans before the 16th century.

According to Ms Rikken, the drawing is probably by Walloon artist Lambert Lombard (1506/1566).

Now, another sixteenth century depiction of an armadillo (and three other animals).

It is by Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder (c. 1520 – c. 1590) from Flanders.

Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder, 'ungulate' animals

It depicts four animals. From left to right: a giraffe; an armadillo; a sheep and an unicorn.

Ms Rikken said about this picture:

This engraving with four animals, I found in a not really accessible collection, it was a key work for me. I have used this image as front and back pictures of my thesis. Why did Gheeraerts want to combine especially these animals? And why are so they static, all in side? This was done deliberately, I think. All animals are depicted as ungulates, and that makes this picture a contribution to science.

The first encyclopedias were still not sure about the format: should they be in alphabetical order, or did the animals have to be gathered in groups? This is the first image in which even-toed ungulates are grouped together and in that Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder was ahead of the science of his time. Not in every respect by the way: about unicorns we do not know whether they are even-toed ungulates, and armadillos are certainly not – as we see in the [drawing] by Lombard. But the idea about how animals are related was already there.”

Painter Jan Brueghel and birds

Jan Brueghel the Elder, Allegory of Air, 1621

This painting is Jan Brueghel the Elder, Allegory of Air, 1621 version.

Translated from Leiden University weekly Mare in the Netherlands, 16 June 2016:

Escaped from Noach’s ark

How depicting animals came into its own

In the sixteenth century in the Southern Netherlands, a number of new art genres developed, including depicting animals. PhD Marrigje Rikken investigated this development.

1550. Antwerp – then still part of the Netherlands – one of the most important centers of Europe. For trade, but also for arts. The city had since 1531 the first art fair in Europe, and rich traders bought art for collections.

In the preceding Middle Ages, the church had been the largest client for artists. “From these Bible stories developed in the Southern Netherlands of the sixteenth century new artistic genres,” says art historian Marrigje Rikken. “Landscapes, still lifes and depictions of animals. My PhD research focuses on the latter genre. Struggling to free itself from biblical paintings of Noah’s Ark, or the Garden of Eden. That religious motive moves increasingly into the background. Later it is no longer necessary, because the genre is established. Buyers do not necessarily want an ark, they just want an attractive painting with lots of animals on it.”

But that brings up a problem: how do animals look like? Painting an elephant is difficult if you have only heard descriptions. Fortunately, in the same period also the first animal encyclopedias were published. Those were real status symbols, luxury goods, not always accessible to artists. Nevertheless, they knew the natural history works. They take motifs from these books: giraffes look like a cross between a camel and a leopard and are always in the same position. How could they do that?

By finding out whom the artists contacted, Rikken discovered a pivotal role in the network for mapmaker Abraham Ortelius. He corresponded with both the artists and the natural historians, and was a kind of bridge between the two. “Cartographer Ortelius was also a merchant and collector of prints. He seems to have actively encouraged artists to make drawings of animals: a lot of them only depicted animals after they had come in contact with Ortelius.

Another key figure did not live in the Southern Netherlands but in Prague: Emperor Rudolph II of Habsburg. Rudolph was not really successful as a ruler, but was a great patron of the arts and sciences. His court was full of the big names of the time: astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler came, the Dutch inventor Cornelis Drebbel, and a huge list of artists. Among them were a number of animal painters of the Southern Netherlands, who took full advantage of Rudolf’s natural history collection.

Starting in 1630, the depiction of animals as a genre was quite mature, Rikken explains: “The important developments that at first quickly succeeded each other, then stopped.”

The bird collection

“There are three versions of the painting Allegory of the Air. The version at the top of this post is the last one in which everything worked. Brueghel added more birds in each new version, as more species were discovered. The Senegal parrot (right, with the yellow patch on the chest, ed.), and the yellow-crested cockatoo were at the time new birds for Europeans. The penguins do weird with their wings, though.

Below left you see two birds of paradise. According to the myth these birds did not land, but always remained in the air. They, according to that story, had no legs, and the female laid her eggs in a cavity in the back of the male. Brueghel prominently pictured them here with legs and visible eggs, to debunk the myth. Had he seen a bird of paradise? The collection of Emperor Rudolf II had one, which explicitly states that it had legs. Other Prague artists, however, depicted them without legs, so it remains mysterious.”

There will be more on ancient depictions of animals, so stay tuned!

Birds depicted in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum: here.

Ancient artists depicting animals

Jan Brueghel the Elder, animals, including toucan

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

How artists classified the animal kingdom

Published on 21 June 2016

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries artists were fascinated by how the animal kingdom was classified. They were in some instances ahead of natural historians.

This is one of the findings of art historian Marrigje Rikken. She will defend her PhD on 23 June on animal images in visual art. In recent years she has studied how images of animals between 1550 and 1630 became an art genre in themselves. ‘The close relationship between science and art at that time was remarkable,’ Rikken comments. ‘Artists tried to bring some order to the animal kingdom, just as biologists did.’

Beetles, butterflies and dragonflies

In some cases the artists were ahead of their times. They became interested in insects, for example, before they attracted the attention of natural historians. It was artist Joris Hoefnagel who in 1575 made the first miniatures featuring beetles, butterflies and dragonflies, indicating how they were related to one another. In his four albums Hoefnagel divided the animal species according to the elements of fire, water, air and earth, but within these classifications he grouped animals on the basis of shared characteristics.

Hoefnagel, insects

Even-toed ungulates

Other illustrators, print-makers and painters tried to bring some cohesion to the animal kingdom. Some of them used an alphabetical system but artist Marcus Gheeraerts  published a print as early as 1583 [visible below, Ed.] in which [he] grouped even-toed ungulates together. The giraffe and sheep – both visible on Gheeraerts’ print – belong to this [sic] species of animals. This doesn’t apply to all Gheeraerts’ animals. The mythical unicorn, which was featured by Gheeraerts, no longer appears in contemporary biology books.

Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder, 'ungulate' animals

Wealthy courtiers

According to Rikken, the so-called menageries played an important role historically in how animals were represented. These forerunners of today’s zoos were popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries particularly among wealthy rulers and courtiers. Unfamiliar exotic animals regularly arrived that were immediately committed to paper by artists. Rikken: ‘The toucan, for example, was immortalised in 1615 by Jan Brueghel the Elder, court painter in Brussels.’ [See the main image, Ed.].’

In the flesh

Rikken also discovered that the number of animals featured in a work gradually increased. ‘Artists from the 1570s generally included one or just a few animals per work. With the arrival of print series a decade later, each illustration tended to include more and more animals. This trend reached its peak in the lavish paintings produced around 1600.’ These paintings are also much more varied than the drawings and prints. Illustrators and print-makers often blindly copied one another’s motifs, even showing the animals in an identical pose. Artists had no hesitation in including the same animal in different positions. Rikken: ‘This allowed them to show that they had observed the animal in the flesh.’

Painter Hieronymus Bosch, new Internet site

This Spanish video is called El Bosco. La exposición del Centenario. It is about the Hieronymus Bosch exhibition in the Prado museum in Madrid. Many of the works at this exhibition were earlier at the Bosch exhibition in Den Bosch city in the Netherlands.

From the BoschDoc Internet site in the Netherlands:

BoschDoc is an online database containing source material on the ’s-Hertogenbosch painter Hieronymus Bosch. Not only the sources in which he himself is mentioned are included, but also sources giving information about his immediate surroundings, members of his family, patrons and works. These are chiefly handwritten documents, but also a number of early printed works, dating from before 1800 are included in BoschDoc.

BoschDoc is part of the Bosch Research and Conservation Project and has been carried out in the framework of the 500th anniversary of the death of Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450 – 1516). The project has been made possible by the Radboud University Nijmegen, the City Archives of ’s-Hertogenbosch and the Huygens ING.

The content of BoschDoc is largely based on references in other publications. These references have been traced, expanded and if necessary updated and/or corrected. The publications containing the references are credited under the tab “Comments & References”.

Pablo Picasso’s artistic holiday in Holland

Pablo Picasso, La belle Hollandaise

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

How peasant girls and Dutch dunes inspired Picasso

Today, 20:50

He rarely went on vacation, but in 1905 he clearly needed it. The 23-year-old Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) fled the heat and bustle of Paris. To this rare vacation the Alkmaar Municipal Museum is dedicating an exhibition.

Picasso was staying for several weeks in Schoorl, at the cottage of his acquaintance Tom Schilperoort. He knew the Dutchman from Paris. The self-styled bohemian and journalist had seen it correctly: Picasso craved inspiration.

Cheese market

He worked on his famous Famille de Saltimbanques. The composition and the background he did not like, but how should he change that? He was not sure yet. With in his luggage a sketchbook, brush and some paint he took the train and in Alkmaar he got out. Probably in June and almost certainly on a Friday when the cheese market is.

Pyramids of cheese: he will remember them years later in amazement. Just like the Dutch women. Tall and glowing with health.

Picasso walked through Alkmaar. “It was a provincial town where the farmers did their shopping,” says historian Gerrit Valk, who has done years of research into the fascinating Holland weeks of the master. “There were many women in West Frisian costume.” White caps, skirts, clogs come back in the sketches that Picasso makes. As a tourist he draws the windmills, the stepped gables of the houses along the canals of Alkmaar and a visitor with a prostitute in a brothel in Alkmaar.

The cottage in Schoorl is gone, but there exists a picture of the interior with Schilperoort, Picasso and a certain Nelly. Most likely she was Petronella Timmer, who kept the cottages clean. In the seaside village Picasso is impressed by the light, the dunes and the color of the sand and arid pasture.

About the women he would say later that they rolled off the dunes. He probably has seen the traditional ‘girls market’, where the peasant girls danced and drank and rolled while flirting off the dunes they had climbed and started dating.

The summer-house was too stuffy for Picasso, so he rented a room in Schoorldam. He is found much in the local pub Lands Welvaren. There a special chair was bought for him without arm rests, as these bothered him while drawing. After the departure of Picasso the chair disappeared into the attic, but it remained in the family.

Recently, the Picasso chair was donated to the Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar. This was for director Lidewij de Koekkoek the stimulus to make a long-cherished wish come true. To make a modest exhibition on the holiday of the world famous painter.

“This is a dream come true,” she says radiantly as the nude La Belle Hollandaise is unzipped with utmost care. An employee of the museum in Brisbane, Australia supervises and controls the work, every square centimeter of it, before it can hang. It is put alongside the other gouache Picasso made in West Friesland Les Trois Hollandaises from the Picasso Museum in Paris. We have to guess who the three women are. Possibly, it is always the same woman, but then in a different position.

Picasso, Les trois Hollandaises

Clothes off

Even more interesting would be to know who was the model for the nude. In prudish West Friesland a girl took her clothes off in front of Picasso and kept only her white lace cap on. Lidewij de Koekkoek sees the work for the first time and is moved by it. Now that it hangs, all sorts of details become remarkable. The dreamy look in her eyes. Was she in love? Was the Spanish painter her lover? And the way the girl bends the fingers of her hand, does she indicate that she is pregnant?

Picasso’s holiday in Holland lasted only a few weeks. But short as that was, the period had an influence on his development as an artist. After his return he finished the world famous painting of the acrobat family Famille de Saltimbanques. The background was changed: he put the circus artists in a dune landscape. In the background there are unmistakably dunes such as near the North Sea beach.

The exhibition Picasso in Holland is until 28 August at the Stedelijk Museum in Alkmaar.

Famille de saltimbanques, by Picasso

French 19th century painting and prostitution, exhibition

This video, from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, says about itself:

17 February 2016

What attracted artists to prostitution as a subject? Come and see the exhibition ‘Easy Virtue’ and discover prostitution through the eyes of Vincent van Gogh and many other well-known 19th-century artists, including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Pablo Picasso.

From the Van Gogh Museum:

What attracted artists to prostitution as a subject? Come and see the exhibition ‘Easy Virtue’ and discover prostitution through the eyes of Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso and many other well-known 19th-century artists.

19 February to 19 June 2016

The depiction of prostitution in French 19th-century art has never been explored in such depth.

During the second half of the 19th century, prostitution was a favourite subject of the visual arts. Artists enthusiastically depicted prostitution as an aspect of modern life in the city of Paris and they painted women soliciting on the boulevards, wealthy courtesans in their salons and the prematurely aged prostitutes in brothels.

Exhibition: Easy Virtue. Prostitution in French Art, 1850-1910

Intriguing themes

Four intriguing themes take you back to Paris in the Belle Époque. Enter the dance halls and cafés where women picked up their customers, as well as the hidden world of brothels and prisons where illegal prostitutes and women with venereal diseases were locked up.


Printmaking lent itself perfectly to risqué subject matter like prostitution. The intimate character meant that these prints tended to live a hidden life in the portfolios of private collectors. A selection of them is being exhibited at the same time as Easy Virtue.

Explore the prints of the fin de siècle here. …

Easy Virtue x Red Light District

Old cribs in Amsterdam’s Red Light District have been transformed into style rooms for the Easy Virtue exhibition. Come and visit the pop-up location Sint Annenstraat 21.

More information here.

Easy Virtue is a collaboration between the Musée d’Orsay and the Van Gogh Museum. The exhibition Splendour and Misery. Pictures of Prostitution, 1850-1910 was on view in Musée d’Orsay from 22 September 2015 until 17 January 2016.

Clement & Sanôu designed the exhibition.