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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Cornelis van Haarlem

Infanticide of Bethlehem Triptych, 1591, Cornelis van Haarlem.
(The central panel is enlarged below.)
Cornelis van Haarlem Self-portrait, 1588-90
I've often written about the many artist who fostered the Dutch "Golden Age" of painting. But what came before the so-called "Golden Age?" The Silver Age perhaps? Actually, if you take as a prime example the paintings of Cornelius van Haarlem, one might have to say that what came before was lots and lots of naked people. Van Haarlem was born in 1562, which precisely positions his career as one of the seminal influences for Golden Age painters such as Fabritius, Hals, Hobbema, Leyster, Rembrandt, the Ruysdaels, Vermeer, and a lengthy list of major and minor talents as long as both your arms--all born after the start of the 17th century. Van Haarlem died in 1638, having been born, lived all his life, and died, as his name suggests, in Haarlem (not New York).
Massacre of the Innocents, 1591, Cornelis van Haarlem,
central panel of the triptych at top. Not just gratuitous nudity but violence as well.
The Monk and the Nun, 1591, Cornelis van
Haarlem--eroticism, if not nudity, extending
to the clergy as well.
According to art chronology, having been born and nurtured during the latter part of the 16th century, van Haarlem would be considered a Mannerist painter of the Dutch variety. That was news to me. Here I thought all along the plague of Mannerism had been quarantined to the Italian peninsula. Indeed, van Haarlem's early works bear all the contrived, contorted, convolutions of human anatomy consistent with Italian Mannerism. Beyond that, in viewing much of his work, you might think there was a severe shortage of wearing apparel in the Netherlands during his lifetime. Van Haarlem not only painted nudes, but erotic nudes, in vast vistas of anatomical pulchritude approaching orgiastic proportions rivaling anything to be found on the Internet today. Yet in all his paintings, one would be hard pressed to discover a single instance of genital exposure much less arousal.
Banquet of the officers and sub-alterns of the Haarlem Calivermen Civic Guard,
 1599, Cornelis van Haarlem. There's a "smile and say, 'cheese'" posed, snapshot quality to this portrait that later Dutch group portrait artists largely overcame. The two guys in the front appear to be brothers, even twins.
Van Haarlem's work falls into three categories, mythology, religious, and portraits. His massive group portrait, Banquet of the officers and sub-alterns of the Haarlem Calivermen Civic Guard (above) is a forerunner to dozens of such group portraits which became popular during the 17th century. Some of the faces are so similar one might think it was a family reunion. Portraiture was not van Haarlem's strongest suit. Perhaps his heart wasn't really in it--they were all wearing clothes.

The Fall of Lucifer, 1588, Cornelis van Haarlem.
(Notice the strategically placed butterflies.)
The Fall of Man, 1592, Cornelis van Harlem,
Of course, he had to do an Adam and Eve. I
can't account for the differences in flesh tones.
During the Golden Age, nudity continued to be a staple of Dutch painting despite the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation with its gauzily painted prudery. In the case of van Haarlem's The Fall of Lucifer (above) from 1588, the Catholics added amusing little butterflies. Van Haarlem not only seized upon every conceivable opportunity to include nude figures in both his mythological and religious works, he appears to have gone out of his way to invent such rationales, as seen in his Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me (below) from 1633. I mean, Christ blessing little children? ...naked little children? (not to mention their bare breasted mothers). Whatever the rationale might have been, it was not only a "stretch," but irreverent--downright sacrilegious, in fact.

Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me, 1633, Cornelis van Haarlem
Mars and Venus, Cornelis van Haarlem, the
Adam and Even of the mythological realm.
If van Haarlem lacked the virtue of moderation when painting nude figures into his religious works, he seems to have pulled out "all the stops" when it came to the wide open field of mythological nudity. Van Haarlem's Mars and Venus (right) could well be titled, "Mars Making a Pass at Venus." It would seem that with each mythological work he attempted to outnumber the nude figures in his previous work. His (sort of) biblical painting Before the Deluge (below), from 1615, has eleven nude figures and one clothed musician (violinists apparently don't work naked); while his earlier Wedding of Peleus and Thetis (bottom) from 1593, has simply too many to count--looks more like a picnic in a nudist colony.

Before the Deluge, 1615, Cornelis van Haarlem--no wonder the weather got a bit damp.
"Raindrops are falling on my head."

The Wedding of Peleus and Thetis, 1593, Cornelis van Haarlem
--the wedding reception orgy.


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