Saturday, February 3, 2018

17C Portraits - Families Head Outside as Man Becomes "the Interpreter of Nature"

The Renaissance, from the 14-17C, marked a turning point in portraiture. Renaissance artists began to paint secular scenes, breaking away from the dominant religious art of medieval painters. Partly out of interest in the natural world & partly out of nostalgia for classical Greece & Rome, portraits became valued as symbolic & allegorical objects & as depictions of earthly success & status. The period in Europe was the cultural bridge between the Middle Ages & modern history. The relationship between man & nature was evolving as Francis Bacon (1561-1626) promoted man as "the minister & interpreter of nature." Portraits began to depict the wealthy & the middle class in natural landscapes & in more formal garden settings, where man was obviously controlling the nature around him.
1630s G Donck (Flemish artist, fl 1627-1630) A Family Group (perhaps Jan van Hensbeeck and his Wife, Maria Koeck, and a Child. The National Gallery in Britain tells us that the evidence for the traditional identification of the sitters is unknown. The lady, who wears a figured black silk gown, white muslin cuffs edged with lace, and a huge frilled muslin collar, sits under the shade of a tree. By her side stands her husband clad in a black doublet and mantle, black breeches and white silk stockings, a large lace collar, and a black hat. Between them is their infant clild. In the background is a winding river with a church and other buildings beyond. The man's gesture may refer to the ownership of the estate shown in the background. The basket of grapes on the ground beside the wife may be a biblical reference to the woman's fertility ("Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine...," Psalm 128:3).