Dec 152017

Today is the birthday (1610) of David Teniers the Younger, Flemish painter, printmaker, draughtsman, miniaturist painter, staffage painter, copyist, and art curator known for his prolific output. He is not a household name nowadays, but he was the leading Flemish genre painter of his day, especially as Flemish art went into decline in the 1640s following the deaths of Rubens and van Dyck. He was an innovator in a wide range of genres such as history, genre, landscape, portrait, and still life. He was court painter and the curator of the collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, the art-loving Governor General of the Habsburg Netherlands. He was also founder of the Antwerp Academy, where young artists were trained to draw and sculpt in the hope of reviving Flemish art after its decline. As such he was influential on the next generation of Northern genre painters as well as on French Rococo painters such as Antoine Watteau.

Teniers was born in Antwerp, son of David Teniers the Elder and Dymphna de Wilde. His father was a painter of altarpieces and small-scale cabinet paintings. Three of his brothers also became painters: Juliaan III (1616–1679), Theodoor (1619–1697) and Abraham (1629–1670). The work of his two oldest brothers is virtually unknown while the work of his youngest brother Abraham was very close to David’s own.

From 1626 David the younger studied under his father.The father and son pair created together a series of twelve panels recounting stories from Torquato Tasso’s epic Gerusalemme Liberata (Museo del Prado, Madrid). His father was frequently in financial straits and his debts landed him occasionally in jail. David the younger had to make copies of old masters in order to support the family. In 1632–33 he was registered as ‘wijnmeester’ (i.e. the son of a master) in the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke.

A David Teniers is recorded in the Antwerp records as having been issued in 1635 a passport to visit Paris. The artist likely also traveled to England as on 29 December 1635 of the same year he signed in Dover a contract with the Antwerp art dealer Chrisostomos van Immerseel, then resident in England.

Rubens received in 1636 a commission from the Spanish king Philip IV of Spain to create a series of mythological paintings to decorate the Torre de la Parada, a hunting lodge of the king near Madrid. The mythological scenes depicted in the series were largely based on the Metamorphoses of Ovid. Rubens realized this important commission with the assistance of a large number of Antwerp painters including Teniers but his painting for this project, following is Rubens’ design, is now lost.

Teniers married Anna Brueghel, daughter of Jan Brueghel the Elder, on 22 July 1637. Rubens, who had been the guardian of Anna Brueghel after her father’s death, was a witness at the wedding. Through his marriage Teniers was able to cement a close relationship with Rubens who had been a good friend and frequent collaborator with his wife’s father. This is borne out by the fact that at the baptism of the first of the couple’s seven children, David Teniers III, Rubens’ second wife, Hélène Fourment was the godmother. Around this time Teniers started to gain a reputation as an artist and he received a number of commissions. The Guild of St George (Oude Voetboog Guild), a local militia in Antwerp, commissioned a group portrait in 1643 (Hermitage Museum).

Teniers was a dean of the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke in 1644-1645. When Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria became the Governor General of the Southern Netherlands in 1647, the Archduke soon became an important patron of Teniers. The success went to the artist’s head. He claimed that his grandfather Julian Taisnier, who had moved from Ath (now located in the Walloon province of Hainaut) to Antwerp in the 16th century had been from a family that had been entitled to bear a coat of arms. Teniers started to use this coat of arms consisting of a crouching bear on a field of gold encircled by three green acorns. His brother-in-law Jan Baptist Borrekens reported him and Teniers was prohibited from using the coat of arms.

Around 1650 Teniers moved to Brussels to formally enter into the service of the Archduke as a “pintor de cámara” (court painter). The Archduke asked him to be the keeper of the art gallery he had set up in his palace in Brussels. In that position he succeeded the Antwerp painter Jan van den Hoecke who had earlier worked in Vienna for the Archduke. One of Teniers’ key tasks in this position was to look after and enlarge the Archducal collection. Teniers put together a collection for the art gallery which included his own work and that of other artists, which he selected. He was involved in the purchase of a large number of Italian, and especially Venetian, masterpieces from the confiscated collections of Charles I of England and his Jacobite supporters. One of his most important successes was the acquisition of the major part (about 400 paintings) of the collection owned by James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton, who had been a close associate and favorite of the English king and was, like the king, executed in 1649. The Conde de Fuensaldaña, then acting as Leopold Wilhelm’s lieutenant in the Southern Netherlands, also sent Teniers the Younger to England in 1651 to purchase paintings. The collection of the Archduke grew to incorporate about 1,300 works, mainly of leading Italian artists such as Raphael, Giorgione, Veronese and Titian (15 works by this artist alone) as well as of famous Northern artists such as Hans Holbein the Younger, Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Jan van Eyck. The collection became the foundation and nucleus of the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

The Archduke also promoted Teniers’ art by giving his paintings to other European rulers as presents. As a result many of these rulers also became patrons of Teniers. The bishop of Ghent Anthonius Triest, the Stadtholder Prince Frederik Hendrik of Orange, Christina, Queen of Sweden, William II, Prince of Orange and Philip IV of Spain were among his patrons. Teniers bought a house close to the Brussels court and was promoted in 1655 to ‘camerdiender’ or ‘ayuda de cámara’ (chamberlain) by the Archduke. It was most unusual for a painter to serve as chamberlain at the Spanish court. In fact, there was only one other case, which dates from the same time: that of Velázquez, whose aim was also to be elevated to the nobility. Not long after the Archduke resigned from his position as Governor General of the Spanish Netherlands and returned to Vienna with his large art collection. A Flemish priest, who was also a gifted still life painter, Jan Anton van der Baren, moved with Leopold Wilhelm from Brussels to Vienna where he was the successor of Teniers as the director of the archducal gallery in Vienna. Teniers also stood in high favor with the new Governor General of the Spanish Netherlands, Don Juan of Austria, a natural son of Philip IV of Spain. The prince was his pupil, and the early biographer Cornelis de Bie recounts that the prince painted the likeness of the painter’s son.

Teniers’ wife died on 11 May 1656. On 21 October of the same year the artist remarried. His second wife was Isabella de Fren, the 32-year old daughter of Andries de Fren, secretary of the Council of Brabant. It has been suggested that Teniers’ main motive for marrying her was her rather elevated position in society. She also brought him a large dowry. The couple had four children. His second wife’s attitude to Teniers’ children from his first marriage would later divide the family in legal battles. Teniers petitioned the king of Spain to be admitted to the aristocracy but gave up when the condition imposed was that he should give up painting for money.

When Don Juan of Austria ended his term as Governor General of the Southern Netherlands in January 1659, Teniers appears to have withdrawn from active court duty. He purchased from the husband of Hélène Fourment, the widow of Rubens, a country estate called the ‘Drij Toren’ (‘Three towers’) located in Perk, in the environs of Brussels and Vilvoorde. Teniers did not cut his links with Antwerp while living and working in Brussels. Teniers maintained close contacts with artists as well as the influential art dealers in Antwerp. In particular; the firm of Matthijs Musson was instrumental in building Teniers’ international reputation.

At the behest of his Antwerp colleagues of the Guild of Saint Luke, Teniers became the driving force behind the foundation of the Academy in Antwerp, only the second of such type of institution in Europe after the one in Paris. He used his connections and sent his son to Madrid to assist in the negotiation to successfully obtain the required license from the Spanish King. There were great celebrations in Antwerp when, on 26 January 1663, Teniers came from Brussels with the royal charter creating the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts, the existence of which was due entirely to his persistence. When in 1674 the existence of the Academy was threatened he again used his influence at the Spanish court to save the institution.

As a court painter Teniers was not required to become member of a local guild. Nevertheless, he became a member of the Brussels Guild of Saint Luke in 1675. In his later years Teniers was also active as an art dealer and he organized art auctions. This brought him into conflict with his fellow artists who started proceedings to prohibit him from holding an auction in 1683. Teniers argued that he needed the proceeds of the auction because his children were suing him for their mother’s part of her estate. The matter was finally settled between the parties themselves. In his final years he lost his second wife and was involved in further lawsuits over her estate with the two surviving children of his second wife. On 25 April 1690 David Teniers died in Brussels.

I will give you my usual gallery of the artist, but this time divided up by genre to give a sense of his diversity.

Interiors from ordinary life

Landscapes involving some special activity

Still life

Alchemists and physicians

Monkeys imitating human activity

A suitable dish for today would be mosselen-friet, more commonly known as moules-frites in French, and very popular in France, but probably of Flemish origin (not least because the second still life in the gallery shows a pot of mussels). It is sometimes called Belgium’s national dish.  It is likely that it was originally created by combining mussels, a popular and cheap foodstuff eaten around the Flemish coast, and fried potatoes which were commonly eaten around the country in winter when no fish or other food was available, or any time, for that matter. Belgians eat deep-fried potatoes with everything. This dish is really two dishes combined into one: mussels cooked in some way or other and served in one dish, and deep-fried potatoes served on another.

I like the mussels to be steamed with a very small amount of water, plus butter, chopped celery and chopped leeks (called mosselen natuur in Dutch, moules natures in French). Use only tightly closed mussels. Make sure that they are well scrubbed, and you have cut away all the beard material from the outside.  Allow about 1 liter of mussels per person. Heat the butter, water, leeks, and celery over high heat in a large pot until the water is boiling. Add the mussels, cover the pot tightly, and let the mussels steam for 5 minutes or so.  Check and see if they have opened.  When all are opened (discard any that do not open within the time allowed), serve immediately in the pot you have cooked them in with the juices from cooking. Serve the fried potatoes separately.

Belgians generally deep fry their potatoes twice at high temperature so that they are cooked and moist on the inside and crisp on the outside. In Belgium, bintje potatoes are the most commonly available variety and are generally preferred for fries because of their high starch content. They are partly fried, left to cool, and then fried again. They are typically fried at around 190°C/374°F.

One common way to eat mosselen-friet is with your fingers. Start by picking one mussel out of its shell and eating it. Then use the shell as a pair of pincers to pick other mussels out of their shells, and also to pick up fries one by one and dip them in the mussel sauce before eating. Provide a large bowl for discarded shells, and also plenty of napkins.

Nov 112017

Today is the birthday of Frans Snyders or Snijders (1579-1657), a Flemish painter noted for his paintings of animals, hunting scenes, market scenes and still lifes. He was one of the earliest specialists in specifically animal paintings without humans in them, and he is credited with initiating a wide variety of new still-life and animal subjects in Antwerp. He was a regular collaborator with leading Antwerp painters such as Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens. I have always been a fan of Flemish and Dutch still lifes and, in fact, often recreated them with real fruit and vegetables as centerpieces at dinner parties.

Snyders was born in Antwerp, son of Jan Snijders, the keeper of a wine inn frequented by artists. Snyders had five siblings. His brother Michiel also became a painter but no works by him are known to have survived. Snyders was recorded as a student of Pieter Brueghel the Younger in 1593, and subsequently trained with Hendrick van Balen, who was the first master of Anthony van Dyck. Snyders became a master of the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke in 1602. He travelled to Italy in 1608-9 where he first lived in Rome. He subsequently traveled from Rome to Milan. Jan Brueghel the Elder had introduced him there by letter to the famous art collector Cardinal Borromeo. Brueghel asked Snyders to paint a copy after a portrait by Titian in the Borromeo collection. This act is regarded as evidence that Snyders was a skilled figure painter before he turned his attention to still life painting, although his collaborations with other artists involved him painting animals and backgrounds and the other artists painting the human figures. is collaboration with Rubens started in the 1610s.

Snyders had many patrons including the Ghent Bishop Antonius Triest who commissioned four paintings of market scenes around 1615 (Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg). He was a friend of van Dyck who painted Snyders and his wife more than once (leading image). Snyders was commercially successful and was able to purchase a house on the high-end Keizerstraat in Antwerp. In 1628 he became the dean of the Guild of Saint Luke.

In the period 1636-1638 he was one of the Antwerp artists who assisted Rubens in a large commission for decorations for the hunting pavilion Torre de la Parada of Philip IV of Spain. The two artists also worked together on decorations for the Royal Alcazar of Madrid and the royal Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid. Snyders painted about 60 hunting paintings and animal pieces after designs by Rubens. In 1639 Rubens and Snyders received a follow-up commission for an additional 18 paintings for the hunting pavilion.

In the years 1641 and 1642 Snyders traveled with other artists to the Dutch Republic. In 1646 Snyders was probably in Breda working on a commission. Snyders became a widower in 1647. He died  on 19 August 1657 in Antwerp. He died childless and bequeathed his fortune to his sister, a beguine (a lay sister in a religious community).

Snyders initially devoted himself to painting flowers, fruit and still lifes. Later he turned to painting animals. He was particularly interested in depicting wild animals, which he showed engaged in lively hunts and fierce combats. He was one of the earliest specialist animaliers. His work as an animal painter was very influential on his contemporaries as well as on 18th-century French animal painters.

His stay in Italy is believed to have had an important influence on his style of fruit painting. He is likely to have seen Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit in Cardinal Borremeo’s collection in Milan.

He painted many market scenes and his earliest work in this area was inspired by the work of Pieter Aertsen and Joachim Beuckelaer who had pioneered and developed the genre in 16th century Antwerp. Whereas Aertsen and Beuckelaer often included a religious scene in the background of their market pieces, Snyders dispensed with this. Initially he worked in a Mannerist idiom. His style gradually matured as a result of his exposure to Italian art during his trip to Italy and the work of Rubens after his return to Antwerp. As a result the dark surroundings of his early still lifes disappeared after 1614 and he became a fine colorist with strong compositional skills allowing him to structure a profusion of disparate objects.

He not only created many large market and pantry scenes and game still lifes, usually including dead deer. He also painted smaller works which were reminiscent of the breakfast pieces and still lifes that originated in northern art around 1600. Rather than continue the descriptive manner of the Antwerp painter Osias Beert, Snyders’ innovative still lifes combined objects in groups to form a geometrically structured composition. Recurring motifs were dead hares and birds, tazze (shallow dishes on a tall foot), baskets with grapes and other fruit, enameled pitchers and Chinese Kraak porcelain.

Snyders typically depicted game in the stage before it is prepared as food. These dead animals therefore resemble hunting trophies, which were often not even intended as food but rather for stuffing. Snyders often included live animals such as cats to create a contrast between the animate and inanimate elements. Snyders’ large game pieces were very influential and the Dutch painter Jan Davidsz. de Heem, who worked in Antwerp for a significant period of time took inspiration from Snyders’ work to develop his own large-scale game pieces.

Snyders is believed to have been a skilled figure painter in his own right as is evidenced by Jan Breughel the Elder’s request that he make a copy after a Titian portrait in the Borromeo collection during his stay in Milan. Even so he still often collaborated with figure artists such as Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, his brother-in-law Cornelis de Vos, Theodoor van Thulden and Jan Boeckhorst, who painted the figures in compositions to which he added the still life elements. He also collaborated with landscape specialists such as Jan Wildens, who provided the landscape setting for his hunting scenes.

Collaborations with Rubens were particularly frequent. Snyders’ expressiveness and ability to render different textures of furs and skins excited the admiration of Rubens. Rubens frequently employed him to paint animals, fruit and still life in his own pictures. Snyders developed a particularly close collaborative relationship with Rubens between 1610 and 1640. Their collaborative efforts are well documented. In the early period of their collaboration, Rubens would paint an oil sketch of the complete composition and mark out clearly where Snyders would have to put his contribution. This has been documented for the painting The recognition of Philopoemen. It is possible that in this early period Rubens was not sure about Snyders’ compositional skills and wanted to show him the way. In the later Prometheus bound the process was reversed and Snyders made a sketch leaving the space for the figure by Rubens. The recognition of Philopoemen is reckoned to be the first Baroque still life with figures.

A famous collaboration between Rubens and Snyders is the Medusa (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). Painted around 1613-1617/1618, this small-scale work showed that Snyders’ manner was not only well suited to Rubens’ large pieces, but also adaptable to his smaller-scale works. Rubens relied on Snyders to create the visual richness that went hand in hand with his Baroque style, which stressed abundance and bounteousness. The two artists’ brushwork was so close that contemporaries had difficulty distinguishing their contributions in collaborative works.

Snyders also painted the still life elements for other Antwerp painters such as Jacob Jordaens, Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert, Jan Janssens and other artists. Frans Snyders collaborated with his second brother-in-law Cornelis de Vos. An example is the Still life with fruit and vegetables, which likely represents a larder of a fine house. The impression given by this composition is one of abundance as well as chaos. Closer inspection shows that the produce is arranged in a hierarchy reflecting their value and rarity. Cheaper root vegetables are on the ground while highly prized peas and asparagus are placed in the basket on the right.

One of the symbolic representations that Snyders created and to which he returned regularly is the concert of birds. Compositions on this theme represent different species of birds perched on tree trunks in the form of a concert of birds, sometimes with a musical score. The theme of the concert of birds predates the courtly fashion of the Baroque period of maintaining aviaries.

His compositions with monkeys wreaking havock in a pantry became very popular. The Louvre collection holds two monkey-themed paintings. They show two capuchin monkeys in a pantry pillaging a basket of fruit and toppling dishes. While the monkey had since the Middle Ages symbolized the sinner – a greedy, lecherous creature, driven by its senses only – during the 16th and 17th centuries it became the prime symbol of stupidity.

Here’s a 17th century Flemish/Dutch recipe for the day. It comes from an anonymous text of 1667: De verstandige kock, of sorghvuldige huys houdster (the wise cook, or caring householder). I am a little uncertain of my translation in places, given that I speak no Dutch. It says to spice the meat with “Noten” for example, which usually means “nuts” but is translated as “nutmeg” in some versions online of this recipe. I have not tried this recipe yet, but on first glance I can see problems with placing egg yolks raw inside a ground veal wrapping. It seems like a pretty idea but rather difficult to manage. I’d be inclined to boil some eggs first, take out the yolks whole, then pack the ground veal mix around them and wrap them in lettuce leaves. It’s also possible that this whole idea is a misreading of the recipe, but it is specific about one yolk per meatball.

Om Frickedillen in Krop-Salaet te maken.

Neemt gehakt kalfs-vlees, met kalfsvet wat vetter als ordinaris,  en dat wel gekruydt met Noten en een weynich Foelie, Peper en Sout na behooren, kneet wel ondereen, neemt dan soo veel van de malste kroppen salaet als’t u belieft, en suyvert die van de buytenste bladeren, en dan schoon uytgewassen en de krop van binnen de bladers wat open ghedaen, neemt dan soo veel eyren als gy kroppen hebt, maeckt oock soo veel Frickedillekens, en doet in’t midden van yder den door van een ey, leght dan in de krop en bindt hem met een draedt toe, en als’t water koockt, doet in de pot als het gaer is, kont dan in’t sop een weynigh fijn gestooten beschuyt doen, en wat boter, wat Kruys-bessen of onrijpe Druyven, Verjuys, naer elck sijn believen.

To make meatballs in lettuce head.

Take chopped veal with veal-fat, a little fatter than usual, and spice it with nutmeg and a little mace, pepper and salt as appropriate. Knead everything together, then take as many tender lettuce heads as you please, and take off the outer leaves. Wash the heads and open up the inner leaves. Take as many eggs as you have heads and make as many little meatballs [from the ground veal mixture]. Place an egg yolk in the middle of each [meatball], and put it inside the head. Tie it up with string. Boil water in a pot and place them in the boiling water. When cooked you can add to the broth a little finely crushed rusk and some butter, some gooseberries or unripe grapes or verjuice, according to your tastes.

Mar 222016


Today is the birthday (1599) of Antoon van Dyck  (Sir Anthony van Dyke), a Flemish Baroque artist who became the leading court painter in England, after enjoying great success in Italy and Flanders. He is most famous for his portraits of Charles I of England and his family and court, painted with a relaxed elegance that was to be the dominant influence on English portrait-painting for the next 150 years. He also painted biblical and mythological subjects, displayed outstanding facility as a draughtsman, and was a significant innovator in watercolor and etching.


Van Dyck was born to prosperous parents in Antwerp. His talent was evident very early, and he was studying painting with Hendrick van Balen by 1609, and became an independent painter around 1615, setting up a workshop with his even younger friend Jan Brueghel the Younger. By the age of fifteen he was already a highly accomplished artist, as his Self-portrait, 1613–14, shows. He was admitted to the Antwerp painters’ Guild of Saint Luke as a free master by February 1618. Within a few years he was to be the chief assistant to the dominant master of Antwerp, and the whole of Northern Europe, Peter Paul Rubens, who made much use of sub-contracted artists as well as his own large workshop. His influence on the young artist was immense, and Rubens referred to the 19-year-old van Dyck as “the best of my pupils.” The origins and exact nature of their relationship are unclear; it has been speculated that van Dyck was a pupil of Rubens from about 1613, as even his early work shows little trace of van Balen’s style. At the same time the dominance of Rubens in the small and declining city of Antwerp probably explains why, despite his periodic returns to the city, van Dyck spent most of his career abroad. In 1620, in Rubens’ contract for the major commission for the ceiling of the Carolus Borromeuskerk, the Jesuit church at Antwerp (lost to fire in 1718), van Dyck is specified as one of the “discipelen” who was to execute the paintings to Rubens’ designs.


In 1620, at the instigation of George Villiers, Marquess of Buckingham, van Dyck went to England for the first time where he worked for King James I of England. It was in London in the collection of the Earl of Arundel that he first saw the work of Titian, whose use of color and subtle modeling of form was inspirational, enriching the compositional lessons learned from Rubens.

After about four months he returned to Flanders, but moved on in late 1621 to Italy, where he remained for 6 years, studying the Italian masters and beginning his career as a successful portraitist. He was already presenting himself as a figure of consequence, annoying the rather bohemian Northern artist’s colony in Rome, says Bellori, by appearing with:

.  .  . the pomp of Zeuxis … his behavior was that of a nobleman rather than an ordinary person, and he shone in rich garments; since he was accustomed in the circle of Rubens to noblemen, and being naturally of elevated mind, and anxious to make himself distinguished, he therefore wore—as well as silks—a hat with feathers and brooches, gold chains across his chest, and was accompanied by servants.


He was mostly based in Genoa, although he also traveled extensively to other cities, and stayed for some time in Palermo in Sicily. For the Genoese aristocracy, then in a final flush of prosperity, he developed a full-length portrait style, drawing on Veronese and Titian as well as Rubens’ style from his own period in Genoa, where extremely tall but graceful figures look down on the viewer with great hauteur. In 1627, he went back to Antwerp where he remained for five years, painting more affable portraits which still made his Flemish patrons look as stylish as possible. He was evidently very charming to his patrons, and, like Rubens, well able to mix in aristocratic and court circles, which added to his ability to obtain commissions. By 1630 he was described as the court painter of the Habsburg Governor of Flanders, the Archduchess Isabella. In this period he also produced many religious works, including large altarpieces, and began his printmaking.


King Charles I was the most passionate and generous collector of art among the English monarchs to date, and saw art as a way of promoting his elevated view of the monarchy. In 1628, he bought the fabulous collection that the Gonzagas of Mantua were forced to dispose of because of the Mantuan War of Succession, and he had been trying since his accession in 1625 to bring leading foreign painters to England. In 1626, he was able to persuade Orazio Gentileschi to settle in England, later to be joined by his daughter Artemisia and some of his sons. Rubens was an especial target, who eventually came on a diplomatic mission, which included painting, in 1630, and later supplied more paintings from Antwerp. He was very well-treated during his nine-month visit, during which he was knighted. Charles’s court portraitist, at the time was Daniel Mytens, and unremarkable Dutch painter. Charles was very short (less than 5 feet (1.5 m) tall) and needed a skilled portraitist to enhance his public image.


Van Dyck had remained in touch with the English court, and had helped King Charles’s agents in their search for paintings. He had also sent back some of his own works, including a portrait (1623) of himself with Endymion Porter, one of Charles’s agents, a classical work (Rinaldo and Armida, 1629), and a religious piece for the Queen. He had also painted Charles’s sister, Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia in the Hague in 1632. In April that year, van Dyck returned to London, and was taken under the wing of the court immediately, being knighted in July and at the same time receiving a pension of £200 per year, in the grant of which he was described as “principalle Paynter in ordinary to their majesties.” He was well paid for paintings in addition to this, at least in theory, as King Charles did not actually pay his promised pension for five years, and reduced the price of many paintings. Van Dyck was provided with a house on the river at Blackfriars, then just outside the City and hence avoiding the monopoly of the Painters Guild. A suite of rooms in Eltham Palace, no longer used by the Royal family, was also provided as a country retreat. His Blackfriars studio was frequently visited by the King and Queen (later a special causeway was built to ease their access), who hardly sat for another painter while van Dyck lived.

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He was an immediate success in England, rapidly painting a large number of portraits of the king and queen Henrietta Maria, as well as their children. Many portraits were produced in several versions, to be sent as diplomatic gifts or given to supporters of the increasingly embattled king. Altogether van Dyck has been estimated to have painted forty portraits of King Charles himself, as well as about thirty of the Queen, nine of Earl of Strafford and multiple ones of other courtiers. He painted many of the court, and also himself and his mistress, Margaret Lemon.

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In England he developed a version of his style which combined a relaxed elegance and ease with an understated authority in his subjects which was to dominate English portrait-painting to the end of the 18th century. Many of these portraits have a lush landscape background. His portraits of Charles on horseback updated the grandeur of Titian’s Emperor Charles V. Although his portraits have created the classic idea of “Cavalier” style and dress, in fact a majority of his most important patrons in the nobility, such as Lord Wharton and the Earls of Bedford, Northumberland and Pembroke, took the Parliamentarian side in the English Civil War that broke out soon after his death.


The King in Council by letters patent granted Van Dyck denizenship in 1638, and he married Mary, the daughter of Patrick Ruthven, who, although the title was forfeited, styled himself Lord Ruthven. She was a Lady in waiting to the Queen, in 1639-40. This may have been instigated by the King in an attempt to keep van Dyck in England. He had spent most of 1634 in Antwerp, returning the following year, and in 1640–41, as the Civil War loomed, spent several months in Flanders and France.

With the partial exception of Holbein, van Dyck and his contemporary Diego Velázquez were the first painters of pre-eminent talent to work mainly as Court portraitists. At the time in the hierarchy of genres, portrait-painting came well below history painting (which covered religious scenes also), and for most major painters portraits were a relatively small part of their output, in terms of the time spent on them. Rubens for example mostly painted portraits only of his immediate circle, but though he worked for most of the courts of Europe, he avoided exclusive attachment to any of them.

A variety of factors meant that in the 17th century demand for portraits was stronger than for other types of work. Van Dyck tried to persuade Charles to commission him to do a large-scale series of works on the history of the Order of the Garter for the Banqueting House, Whitehall, for which Rubens had earlier done the huge ceiling paintings (sending them from Antwerp).

A sketch for one wall remains, but by 1638 Charles was too short of money to proceed. A list of history paintings produced by van Dyck in England survives, by Bellori, based on information by Sir Kenelm Digby. None of these appear to survive, although the Eros and Psyche done for the King does. But many other works, rather more religious than mythological, do survive. Van Dyck’s portraits were certainly deliberately flattering. When Sophia, later Electoress of Hanover, first met Queen Henrietta Maria, in exile in Holland in 1641, she wrote: “van Dyck’s handsome portraits had given me so fine an idea of the beauty of all English ladies, that I was surprised to find that the Queen, who looked so fine in painting, was a small woman raised up on her chair, with long skinny arms and teeth like defence works projecting from her mouth…”

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A fairly small number of landscape pen and wash drawings or watercolors made in England played an important part in introducing the Flemish watercolor landscape tradition to England. Some are studies, which reappear in the backgrounds of paintings, but many are signed and dated and were probably regarded as finished works to be given as presents. Several of the most detailed are of Rye, a port for ships to the Continent, suggesting that van Dyck did them casually whilst waiting for wind or tide to improve on his travels.

Early in 1641 he went to Paris, hearing that there was a project for the decoration of the Louvre, and hoping to obtain such a commission as Rubens had secured in the case of the Luxembourg palace. In this endeavor, however, he was frustrated by the work being entrusted to the local painters, Simon Vouet and Nicolas Poussin. In November 1641, broken in health and spirits, Van Dyck returned to London. On 1 Dec. his wife gave birth to a daughter at Blackfriars. On 4 Dec. Van Dyck made a fresh will. On the 9th, the same day that his daughter Justiniana was baptized, Van Dyck died in his house at Blackfriars, aged 42. On the 11th he was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral, near the tomb of John of Gaunt, where a monument was erected to his memory; but both grave and monument were destroyed by the great fire in 1666.


Given the interest that Kenelm Digby had in van Dyke’s work, a recipe from The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened (1669) seems in order. I rather like this recipe for capon:

Capon in White-broth.

My Lady of Monmouth boileth a Capon with white broth thus. Make reasonable good broth, with the crag-ends of Necks of Mutton and Veal (of which you must have so much as to be at least three quarts of White-broth in the dish with the Capon, when all is done; else it will not come high enough upon the Capon) Beat a quarter of a pound of blanched Almonds with three or four spoonfuls of Cream, and, if you will, a little Rose water; then add some of your broth to it, so to draw out all their substance, mingling it with the rest of the broth. Boil your Capon in Fair-water by it self; and a Marrow-bone or two by themselves in other water. Likewise some Chess-nuts (in stead of which you may use Pistaccios, or macerated Pine kernels) and in other water some Skirrits or Endive, or Parsley-roots, according to the season. Also plumpsome Raisins of the Sun, and stew some sliced Dates with Sugar and water. When all is ready to joyn, beat two or three New-laid-eggs (whites and all) with some of the White-broth, that must then be boiling, and mingle it with the rest, and let it boil on: and mingle the other prepared things with it, as also a little sliced Oringiado (from which the harp Candy-sugar hath been soaked off with warm-water) or a little peel of Orange (or some Limon Pickled with Sugar and Vinegar, such as serves for Salets) which you throw away, after it hath been a while boiled in it: and put a little Sack to your broth, and some Ambergreece, if your will, and a small portion of Sugar; and last of all, put in the Marrow in lumps that you have knocked out of the boiled bones. Then lay your Capon taken hot from the Liquor, he boiled in, upon sippets and slices of tosted light bread, and pour your broth and mixture upon it, and cover it with another dish, and let all stew together a while; then serve it up. You must remember to season your broth in due time with salt and such spices as you like.


The list of ingredients reads like an inventory of a Stuart pantry. Certainly this is a complex dish, and, in the absence of weights and measures, will require some tinkering to recreate. There’s also the problem of acquiring some of the ingredients. Ambergris – produced in the digestive tract of sperm whales – is hard to come by and very expensive. It’s normally used as a fixative in perfumes, but in the Stuart age it was also used in cooking. Charles II’s favorite dish was reputedly scrambled eggs laced with ambergris. I’ve never eaten it, but based on the smell it probably has a complex musky taste. Skirrets were a favorite root vegetable in Tudor and Stuart times, but have since fallen out of use. I have no idea where one might find them. Fortunately, both are listed as optional (with alternatives suggested). Oringiado is just candied orange peel.

So what you’re looking at is developing a complex broth made from mutton and veal bones, almonds, cream, rose water (optional), raisins, dates, eggs, orange peel, ambergris and sugar, plus unspecified spices.  The capon is simmered in broth, whilst the cook prepares some marrow, skirrets (or parsley root), and chestnuts to serve as a garnish for the capon.  This is not something I have time to experiment with, but one day I might if I desire to surprise my dinner guests – and they are adventurous eaters.

Jun 282014


Hooray!!! The migration of this site to a VPS server is complete so I can get back to giving you my daily tale, instead of spending hours on the phone. So . . . today is the birthday (1577) of Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish Baroque painter, and a proponent of an extravagant Baroque style that emphasized movement, color, and sensuality. He is well known for his Counter-Reformation altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and paintings of religious, mythological, and allegorical subjects.

Rubens was born in the German city of Siegen, Westphalia to Jan Rubens and Maria Pypelincks. His father, a Calvinist, and his mother fled Antwerp for Cologne in 1568, after increased religious turmoil and persecution of Protestants during the rule of the Spanish Netherlands by the Duke of Alba. Jan Rubens became the legal advisor (and lover) of Anna of Saxony, the second wife of William I of Orange, and settled at her court in Siegen in 1570, fathering her daughter Christine who was born in 1571. Jan Rubens was imprisoned for his affair – sort of a no-brainer don’t you think, Jan? Where was your Calvinism? After he was released, his wife bore Peter Paul in 1577. The family returned to Cologne the next year. In 1589, two years after his father’s death, Rubens moved with his mother Maria Pypelincks to Antwerp, where he was raised as a Catholic.

In Antwerp, Rubens received a humanist education, studying Latin and classical literature. By fourteen he began his artistic apprenticeship with Tobias Verhaeght. Subsequently, he studied under two of the city’s leading painters of the time, the late Mannerist artists Adam van Noort and Otto van Veen. Much of his earliest training involved copying earlier artists’ works, such as woodcuts by Hans Holbein the Younger and Marcantonio Raimondi’s engravings after Raphael. Rubens completed his education in 1598, at which time he entered the Guild of St. Luke as an independent master.


In 1600, Rubens travelled to Italy. He stopped first in Venice, where he saw paintings by Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto, before settling in Mantua at the court of Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga. The coloring and compositions of Veronese and Tintoretto had an immediate effect on Rubens’s painting, and his later, mature style was profoundly influenced by Titian. With financial support from the Duke, Rubens travelled to Rome by way of Florence in 1601. There, he studied classical Greek and Roman art and copied works of the Italian masters. The Hellenistic sculpture Laocoön and his Sons was especially influential on him, as was the art of Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci. He was also influenced by the recent, highly naturalistic paintings by Caravaggio.

Rubens travelled to Spain on a diplomatic mission in 1603, delivering gifts from the Gonzagas to the court of Philip III. While there, he studied the extensive collections of Raphael and Titian that had been amassed by Philip II. He also painted an equestrian portrait of the Duke of Lerma during his stay that demonstrates the influence of works like Titian’s Charles V at Mühlberg. This journey marked the first of many during his career that combined art and diplomacy.

He returned to Italy in 1604, but, upon hearing of his mother’s grave illness in 1608, Rubens planned his departure from Italy for Antwerp. However, she died before he arrived home. His return coincided with a period of renewed prosperity in the city with the signing of Treaty of Antwerp in April 1609, which initiated the Twelve Years’ Truce. In September 1609 Rubens was appointed as court painter by Albert VII, Archduke of Austria and Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain, sovereigns of the Low Countries.


He received special permission to base his studio in Antwerp instead of at their court in Brussels, and to also work for other clients. He remained close to the Archduchess Isabella until her death in 1633, and was called upon not only as a painter but also as an ambassador and diplomat. Rubens further cemented his ties to the city when, on 3 October 1609, he married Isabella Brant, the daughter of a leading Antwerp citizen and humanist, Jan Brant.

In 1610, Rubens moved into a new house and studio that he designed. Now the Rubenshuis Museum, the Italian-influenced villa in the centre of Antwerp accommodated his workshop, where he and his apprentices worked. His most famous pupil was the young Anthony van Dyck, who soon became the leading Flemish portraitist and collaborated frequently with Rubens. He also often collaborated with the many specialists active in the city, including the animal painter Frans Snyders who contributed the eagle to Prometheus Bound, and his good friend the flower-painter Jan Brueghel the Elder.


Rubens used the production of prints and book title-pages, especially for his friend Balthasar Moretus, the owner of the large Plantin-Moretus publishing house, to extend his fame throughout Europe during this part of his career. With the exception of a couple of brilliant etchings, he only produced drawings for these himself, leaving the printmaking to specialists, such as Lucas Vorsterman, Paulus Pontius, and Willem Panneels. He recruited a number of engravers trained by Christoffel Jegher, who he carefully schooled in the more vigorous style he wanted.

In 1621, the Queen Mother of France, Marie de’ Medici, commissioned Rubens to paint two large allegorical cycles celebrating her life and the life of her late husband, Henry IV, for the Luxembourg Palace in Paris. The Marie de’ Medici cycle   (which are now in the Louvre, and which I and my son have spent hours admiring), was installed in 1625, and although he began work on the second series it was never completed. Marie was exiled from France in 1630 by her son, Louis XIII, and died in 1642 in the same house in Cologne where Rubens had lived as a child.


After the end of the Twelve Years’ Truce in 1621, the Spanish Habsburg rulers entrusted Rubens with a number of diplomatic missions, and in the years that followed he combined art and diplomacy; a combination I must admit that I find intriguing, as did the courtiers of his day. He often encountered the attitude from his colleagues at various European courts that as a “gentleman” he should not be involved in “manual labor.” Nevertheless, he was welcomed by the crowned heads of Europe. Rubens was twice knighted, first by Philip IV of Spain in 1624, and then by Charles I of England in 1630. He was also awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree from Cambridge University in 1629.

While Rubens’ international reputation with collectors and nobility abroad continued to grow, he and his workshop also continued to paint monumental paintings for local patrons in Antwerp. The Assumption of the Virgin Mary (1625–6) for the Cathedral of Antwerp is one prominent example. Rubens’ last decade was spent in and around Antwerp. Major works for foreign patrons still occupied him, such as the ceiling paintings for the Banqueting House at Inigo Jones’s Palace of Whitehall, but he also explored more personal artistic directions.


In 1630, four years after the death of his first wife, the 53-year-old painter married his niece, the 16-year-old Hélène Fourment. Hélène inspired the voluptuous figures in many of his paintings from the 1630s, including The Feast of Venus, The Three Graces, and The Judgment of Paris. In the latter painting, which was made for the Spanish court, the artist’s young wife was recognized by viewers in the figure of Venus. In an intimate portrait of her, Hélène Fourment in a Fur Wrap, also known as Het Pelsken, Rubens’ wife is partially modeled after classical sculptures of the Venus Pudica, such as the Medici Venus.


Rubens died from heart failure, which was a result of his chronic gout on 30 May 1640. He was interred in Saint Jacob’s church, Antwerp.

When I think of Rubens and his representation of the female figure – usually styled Rubenesque – I have to give you this link. How times change.

The Flemish Baroque was famous for its still life paintings of food (and hunting). Here’s some images for you two are from Rubens himself). I don’t think that is quite right of me to suggest that you bake a swan or grill up a lion steak. But you should think in terms of the wildly exotic and excessive.

ppr8  ppr7

ppr9  ppr3


I’m going to cheat concerning recipes today (pressed for time).  Here’s a great website that features two videos (in French) and a recipe for Flemish hop shoots with poached egg and smoked salmon — suitably exotic, I think. Hop shoots are the newly sprouted shoots of the hop plants that are used in flavoring Belgian beer.  When newly in season they fetch upwards of $500 per pound in Antwerp.