Click on photos to enlarge.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Carel Fabritius

Saskiavan Uylenburgh, Wife of the Painter, Rembrandt, (after Rembrandt),
1651, Carel Fabritius

Portrait of Saskia, 1633-34, Rembrandt
As an art instructor, I can remember only once or twice that one of my students so admired any of my paintings as to want to copy them. Though long a traditional means of learning to paint, today that sort of thing is not done very much. The emphasis is on personal creativity, even among the youngest student amateurs. Such copying, even with the words "after so and so" tacked on following the title, is frowned upon. Despite the attribution, it's considered little short of plagiarism. However, during the 17th century, during the Golden Age of Dutch painting, masters frequently taught their students using their own works as models, not too unlike a student today might draw or paint from a photo. Such student work allowed the instructor to draw precise, one-to-one comparisons between his own painting and that of his student. We are fortunate today to have an example of such an instructional technique in the works of student Carel Fabritius and his instructor, Rembrandt van Rijn. Rembrandt painted a portrait of his beloved wife, Saskia in 1633-34 (above, right). Fabritius made his version around 1651 (top). Of course, painting from a color portrait is somewhat easier than painting from life, but to my eyes, the copy by Fabritius is the better of the two.

View of Delft, 1652, Carel Fabritius--a study in complex perspectives.

Carel Fabritius, Self-portrait, 1650.
Carel Fabritius (left) was born near Amsterdam in  1622, the son of a carpenter (fabritius means carpenter in Latin). As was common practice at the time, the boy first trained to follow in his father's trade. However, around 1640, when he turned eighteen, Carel and his younger brother, Barent, became students of Rembrandt. The portrait of Saskia came near the end of this period. Then, in the early 1650s, Carel Fabritius (the more talented of the two) moved about thirty miles south of Amsterdam to Delft (above). There he opened a studio, and joined the painter's guild. It was the biggest mistake of his life. In fact, it cost him his life. Four years later, on October 12, 1654, a gunpowder magazine near his studio exploded, destroying about a fourth of the city and taking the life of the thirty-two-year-old artist, along with that of his student, Mattias Spoors, and a church deacon named Simon Decker, with whom they were consulting regarding a religious painting.

The Raising of Lazarus, 1643, Carel Fabritius
The Beheading of John the Baptist,
1643-44, Carel Fabritius.
(Is that Saskia in the role of Salome?)
Because of this senseless tragedy, only thirteen paintings by Fabritius are known to exist. Some of them are (not surprisingly) portraits. Others included religious works such as his 1643 Raising of Lazarus (above) and his Beheading of John the Baptist (left) from 1643-44, that had long been finished and were no longer in his studio. Hagar and the Angel (below) is a third religious work by Fabritius from this busy period in the artist's life as he studied under Rembrandt. Although some of the hallmarks of Rembrandt's style and choice of subject matter are present, Fabritius is considered the only one of Rembrandt's students to have veered away from his master in developing a distinctive style.  Despite his short life and still shorter career, Fabritius is said to have been a strong influence upon later Dutch painters such as Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch. In spite of his iconic stature as the best of the Delft painters, and his high-profile religious works, done while studying with Rembrandt, perhaps the artist's most touching portrait is that of an unknown figure, possibly a neighbor, his 1654 Goldfinich (bottom)quite likely his final painting.

Hagar and the Angel, 1643-44, Carel Fabritius

The Goldfinch, 1654, Carel Fabritius

No comments:

Post a Comment