Friday, 8 November 2013

Jordaens – 1593- 1678 - Pride of Antwerp at the Petit Palais, Paris

Jordaens – 1593- 1678 -  Pride of Antwerp at the Petit Palais, Paris, 19th September to 19th January 2014.<p>
The Petit Palais in Paris has amassed a dazzling and extensive exhibition of the talented 17th century Flemish painter, Jacob Jordaens. It is the first major French retrospective dedicated to this well renowned artist and includes 120 exceptional works from major public and private collections from around the world including The Prado Museum in Madrid, the Hermitage in St Petersburg and the Royal Museum in Brussels.<p>
            Jordaens was one of the three Flemish Baroque painters along with Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony Van Dyck to bring prestige to the Antwerpen school of painting. He represented the solid virtues of the bourgeoisie but was also a history painter of the sacred and profane and had a large aristocratic clientele. Interestingly Jordaens never travelled abroad to Italy – unlike his contemporaries - and he remained in Antwerp his whole life, except for short trips to the Low Countries. He breathed new life into classical and religious subjects and his art was full of emotion with Antwerp as the privileged backdrop to his painting. Although his father was a linen merchant there was a history of frame making in his family since the fifteenth century.<p>
             A rather delightful and playful music accompanies you throughout the exhibition which somehow adds atmosphere to the experience. His painting, called “The Pintor family”, is beautiful and is an autoportrait of him with his wife, Catherine Van Noot  and their daughter Elizabeth. Here he uses a carefully manufactured scene normally reversed for the noblesse with  sumptuous decoration and elegant, sombre costumes with white neck ruffles for the women. Jordaens portrays himself as an accomplished man with intellectual and artistic qualities; an artist who also takes himself very seriously! We see in another of his huge paintings, entitled “The Adoration of the Bergers”, that he concentrates with elaborate detail on the body of Jesus. It was at this time, in 1616, that he collaborated with Rubens and started to assimilate the art of his master. The exhibition rather cleverly puts the Jordaens ‘Adoration’ painting alongside the same painting by Reubens so that you can see the similarities and differences of both artists. We see how Jordaens copies Ruben’s Adoration whilst tightening the circle of people and he intensifies the emotions and the combination of colours.<p>
            In ‘La Sainte Famille’ Jordaens again uses his family to create a more intimate and personal work of art. It is the portrait of a saint and attributed to Caravaggio. His wife and daughter; Catherine and Elisabeth, are the faces of the Virgin and Jesus. The coral necklace on Jesus as a baby is an allusion to the blood running during the Passion and creates the strong sacred mood of the scene. The black background means the figures really impose themselves and the contrast of light and dark on their faces is amazing. Jordaens executed several scenes of the Town Hall in Antwerp and two paintings marked the pinnacle of his career ; “The Victory of Time “ and “The Triumph of Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange” which was intended for the ceremonial hall in the ‘House of Woods’ outside the Hague. We see how at ease Jordaens is with the baroque allegorical language adopted by Rubens. In fact after Rubens died in 1640 Jordaens became the most important painter in Antwerp for large scale commissions. He often created several variations of the same theme -  such as his scenes of uproarious festivity in the series of paintings, entitled “The King”. These paintings stem from the rich literary and proverbial heritage of the Netherlands which dates as far back as the Middle Ages.<p>  Jordaens liked to use proverbs as a way of educating the masses and his representations of everyday life normally had a moral message to convey. The opulence and elaborate detail in the paintings is incredible as scenes of great mirth, overflowing wine, bountiful fruit and food and youthful hilarity are played out for us. In each of the paintings the king is in the middle of the painting and he is crowded by other people of all ages and even animals such as dogs and parrots. Yet such a subject matter also had a hidden denunciation of the human excesses and decadence of the time in which Jordaens lived    One of my favourite paintings in this exhibition is Jordaens “Portrait of a Young Lady”, painted in 1639. It is probably a portrait of his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, born in 1617. She looks out at us with a straight, eloquent gaze and is dressed in beautiful, delicate, lacy clothes whilst holding an antique ornament. The delicate pink rose of her cheeks, the little pearl clip in her hair and the hint of a pearl earring together with her faraway expression completes an intimate and masterful portrait.  Indeed most of Jordaens models for his portraits were from his close circle of friends and family.<p>

The exhibition ends with a very effective and unusual ‘chest of curiosities’ where members of the public are invited to learn in even more detail about Jordaen’s techniques and art. A succession of different shaped drawers hide information on his style and techniques as well as the culture and lifestyle of the time. Certainly this exhibition is well worth a visit if only to admire the rich and evocative works of the Golden Age of Flemish seventeenth century painting. <p>
Jordaens, Pride of Antwerp at the Petit Palais, Paris by Larissa Woolf, Arts Editor,<p>
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