Monday, 9 February 2015

Constantine Huyghens & Art in the Netherlands & England in the Seventeenth-Century



Huygens & Holland 

Born at the Hague in 1596, Constantine Huygens (1596-1687)- known to the English as “Huggins”- was something of a homo universalis. Not only was he learned in the classics, an excellent art connoisseur, a poet and musician (he composed over four hundred works) and courtier; but he was also articulate and highly skilled in statecraft. Constantine had a good model: his father was educated in the law and politics, preparation for a public life in serving the House of Orange. The father’s side of the family came from Brabant; but his mother was one of the Hofnagels, renowned artists displaced from the mercantile community of Antwerp. In her study of Anglo-Dutch culture, Going Dutch, Lisa Jardine stresses the importance of Constantine Huygens to the fortunes of the House of Orange: Huygens Senior had a hand in every aspect of the dynasty’s development from diplomatic initiatives to the design of the houses that the Stadholder lived in.[1] In 1627 Constantine married Susanna van Baerle (1599-1637), the eldest of six children from a prosperous and well-connected Amsterdam family. Her father Gaspar was a successful businessman and the cousin of Huygen’s mother; Gaspar was also another example of the generation that had escaped Spanish persecution by fleeing northwards from Antwerp. He died when Susanna was six years old; she was to lose her mother when she was eighteen. Despite attempts on the Huygens family’s part to get her to marry Constantine’s cousin, Susanna demurred and eventually married Constantine on 6th April, 1627. Sadly, Susanna died, after ten years of married life, in 1637, probably as a result of post-natal complications. Susanna was an intelligent woman, and according to Jardine was esteemed enough by Huygen’s correspondent, the philosopher Descartes, to be included in the process of appraising one of his works which he sent to Huygens for proof-reading.[2] The double-portrait thought to be by the painter-architect, Jacob van Campen that surfaced on the English art market in 1992, suggests a private, wealthy and intelligent couple happy in each other’s company. There may be thematic undertones: the music sheet they both hold may be symbolic of matrimonial harmony, ideas of music, love and matrimonial union worthy of Mozart and Schikaneder’s Die Zauberflöte.[3] More specific to Huygens, this portrait might be viewed as the pictorial equivalent of Constantine’s most famous poem, the Daghwerck (“The Daywork”) which has been described as “the practical and intellectual epithalamion of a happy union.”[4] As Jardine says, Huygens had a “weakness for attractive, talented, intelligent women.” He obviously married one, but he also admired others like the artist Anna Maria van Schurman, the poetess Maria Tesselschade Visscher, her sister Anna Roemers who engraved verses on beautiful glasses for Huygens, and the English poetess and philosopher Margaret Cavendish.[5]

 
Thomas de Keyser, Constantijn Huygens and his Clerk, 1627, Oil on wood, 92.4 x 69.3 cm, National Gallery.
Jacob van Campen, Huygens and Susanna, c. 1627, 95 x 78.5 cm, Mauritshuis, The Hague.



Anna Roemers Visscher, Roemer, 1619, Clear, dark-green glass with diamond-point engraving, height 14 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Adriaen Hanneman, Portrait of Constantijn Huygens and His Five Children (with the sons Constantijn, Christiaan, Lodewijk and Philips and the daughter Susanna), 1640, oil on canvas, 204.2 x 173.9 cm, Mauritshuis, The Hague. 
Huygens & England. 

Importantly, Huygens formed his taste in England where he took a diplomatic role and was knighted by James I in 1622. Arriving in England in the entourage of the English representative to the Hague, Sir Dudley Carleton, the twenty-two year old Huygens and Carleton pursued James (who was out hunting) from stately home to stately home. Finally, they ran the monarch to ground and Huygens was presented to the English King at “Tibbalts” in Hertfordshire. The Dutchman then proceeded to lodge with a fellow countryman in London, Noel de Caron, Lord of Schonewalle. Apart from Huygen’s innate abilities, what must have won over James I and his courtiers was the Dutchman’s eagerness to embrace English culture. In no time at all Huygens was speaking English fluently and playing the lute to entertain the King who was fonder of literature and music than art. Huygens would eventually become proficient on a range of instruments including the viol, harpsichord, and theorbo, as well as singing- we are told he possessed a fine voice.[6]

Unknown artist, Sir Constantine Huygens, illustration to his Autobiography.
Paulus van Somer, King James I of England, Oil on canvas, 196 x 120 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Michiel van Mierevelt, Sir Dudley Carleton, oil on canvas, National Portrait Gallery, London, 1620.

Pontius (after Van Dyck), Portrait of Constantijn Huygens, 1630s, Engraving, 273 x 175 mm, British Museum, London.  
Huygens as Art Connoisseur 

Huygens had art in his blood as his mother came from the Hoefnagel dynasty, a family of painters from Antwerp. One of these, probably Jacob Hoefnagel, may have taught the young Constantine how to draw though his eye problems seem to have deterred him from taking up painting except in secret so as not to displease his father. During his youth Huygens visited the galleries of connoisseurs in England, along with his artist-friend Jacques de Gheyne (III).[7] Though Constantine didn't pursue his artistic ambitions, his son, Constantine II, did: the Rijksmuseum owns a number of Constantine II's drawings, chiefly landscape. The father's knowledge of art is evident from his writings such as his Autobiography in which he comments on a large number of Dutch and Flemish artists. Such knowledge served Huygens in his role of art advisor and connoisseur to Frederick Henry, and it is in that capacity that he sought out the young Rembrandt and his studio mate Jan Lievens in Leiden. What testifies to Huygen’s perception in artistic matters is the fact that he was able to pinpoint the differences between Rembrandt and Lievens. Rembrandt was praised for “the representation of lively expression” while Lievens possessed “a grandeur of invention and a boldness which Rembrandt does not achieve.”[8] On permission being granted to paint this dignitary, an excited Lievens produced an introspective portrait of the Stadtholder’s secretary; but for unknown reasons Rembrandt doesn’t seem to have asked Huygen’s permission to paint him at all.[9] Instead Rembrandt left us a portrait of Constantine’s brother Maurits, and a portrait of another artist, Jacob (Jacques) de Gheyne (III) (Dulwich).[10] Constantine’s comments on his brother’s portrait are not known, but he was highly critical of Rembrandt’s portrayal of De Gheyn which may reflect his growing coldness towards the painter.

Jan Lievens, Portrait of Constantine Huygens, 1628-9, oil on panel, 99 x 84 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Rembrandt van Rhyn, Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver, 1629, Oil on panel, 76 x 101 cm, Private collection.
Jan Lievens, Pilate Washing his Hands, oil on Panel, Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden.
Constantine Huygens II, landscape drawing, 1677, pen and wash, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Rembrandt, Portrait of the Artist Jacob de Gheyn (III), 1632, Oil on panel, 30 x 25 cm, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London.
Huygens, Art & Science 

In addition to his appetite for art, Huygens was keenly interested in science, especially advances made in optics. During his youth Huygens would have been aware of the links forged between art and the experiments and innovations made by such philosophers as Cornelis Drebbel whom Huygens visited in London. Born in Alkmaar, but mainly based in England, Drebbel was the epitome of an eccentric scientist, though some regarded him as a crank and/or sorcerer. Inventor, occasional entertainer at the English court, he created microscopes, made a perpetual motion machine, invented a “self-playing clavichord,” and built a submarine that submerged beneath the Thames with its inventor inside.[11] Unsurprisingly, Drebble gained a reputation as something of a charlatan rather than a reputable scientist; Rubens wasn’t convinced by him and astutely observed that the scientist might be seen better at a distance than close up.[12] Truth and deception were also to be found in de Gheyn’s art which occasionally juxtaposed precisely observed creatures of nature with superstitious themes like witchcraft and alchemy, of which Huygens was deeply suspicious.[13] Looking through microscopes and the box known as the camera obscura were scientific activities that complimented the art of painting, not alchemical distractions. Huygens owned a camera obscura which he obtained from Drebble, and he observed, not without some amusement the painting duel between the elder De Gheyne (I) and the controversial artist Johannes Torrentius who claimed to use “magic paint,” and who might have employed a camera obscura in the creation of one of his few surviving works, a striking still-life in the Rijksmuseum.[14] Perhaps this interest in the camera obscura even overlapped with Huygen’s private life as Alpers identifies a passage in the Daghwerck where the diplomat describes bringing news to his wife in terms of the operation of light entering a darkened room, like in a camera obscura.[15] As this author observed, there is “something very Dutch about a poet using the intimacy of his own house and marriage as a central image of life, even as there is something Dutch about Huygen’s equanimity towards the implications of the new science.”[16] As we shall see in later weeks, it would be this new science that would allow Huygen’s son Christiaan to launch an illustrious scientific career for which he would become more famous than his father, especially in England and France.[17]  

Pieter Saenredam, Profile Views of Leiden, and Haarlem and Two Trees, 1617 and 1625, pen, wash, and watercolour, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
Jacques de Gheyn (III), Hermit Crab and Witchcraft, pen, ink and watercolour, Frankfurt am Main.
Unknown artist, Cornelis Drebble’s first navigable submarine.
Jan van der Velde II, Jan Simonsz van der Beeck (Johannes Torrentius), 1628, print, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Johannes Torrentius, Emblematic Still Life, 1614, Oil on panel, 52 x 50,5 cm Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Slides


1)      Thomas de Keyser, Constantijn Huygens and his Clerk, 1627, Oil on wood, 92.4 x 69.3 cm, National Gallery.

2)      Paulus van Somer, King James I of England, Oil on canvas, 196 x 120 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

3)      Unknown artist, Sir Constantine Huygens, illustration to his Autobiography.

4)      Paul van Somer, James I and VI of Scotland (1566- 1625), 1620, oil on canvas, 227 x 149.5 cm, Royal Collection.

5)      Sir Anthony van Dyck, James I and VI, 1632 (?), oil on canvas, 239.2 x 148.6 cm, Royal Collection.[18]

6)      Pontius (after Van Dyck), Portrait of Constantijn Huygens, 1630s, Engraving, 273 x 175 mm, British Museum, London.

7)      Michiel van Mierevelt, Sir Dudley Carleton, oil on canvas, National Portrait Gallery, London, 1620.

8)      Jacob van Campen, Huygens and Susanna, c. 1627, 95 x 78.5 cm, Mauritshuis, The Hague.[19]

9)      Jan de Bray, Portrait of the Artist's Parents, c. 1660, Oil on panel, 80 x 65 cm, Private collection.[20]

10)   Johannes Vermeer, Lady Standing at a Virginal, c. 1670, Oil on canvas, 51,7 x 45,2 cm, National Gallery, London.

11)   Anna Roemers Visscher, Roemer, 1619, Clear, dark-green glass with diamond-point engraving, height 14 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

12)   Adriaen Hanneman, Portrait of Constantijn Huygens and His Five Children (with the sons Constantijn, Christiaan, Lodewijk and Philips and the daughter Susanna), 1640, oil on canvas, 204.2 x 173.9 cm, Mauritshuis, The Hague.

13)   Jacob van Campen (architect), Mauritshuis, The Hague.

14)   Huygens Museum, Hofwijck.

15)   Interior of Huygens Museum.

16)   Rembrandt, Maurits Huygens, Secretary of the Council of State, 1632, Oil on panel, 31 x 25 cm, Kunsthalle, Hamburg.

17)   Jan Lievens, Portrait of Constantine Huygens, 1628-9, oil on panel, 99 x 84 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

18)   Jan Lievens, Portrait of Constantine Huygens, 1639, pen and brown ink, British Museum, London.[21]

19)   Joris Hoefnagel, Diana and Actaeon, 1597, Distemper and gold on vellum mounted on panel, 220 x 339 mm, Musée du Louvre, Paris.

20)   Rembrandt, Portrait of the Artist Jacob de Gheyn (III), 1632, Oil on panel, 30 x 25 cm, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London.

21)   Jacques de Gheyn (III), Hermit Crab and Witchcraft, pen, ink and watercolour, Frankfurt am Main.

22)   Esais van der Velde, The Cattle Ferry, 1622, oil on panel, 75.5 x 113 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

23)   Constantine Huygens II, landscape drawing, pen and wash, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

24)   Peter Paul Rubens, The Head of Medusa, c. 1617, Oil on wood, 69 x 118 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

25)   Rembrandt van Rhyn, Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver, 1629, Oil on panel, 76 x 101 cm, Private collection.

26)   Jan Lievens, Pilate Washing his Hands, oil on Panel, Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden.[22]

27)   Rembrandt, Amalia van Solms, wife of Stadholder Frederik Hendrik, c. 1632, Oil on panel, 69 x 56 cm, Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris.

28)   Sir Anthony van Dyck, Portrait of a Lady, (possibly Amalia van Solms), 1634-35, Oil on canvas, 140 x 107 cm, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

29)   David Bailly, Self-Portrait with Vanitas Symbols, 1651, Oil on wood, 65 x 97,5 cm, Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden.

30)   Pieter Saenredam, Profile Views of Leiden, and Haarlem and Two Trees, 1617 and 1625, pen, wash, and watercolour, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.

31)   Pieter Saenredam, Large Organ and Nave of St Bavokerk, Haarlem, 1648, Oil on panel, 200 x 140 cm, National Gallery of Scotland.

32)   Unknown artist, Cornelis Drebble’s first navigable submarine.[23]

33)   Reconstruction of the Drebble Submarine, Richmond Upon Thames.

34)   Jan van der Velde II, Jan Simonsz van der Beeck (Johannes Torrentius), 1628, print, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

35)   Gerrit van Honthorst, Stadholder Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange, 1631, Oil on canvas, 77 x 61 cm, The House of Orange-Nassau Historic Collection Trust, The Hague.

36)   Johannes Torrentius, Emblematic Still Life, 1614, Oil on panel, 52 x 50,5 cm Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

37)   Reconstruction of Torrentius’ studio using a camera obscura.

38)   Jacques de Gheyne (I), Vanitas Still-life, 1621, oil on panel, 117.5 x 165.4 cms, Yale University Art Gallery.

 



[1] Lisa Jardine, Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland’s Glory (Harper/Collins, 2008), 91.
[2] The book was Discours de la méthode, Jardine, Going Dutch, 153-4.
[3] Julius Held, “Constantine Huygens and Susanna van Baerle: A Hitherto Unknown Portrait,” Art Bulletin, Vol. 73, No. 4 (Dec, 1991), 653-668. According to Held, the picture is not signed nor is there “a lengthy provenance.”
[4] Worp, cited in Held, “Constantine Huygens,” p. 661.
[5] Jardine, Going Dutch, 149.
[6] On Anglo-Dutch musical culture, Jardine, Going Dutch, 175-204.
[7] On Huygens and the De Gheyn clan, Gary Schwartz, The Rembrandt Book, 91-98. Huygens and De Gheyn visited Arundel’s gallery and were familiar with Sir Dudley Carleton’s collection. They saw Rubens’s Prometheus attacked by an Eagle in Carleton’s gallery.
[8] Seymour Slive, Rembrandt and His Critics 1630—1730, (Hacker, New York, 1988), 15.
[9] Held speculated that Rembrandt was either too proud or too busy to ask permission. Interestingly, Huygens said that the pensive air Lievens had given him failed to convey the “liveliness of his mind,” but this was nimbly turned into a compliment since the sitter commented that the artist had captured “serious and weighty family matters“ that he tried to conceal, “Constantine Huygens,” 655, 664.
[10] For provenance, and arguments against then being portrait pendants, Pieter van Thiel, nos 11 & 12 in Rembrandt: The Master and His Workshop (London, 1992; and no. 48 for the De Gheyn portrait in Rembrandt to Gainsborough: Masterpieces from the Dulwich Gallery, (Merrell Holberton, 2000).
[11] See the discussion by Svetlana Alpers, The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth-Century, (Penguin, 1983), 4f.
[12] Cited in Alpers, The Art of Describing, 5.
[13] Alpers, The Art of Describing, 5-6.
[14] On Huygens, Torrentius and the camera obscura, see the posts on Maaike Dircx’s wonderful Rembrandt’s Room blog. Torrentius visited Huygens to see his new camera obtained from Drebble, and the diplomat described the painter in the following way: “Torrentius’] excuse was that he wanted to see my optical instrument [Drebbel’s camera] with which in a closed space on a white surface one can project the contours of things that are outside the room. Torrentius, who displayed his usual submissive modesty and polite manners, looked with feigned amazement at the dancing figures and asked if these little people he saw were actually present as living creatures outside the room. I confirmed this. As soon as my friends left I remembered his naive question and his feigned ignorance concerning something everyone knows about these days. I suspected that he was very well aware of the invention but had wanted to create the impression that he was not.”
[15] “I have agreeable tidings which I shall bring to you inside the house. Just as in a darkened room one can see by the action of the sun through a glass everything (though inverted) which goes on outside.” Cited in Alpers, The Art of Describing, 11.
[16] Alpers, The Art of Describing, 11.
[17] On Christiaan Huygens and the new science in England, Jardine, Going Dutch, 261f.
[18] From RC website: “This posthumous portrait was painted by Van Dyck for Charles I, presumably to form part of the royal family portrait gallery in the Cross Gallery at Somerset House. It is a re-interpretation of the full-length portrait of the King by Van Somer (Royal Collection). Although the head is quite carefully copied from Van Somer's prototype, Van Dyck has designed a more distinguished setting for the King. He has been given a more elegant and less static pose, all his armour has been removed and the regalia has been repositioned.” Link
[19] From Mauritshuis website: “Sold to the owners of Whittington Hall, Lonsdale, Cumbria, in 1943 by Cecil Partridge; M.F. Bolongaro, Kendal, Cumbria, 1992; sale London, Christie’s, 15 April 1992, lot 21 (for 110.000 pounds); purchased by the Friends of the Mauritshuis Foundation with the support of private individuals, 1992; on long-term loan from the Friends of the Mauritshuis Foundation, since 1992.”
[20] Rudi Ekkart and Quentin Buvelot, Dutch Portraits: The Age of Rembrandt and Frans Hals, (London, NG, 2007), no. 6.
[21] See Martin Royalton-Kisch’s report on BM website- link.
[22] Rembrandt: The Master and his Workshop, no. 53. 
[23] For more on Drebble, visit his website. Link.

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