Click on photos to enlarge.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Pieter Codde

The Meager Company, 1637, Pieter Codde
(completing the work of Frans Hals).
Painters paint. They also compete. Or at least, those out to make a living at it do. Painters compete by trying to be the best at what they do, doing it for less compensation than their peers, and making sure everyone knows about the first two factors. Of course, other lesser elements come into play, hard work, knowing the right people (networking we call it today), and for portrait painters painting the right people. For better or worse, portrait painters become famous when they paint famous people. The mass media today is a fame factory, building up and often tearing down those who, for one reason or another, rise above their fellow man. Their portrait painters, in effect, ride their coat tails.

Portrait of an Painter in Front of his
Easel, ca 1630, Pieter Codde
(probably self-portrait).
Pieter Codde was one such portrait painter. He was born in 1599 at the very beginning of what has been termed the "Golden Age" of Dutch painting. Two of the major stars of this era, Rembrandt, was born seven years later, while Frans Hals was born seventeen years earlier. Codde may, in fact, have been a student of Hals. In any case his painting style is quite similar, only perhaps a bit slicker (less painterly). Imagine being a very competent practitioner, a dedicated artist, technically proficient in every way, yet having to compete with the likes of Frans Hals and Rembrandt at the height of his popularity (approximately 1630-1657). Add to that the plethora of other Dutch portrait painters of that era who found themselves in the same boat with Codde, artists such as Jan de Bray, Aert de Gelder, Jan Mijtens (and others you've never heard of). They were all scrambling to obtain important commissions, trying to make a living, and perhaps gain a modicum of fame, thus making the first two endeavors easier. Golden Age or not, the competition was cutthroat. In his final years, even Rembrandt fell victim to it.
The Gallant Company, 1633, Pieter Codde. Group portraits were quite fashionable
during the Dutch Golden Age. Notice one of the figures is painted from the back.

Woman Holding a Mirror, 1625,
Pieter Codde, his earliest dated work.
Moreover, under the best of circumstances, the life of a 17th century artist was not easy; and Codde's life was certainly no "bowl of cherries." When he was around twenty-four, Codde got into a fight with another artist at a party. They were both permanently disfigured when they smashed each other in the face with pieces of table crockery. Then about ten years later, married, reasonably well established as an artist, Codde was accused by his wife of raping their maid. It was never proven in court (he spent a single night in jail) but his wife left him in any case to move in with the father of the artist Paulus Potter (who happened to live next door). The whole affair may have been a mere pretense aimed at obtaining a divorce. Codde, nevertheless, retained the services of their maid, and in fact, willed his property to her upon his death.
The Night Watch, 1642, Rembrandt van Rijn.
We all tend to pack on a few pounds over the years.
Codde's big break came in 1637 when he was hired to complete a group portrait begun by Hals but never finished. Though titled, Officers of the Company of the Amsterdam Crossbow Civic Guard under Captain Reynier Reael and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz Blaeuw (top), critics observed that several of the men were also depicted by Rembrandt in his famous Night Watch (above), painted more than five years later. Moreover, they were considerably "fatter" in the latter work. Thus the Hals-Codde painting came to be termed The Meager Company (a considerably more meager title). Hals is said to have completed the central figure of the captain (in the gold uniform) plus faces and hands in the left half of the painting, as well as the three faces to the far right. The rest is believed to be the work of Codde. The dispute with the guardsmen involved the fact Hals was reluctant to make the trip from Haarlem (his home at the time) to Amsterdam, the home of the guard. They even offered to pay his travel expenses. For some three years, Hals resisted, so they fired him. Codde lived in Amsterdam.

No comments:

Post a Comment