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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Jan and Jacob Pynas

The Raising of Lazarus, 1624, Jacob Pynas
The Awakening, 1615, Jan Pynas
It's no secret that art talent tends to run in families. It's not at all unusual for a father to pass talent and instruction to a son, or even a daughter. Mothers tend to pass on their talent to their daughters. However, only in the largest families would you likely find two siblings who are equally talented to the point their work is virtually indistinguishable from one another. Especially today, when a very broad range of content, styles, media, and techniques, are readily accessible and acceptable, would you find such circumstances. Such circumstances art historians tend to hate (or at least dislike intensely). Art historians and other such professions involving names, dates, and attributions, like their work "cut and dried." Uncertainties cast a shadow over their competence, where absolutes rule and guesswork causes them to cringe inwardly. The Dutch Golden Age brothers, Jan and Jacob Pynas present just such a quandary. It's interesting to compare their two versions of the same subject, in this case, The Raising of Lazarus (above) dating from 1624, by Jacob Pynas, and the same subject by his brother titled, The Awakening (above, left), from 1615.

St. Gerome and the Lion, Jan or Jacob Pynas
Kneeling Magdalena,
1610, Jan Pynas
Although in this instance, the style and handling are quite different, that isn't always the case. They could, if they chose, paint quite similarly, perhaps even working together on the same painting. One source, in attributing the painting St. Gerome and the Lion (above), simply faced the problem head on and inserted he word "or" between the two brothers. Brothers or others, that's something you don't see that very often in art history. In some cases, you get the feeling the art "experts" would rather get it wrong than stoop to such ambiguity. Fortunately, there are subtle differences in the two brothers' works. The Lazarus paintings bear witness to the fact that Jan Pynas' manner seems softer than the sharper, cleaner, almost sculptural style of his brother. That is, until one encounters Jan Pynas' Kneeling Magdalena (right) which is rather subdued in color and quite hard edged, and compares it to Jacob Pynas' Abraham and the Three Angels (below), which presents a quite ethereal impression. Could the expert have one or both attributions wrong?

Abraham and the Three Angels, Jacob Pynas.
Descent from the Cross,
Pen and Ink, Jacob Pynas
Of course, the question arises, especially in a case where two brothers are very nearly "joined at the hip," as it were: what difference does it make? Can't we simply think of them as a single artist, a corporate entity, so to speak? Yes, we could, except for one thing. Art historians are not only intensely competitive, but highly opinionated as well. They do research, they write books, they like to see their names in print amid the advertising clutter of art magazines. The words "maybe," "possibly," "perhaps," "may," might," and "or" (as seen earlier) are not normally in their vocabulary. In essence, they hate to equivocate.

Joseph Accused by Potiphar's Wife, 1629, Jan Pynas
In studying the work of the brothers Pynas, art historians get a "free ride" when it comes to works on paper. Pen and ink drawings such as the Descent from the Cross (above, right) are all definitely the work of Jacob Pynas. Jan Pynas, born in 1582 was ten years older than brother, Jacob. That being the case, yet another question raises its ugly head. Did Jan Pynas influence the art of his younger brother, and if so, how much? Of course, it's impossible to know for certain some five-hundred years after the fact, but the evidence, and the problem we have in distinguishing between work of the two, would lead me to believe he did. Whatever the case, we're told that Jacob later had some degree of influence over one of his more notable students--Rembrandt van Rijn.

The Meeting of Aaron and Moses. You should be an expert by now, which brother did the painting?


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