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    Rembrandt's Self-Portrait with a Dead BitternAuthor(s): Scott A. SullivanSource: The Art Bulletin, Vol. 62, No. 2 (Jun., 1980), pp. 236-243Published by: College Art AssociationStable URL: 22-05-2016 21:54 UTC


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  • 8/16/2019 Rembrandt Self-portraits


     Rembrandt's Self-Portraitwith a Dead Bittern*

     Scott A. Sullivan

     Rembrandt's Self-Portrait with a Dead Bittern of 1639 in

     the Gemaldegalerie, Dresden, is an unusual picture which

     has received little critical attention in the literature (Fig.

     1).1 The artist presents himself in the guise of a hunter

     holding out for our inspection his prized catch, a magnifi-

     cent dead bittern.2 The manner in which Rembrandt dis-

     plays the bird doubtless suggests the pride and self-

     satisfaction of the sportsman after a successful day in the

     field. There is nothing to indicate, however, that Rem-

     brandt was a hunter during this phase of his career, nor is

     there reason to presume that he ever took part in the sport.

     Why, then, did the artist choose to depict himself in this

     fashion and, moreover, what did he intend to convey to

     the viewer? The answer depends, in part, upon an un-

     derstanding of the role of hunting in seventeenth-century

     Dutch society.

     Information concerning hunting in the Netherlands is

     contained in two separate documents of the period. The

     earliest is Paullus Merula's Placaten ende ordonnancien op

     'tstuck vande Wildernissen published in The Hague in

     1605.3 Herein are found all the ordinances and Renova-

     tions governing hunting and falconry that were enacted

     in the sixteenth century. Most of these regulations

     remained in effect into the next century, for similar

     statutes are contained in an anonymous manuscript of

     1636 entitled Het Jachts-Bedrijff, now in the Royal Library

     in The Hague.4

     Both of these sources make it clear that a great many

     restrictions were placed upon all aspects of hunting. By

     and large, the pursuit of most game was limited to the

     nobility and other officers of the state. This regulation ap-

     pears both in Merula's treatise and Het Jachts-Bedrijfff.5

     The former also contains laws that define the type and

     quantity of game allowed as well as the season in which it

     may be hunted. For example, the nobility was allowed one

     hare or two rabbits per week from September 15 to Can-

     dlemas, February 2.6 The use of a greyhound was permit-

     ted only once each week, and the number of other hounds

     was limited to two or three. Only once each year could

     Banre-Heeren, or bannered nobles, hunt for a stag or other

     deer.7 The pursuit of certain large game birds was also

     restricted to the nobility. Specifically mentioned are pheas-

     ant, partridge, grouse, crane, duck, goose, and bittern.8

     Hunting and falconry were important recreations of the

     Dutch court. Prince Maurice, Frederick Henry, and

     William III were all avid sportsmen. They oversaw the ad-

     ministration of the gaming laws and sponsored as well their

     own royal hunts. Of all the stadholders, William III was

     the most ardent hunter. He enjoyed riding through the

     Veluwe, an area in Gelderland particularly rich in game.

     Here, hunting preserves and lodges were established to

     serve the Prince and his court. Considerable information

     regarding William III's exploits in the field is contained in

     the diary of his secretary, Constantijn Huygens the

     Younger. Therein one learns of the Prince's stamina dur-

     ing the long and arduous pursuit of a stag across the


     Hunting was thus closely associated with the court and

     the nobility in Holland. Rembrandt was certainly not a

     member of the aristocracy, nor was he on particularly in-

     timate terms with the Prince and members of the court. If

     the hunting of most game, including the large bittern

     which the artist holds, was reserved for the nobility, why

     then would Rembrandt choose to depict himself in this

     manner? Some explanation is provided by the increasing

     wealth and social consciousness of the artist.

     The Self-Portrait with a Dead Bittern was executed at

     the end of the 1630's, the most exhilarating and

     prosperous decade of Rembrandt's career. Since his arrival

     in Amsterdam in late 1631 or early 1632, the artist's pop-

     * This article has been drawn from one chapter of my dissertation, The

     Dutch Game Piece (Case Western Reserve University, 1978). It is with

     pleasure that I am again able to acknowledge the support and counsel of

     Walter S. Gibson, Edward J. Olszewski, and especially the late Wolfgang

     Stechow, who initially encouraged me to undertake this project. I am also

     indebted to J. G. van Gelder, Albert Blankert, and Ingvar Bergstrbm, all

     of whom gave generously of their time and advice.

     1 Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt, The Complete Edition of the Paintings,

     rev. H. Gerson, New York, 1971, No. 31; Fritz Erpel, Die Selbstbildnesse

     Rembrandts, Vienna-Munich, 1967, No. 71.

     2 A bittern is a member of the heron family and is indigenous to most of

     Western Europe.

     3 Paullus G. F. P. N. Merula, Placaten ende ordonnancien op 'tstuck

     vande Wildernissen, The Hague, 1605.

     4 Het Jachts-Bedrijff, from the Ms of 1636 in the Royal Library, The

     Hague, published in Nederlandsche Jager, 1898-1900, Nos. 169-238. A

     modern abridged version, ed. A. E. H. Swaen, was published in 1948 in


     5 Het Jachts-Bedrijff, July 15, 1899, No. 183; Merula, Bk. i, 114f. The

     statutes cited from Merula are taken from the final series of laws con-

     tained in the treatise, the Renovations of 1595. The restriction of

     hunting to the nobility remained in effect into the 18th century. See J. H.

     Dam, Het Jachts-Bedriff in Nederland en West Europa, Zutphen, 1954,


     6 Merula, Bk. I, 113-126. This accounts for the appearance of a single

     hare as the principal element in many 17th-century Dutch game pieces.

     When rabbits are seen, they are depicted in pairs.

     7Banre-Heeren were a particular class of distinguished nobles who

     traditionally had been allowed to fight under their own banners.

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     ;; i~?

     1 Rembrandt, Self-Portrait with

     a Dead Bittern. Dresden, Staat-

     liche Kunstsammlungen,

     GemAildegalerie, Alte Meister

     (photo: Pfauder)

     ularity as a portraitist had increased dramatically. The

     resulting wealth allowed him to live an extravagant life.

     He spent money freely, acquiring all kinds of curiosities

     and objets d'art. In 1639, the same year in which he paint-

     ed the Dresden Self-Portrait, Rembrandt purchased a

     large and imposing house on Breestraat. In effect, the art-

     ist's professional success enabled him to pursue a style of

     life approaching that of the upper classes of Dutch


     At the same time, Rembrandt was also seeking a more

     distinguished social position. In 1634 he had married

     Saskia van Uylenburgh, whose family was part of the in-

     fluential patrician or office-holding class. Rembrandt, as

     the son of a Leyden miller, doubtless considered her sta-

     tion an aid in his own social aspirations. To this end,

     the artist also sought to assemble in his home a tradi-

     tional kunstkamer whose contents would conform to

     those of the encyclopedic collections of the European

     aristocracy. On the basis of the 1656 inventory of Rem-

     brandt's possessions, R. W. Scheller has determined that

     8 The practice of finching and the hunting of smaller birds were appar-

     ently open to all.

     9 A. B. Wigman, Halali, Cultuurhistorische notities van Wild en

     Wildwerk, Utrecht, 1963, 5.

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     the artist's kunstkamer combined objects from both

     Natura (shells, minerals, fossils) and Ars or Antiquitas

     (paintings, Oriental porcelain, and busts of the Roman

     emperors).10 For the landed gentry in the late sixteenth and

     early seventeenth centuries, such collections conveyed an

     involvement with the arts and sciences and, thus, could

     represent the fulfillment of their obligation to lead a vir-

     tuous life.i In Rembrandt's case, however, the collection

     was simply an outward sign of the elevated social status he

     so earnestly desired.

     Scheller has also demonstrated Rembrandt's awareness

     of a theory suggested in the writings of Vasari, Franciscus

     Junius, Karel van Mander, and others, holding that an art-

     ist might attain social eminence through the possession of

     three qualities - riches, honor, and fame.12 For Rem-

     brandt, wealth had accumulated from the high prices paid

     for his paintings, and his fame was established through

     the praise of such writers as J. J. Orlers, Philips Angel, and

     Constantijn Huygens.13 Honor was a quality more dif-

     ficult to acquire and Rembrandt seems to have sought it

     through his association with the Dutch court. The interest

     of Prince Frederick Henry's secretary, Constantijn

     Huygens, in Rembrandt's work was instrumental in secur-

     ing for him two royal commissions. In 1632 he painted a

     portrait of Frederick's wife, Amalia von Solms, and shortly

     thereafter, he was asked to execute a series of five pic-

     tures of the Passion of Christ. Such a commission was un-

     doubtedly a high honor, especially since the Prince nor-

     mally preferred the more grandiose style of Rubens, Van

     Dyck, and other Flemish masters. The last two paintings

     in the Passion series, The Resurrection and The

     Entombment, were delivered in 1639, the same year in

     which the Self-Portrait with a Dead Bittern was painted.

     In view of the hunt's connection with the nobility, Rem-

     brandt's depiction of himself as a sportsman appears to

     follow logically in his claims for honor and social prestige.

     Other self-portraits, executed immediately before and

     after the Dresden picture, also suggest Rembrandt's ap-

     peal for affiliation with the upper class. The Self-Portrait

     of 1637 in the Louvre depicts the artist in bust length

     before an interior of classical architectural elements (Fig.

     2).14 Such settings were often used, especially in Flemish

     portraits, to lend grandeur to the sitter. Moreover, in the

     Louvre Self-Portrait, Rembrandt is in fine satin and velvet

     attire, complete with earrings and a gold chain. The ear-

     rings, seen also in the Self-Portrait with a Dead Bittern,

     were considered a fashionable accessory of male dress in

     the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They were worn

     by Henry III of France, Charles I of England, and the

     Duke of Buckingham.15 The gold chain, according to an-

     cient custom, was an attribute of honor bestowed by a

     prince or similar high authority.16 The practice of

     awarding such chains was revived in the Renaissance and

     remained popular during the seventeenth century.

     Rubens, for example, was given three or four chains dur-

     ing his lifetime.17 Although Rembrandt was never the

     recipient of this noble honor,18 he frequently suggests his

     worthiness by wearing a gold chain in self-portraits done

     between 1635 and 1650.

     In the year following the execution of the Dresden pic-

     ture, Rembrandt painted one of his most elegant images,

     the Self-Portrait of 1640 in the National Gallery, London

     (Fig. 3). The artist is here dressed in a delicately em-

     broidered shirt and a luxurious fur-trimmed velvet coat

     which, together with Rembrandt's penetrating gaze,

     suggest a man of considerable social distinction. One

     should recall, too, that the Self-Portrait of 1640 was in-

     spired by Raphael's Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione in

     the Louvre as well as by Titian's Portrait of a Man (the so-

     called Ariosto) in the National Gallery, London.19 Rem-

     brandt saw and sketched Raphael's painting during an

     Amsterdam auction of 1639, and Titian's portrait (or a

     copy of it), may have been known to him through the

     Amsterdam collection of Alfonso L6pez.20 The influence

     of the Venetian picture appeared first in Rembrandt's

     etched Self-Portrait Leaning on a Sill of 1639 (Fig. 4).21

     10 R. W. Scheller, Rembrandt en de encyclopedische Kunstkamer, Oud

     Holland, LXXXIV, 1969, 119-126.

     11 Ibid., 129-130. Contemporary thought held that the landed gentry of

     independent means were in need of some constructive activity as their

     days were not taken up with economic concerns.

     12 Ibid., 135-36.

     13 Ibid., 138-141. Rembrandt's achievements are cited in Orlers's

     Beschryvinge der Stad Leyden (1642), Angel's Lof der Schilder-Konst

     (1642), and in Huygens's fragment of an autobiography, 1629-1631,

     preserved in the Royal Library, The Hague. Scheller also cites the praise

     of Rembrandt by the 17th-century Dutch poets Lambert van den Bos and

     Jeremias de Dekker.

     14 Bredius, Rembrandt, No. 29. Gerson tentatively attributed the work to

     Govaert Flinck on the basis of the rather harsh execution.

     1s Katherine M. Lester and Bess V. Oerke, Accessories of Dress, Peoria,

     Ill., 1940, 112-14.

     16 Julius S. Held, Rembrandt's Aristotle and Other Rembrandt Studies,

     Princeton, 1969, 35-37.

     17 Ibid.; Zirka Zaremba Filipczak, The Golden Chain in the Self-

     Portraits of Rubens and Van Dyck, paper delivered at the 66th Annual

     Meeting, College Art Association of America, January 25-28, 1978, New


     18 Scheller, as cited in n. 10, 138, n. 232. The author suggests the Princes

     of Orange could not confer the golden chain because they did not exer-

     cise sovereign power.

     19 Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, Die Urkunden iiber Rembrandt (1575-

     1721), The Hague, 1906, No. 71; Neil MacLaren, National Gallery

     Catalogues, The Dutch School, London, 1960, No. 672; Kenneth Clark,

     Rembrandt and the Italian Renaissance, New York, 1966, 124-27.

     20 The Portuguese-Jewish merchant Alfonso L6pez also purchased

     Raphael's Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione at the auction of 1639.

     21 Ludwig Minz, Rembrandt's Etchings, London, 1952, No. 24.

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     2 Rembrandt (?), Self-Portrait. Paris, Louvre

     Subsequently, elements from this etching seem to have af-

     fected his drawing after the Castiglione portrait.22

     Rembrandt's attraction to these elegant images of

     Renaissance nobility and his imitation of them in his self-

     portraits constitute further evidence of a powerful social

     consciousness. In addition, E. de Jongh has pointed out

     the artistic assertiveness in the etched Self-Portrait, for

     here Rembrandt enters into a competition with Titian, the

     painter, on one hand, and Ariosto, the courtier and poet,

     on the other. The Renaissance concepts of aemulatio, a

     desire to compete with and surpass an admired model, and

     paragone, a debate on the superiority of one art to another,

     are thus combined as Rembrandt seeks to proclaim the

     eminence of himself and his profession.23

     Rembrandt's indebtedness in the painted Self-Portrait

     of 1640 to the Castiglione portrait and his conception of

     himself as a gentleman prompt one to speculate on his

     familiarity with Castiglione's treatise on manners. The


     3 Rembrandt, Self-Portrait at the Age of Thirty-Four. London,

     National Gallery (courtesy the Trustees)



     I i

     Ph+U ,~

     4 Rembrandt, Self-Portrait Leaning on a Sill, etching.

     Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

     22 E. de Jongh, The Spur of Wit: Rembrandt's Response to an Italian

     Challenge, Delta, A Review of Arts, Life and Thought in the

     Netherlands, xii, 1969, 50-54.

     23 Ibid. The author comments on the popularity of Ariosto in the

     Netherlands as well as the possible familiarity of Rembrandt with the

     principles of aemulatio and paragone.

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     5 Rembrandt, Portrait of a Man with A Falcon, London,

     Collection the Duke of Westminster

     6 Ferdinand Bol, The Huntsman. Toledo, Ohio, Toledo Museum

     of Art, gift of Arthur J. Secor


    7 Govaert Flinck, Hunter with Hounds. Sale, Copenhagen,

     A. B. Rasmussen, November 8-9, 1977, No. 259

     Book of the Courtier was written in Italian in 1528 and

     numerous editions in French, Latin, and English appeared

     in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.24 Rem-

     brandt might have known a Latin edition as his facility in

     this language is suggested by his attendance as a youth at

     the Latijnsche School and later at the University of

     Leyden. It is not inconceivable that the artist may have

     also known French. If, indeed, Rembrandt had read The

     Courtier, it would have strengthened his own inclinations

     to depict himself as a gentleman and, perhaps, as a

     sportsman. The latter is proposed on the basis of a passage

     in Book I praising the hunt: It is a true pastime for great

     lords, it befits a courtier, and one understands why it was

     so much practiced among the ancients. 25

     Rembrandt must also have been aware of the traditional

     popularity of hunting portraits among the nobility. Dur-

     ing the Renaissance, paintings of this type were created by

     Holbein, Titian, and Frans Floris, to name a few.26 There

     was, however, little portraiture of this sort in the

     Netherlands in the early seventeenth century. Apparently,

     the genre was reintroduced around mid-century by Rem-

     brandt and his pupils, Ferdinand Bol and Govaert Flinck.

     The Portrait of a Man with a Falcon of 1643 has been at-

     tributed to both Rembrandt and Bol (Fig. 5).27 The

     painting depicts an elegantly dressed young man with a

     small falcon on his left hand. In all likelihood, the hunting

     satchel and falcon are merely props meant to ennoble the

     figure. The position of the falcon, on what appears to be

     an ungloved left hand, suggests that the sitter was not

     posed as an actual participant in the hunt. Birds of prey

     such as this were always handled on a thick leather glove.

     This was the case in Rembrandt's later portrait, The

     Falconer. The subject is now an older and more dignified

     gentleman; possibly this is a historical portrait of the

     thirteenth-century Dutch count, Floris I.28

     Govaert Flinck and Ferdinand Bol, two of Rembrandt's

     pupils in the mid-1630's, created a number of hunting

     portraits in the fifth and sixth decades of the century.29

     Bol's The Huntsman in the Toledo Museum of Art is

     typical of such a work (Fig. 6). Again, the dog and other

     hunting accessories are used, like the fashionable dress, to

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     indicate a certain class. Flinck's hunting portraits initially

     follow in the style of Rembrandt wherein the sportsman

     holds out a game bird for the spectator's inspection. After

     1645, however, Govaert adopts a more decorative ap-

     proach in keeping with the Flemish manner of Van Dyck

      Fig. 7).

     During the second half of the seventeenth century, this

     type of hunting portrait grew increasingly popular as

     masters such as Karl Dujardin, Michael Sweerts, and

     Abraham van den Tempel began practicing the genre.

     Full-length group portraits are also found in which

     families or couples are depicted in a well-kept garden or

     landscape. The sitters are richly dressed and often

     shown with a chateau or other classicizing building in the

     background. The gardens and architecture employed in

     these pictures derive from French and Italian examples

     and again imply that their owners have a certain social

     prestige.3o Such elegant surroundings are also con-

     siderably indebted to Van Dyck. To augment their

     aristocratic tone, the male figures in these paintings are

     often accompanied by a pair of greyhounds or are ac-

     tually depicted as hunters. Bartholomeus van der Helst's A

     Family Group of 1654 in the Wallace Collection, London,

     is one such painting (Fig. 8). Others were created by

     Anthonie Palamedesz. and Dirck Carbasius.

     The increased demand for hunting portraits in the

     Netherlands around 1650 cannot be explained solely by

     commissions of the Dutch nobility. This segment of

     society was far too small in number, as their ranks had

     been decimated by the Wars of Independence.31 Rather,

     the market for such pictures must have been created by

     the Dutch bourgeoisie. This development was precipitated

     in large measure by changing social conditions within the

     country. A rapid economic expansion during the first half

     of the century had produced a more prosperous society. In

     time, traditional distinctions between the aristocracy and

     8 Bartholomeus van der Heist, A Family Group. London,

     Wallace Collection (by permission the Trustees)

     the bourgeoisie grew less apparent as the latter ac-

     cumulated more and more wealth. A heightened social

     awareness developed in which fashions and material com-

     forts became an important mark of one's prosperity. A

     pamphlet published in Amsterdam in 1665 commented on

     this situation. Its author decried the increasing taste for

     elegance and finery on the part of the lower class, saying,

      I am disgusted when I see a tailor's wife flouncing

     around in velvet. 32

     In general, the middle class and growing patrician clabs

     began to assume the habits, manners, and tastes of the

     aristocracy. For example, it became popular to purchase a

     country manor outside the city. Subsequently, many

     burghers sought to acquire some kind of title as a sign of

     their rising social position.33 Hunting was associated with

     24 Latin editions were published in London as early as 1577 and in

     Frankfurt in 1606. The first French edition was published in Lyon in

     1537. The Coqurtier did not appear in Dutch until 1666.

     25 Baldassare Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, trans. Charles S.

     Singleton, New York, 1959, 38.

     26 Hans Holbein the Younger, A Nobleman with a Falcon, Mauritshuis,

     The Hague, and Portrait of Robert Cheseman, Mauritshuis, The Hague;

     Titian, Gentleman with a Falcon, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Neb., and

     Charles V with Hound, Prado, Madrid; Frans Floris, The Falconer, Her-

     zog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig.

     27 Bredius, as cited in n. 1, No. 224. Bredius credited the portrait to Rem-

     brandt, but Gerson suggests it may be by Ferdinand Bol. Albert Blankert

     in his dissertation on Bol does not include the painting among Bol's

     works. See Albert Blankert, Ferdinand Bol, 1616-1680, een leerling van

     Rembrandt, Ph.D. diss., Rijksuniversiteit te Utrecht, 1976.

     28 Bredius, No. 319. For a discussion of The Falconer's identification as

     Count Floris V, see Bredius, 574.

     29 For Flinck's activity in this field see J. W. von Moltke, Govaert Flinck,

     1615-1660, Amsterdam, 1965, Nos. 131-36. On Bol, see Blankert diss.,

     No. A69. Other works attributed to Bol include The Falconer (Greater

     London Art Council, 1975); Falconer and Game (sale, Helbing, Munich,

     March 2, 1962, No. 11); and Portrait of a Hunter (Howard Young

     Gallery, New York, 1930).

     30 Blankert has also commented on this in his diss., 90-92.

     31 Sir William Temple, Observations Upon the United Provinces of the

     Netherlands, London (1693), repr., Cambridge, 1932, 164-65; Johannes

     Petrus Blok, History of the People of the Netherlands, trans. Oscar A.

     Bierstadt, 5 vols., London (1898-1912), repr., 1970, 253.

     32 Paul Zumthor, Daily Life in Rembrandt's Holland, trans. Simon

     Watson Taylor, New York, 1963, 225.

     33 Pieter Geyl, The Netherlands in the Seventeenth Century, Part 1, 1609-

     1648, London (1936), repr., 1961, 247-48. Intermarriage was still looked

     down upon by the aristocracy and the Princes of Orange appear to have

     conferred few titles during the course of the 17th century. Thus, it was

     difficult to become a part of the true aristocracy. See Temple, 164-65; J.

     B. Rietstap, Wapenboek van den Nederlandschen Adel, 2 vols.,

     Groningen, 1883. It should be noted that social mobility was much less

     restricted in Flanders. The Spanish government freely awarded titles,

     resulting in a substantial increase in the country's nobility. Titles were

     also given to numerous Flemish artists such as Rubens, Van Dyck, and

     David Teniers II. See Faith Paulette Dreher, The Artist as Seigneur:

     Chateaux and Their Proprietors in the Work of David Teniers II, Art

     Bulletin, LX, 1975, 682-703. Thus, the relationship between hunting and

     society in Flanders, as well as the laws governing the sport, cannot be

     considered analogous to that in Holland.

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     9 Jan Weenix, The Falconer's Bag. New York, Metropolitan

     Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1950


     10 Philips Wouwerman, Rest on the Falcon Hunt. Braunschweig,

     Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum (photo: B. P. Keiser)

     both the nobility and the gentleman's life. This must cer-

     tainly have prompted a great interest in the sport on the

     part of the wealthy Dutch citizen. He was not, however,

     legally allowed to participate in the hunt. The logical alter-

     native seems to have been the purchase of a hunting por-

     trait. In this way, the Dutch burgher could acquire,

     vicariously, some of the status inherent in the sport.

     Hence, the genre became increasingly popular after mid-

     century as a sign of social prestige. Rembrandt's Self-

     Portrait with a Dead Bittern was simply an early example

     of this development.

     It is difficult to determine the extent to which the patri-

     cians and wealthy burghers may have usurped the

     hunting privileges reserved for the nobility. Tracts of

     woods or dunes could be leased and, with the purchase of

     a country estate, the patrician may also have hunted on his

     own land. These lands, however, were usually quite small

     and there is little reason to believe he could hunt on open

     lands such as the Veluwe in Gelderland. The wealthy patri-

     cian still did not attain the same status and rights as the

     true aristocracy. For example, he could not legally hunt a

     stag, a privilege reserved for the Banre-Heeren. Thus the

     sport retained close ties with the nobility.

     The association of hunting with the aristocratic ambi-

     tions of the Dutch burgher also resulted in the growth of

     other types of hunting pictures. The game piece was a

     relatively late branch of Dutch still life. Like the hunting

     portrait, it did not begin to flourish until mid-century.

     Prior to this there existed only a few still lifes of this type

     which presented game in a culinary context. A hare or a

     few dead birds were combined with diverse fruits,

     vegetables, and kitchen accessories in a simple and un-

     pretentious manner.34 By the sixth decade of the century,

     however, the game piece began to assume a more trophy-

     like character. Hunting gear replaced the various foods

     and kitchen utensils found in earlier still lifes. Rifles, nets,

     decoy whistles, and assorted falconry gear suggest the ac-

     tual manner in which the game was captured. In time, the

     accessories grew increasingly elegant as velvet game bags

     and brocaded hunting jackets were seen alongside the

     hunter's booty. In the background of such still lifes, one

     often finds ornate gardens complete with reflecting pools

     and antique statuary. The intent, of course, was to imply

     that the hunter was a man of wealth and refinement.

     At the same time, the game piece became more

     monumental in style. The hunter's catch was not simply

     piled on a rough plank or hung from a beam, but was

     composed in a balanced manner on a stone table or before

     a lush landscape. Colors became richer and lighting grew

     more dramatic. Artists such as Melchior d'Hondecoeter,

     Willem van Aelst, and Jan Weenix were active in this field.

     Weenix's The Falconer's Bag of 1695 in the Metropolitan

     Museum of Art is representative of this kind of still life

      Fig. 9).

     34 Practitioners of the early game piece genre include Elias Vonck,

     Matthijs Bloem, and Philips Angel.

    This content downloaded from on Sun, 22 May 2016 21:54:33 UTCAll use subject to

  • 8/16/2019 Rembrandt Self-portraits



     Bernini's Memorial to Maria Raggi*

     Judith Bernstock

     The memorial to Maria Raggi, designed and executed by

     Bernini and generally dated 1643, is on a compound pier of

     the nave of S. Maria sopra Minerva (Fig. 1).1 The monu-

     ment is in the form of a windswept hanging drapery of

     black marble bordered with yellow ochre marble at its

     sides and bottom edge. An inscription seems to drift across

     the lower half. Its shape - resembling a parallelogram with

     curved sides - clearly continues the novel format of the

     memorial to Alessandro Valtrini of 1639 (Fig. 2).2 The in-

     scriptions on both works curve with the drapery folds; the

     Raggi inscription is further enlivened by glittering metallic

     letters. Above it, two winged putti support an oval

     medallion, all in gilt bronze. Within the oval frame is a

     bust-length portrait of Maria Raggi. A gilt-bronze Cross

     surmounts the whole, like a large stick-pin fastening the

     cloth to the pillar. 3 It seems to part the windswept

     drapery even more forcefully than does the Cross on

     Valtrini's memorial, as if to reveal the image of Maria

     Raggi and her inscription below. In the lower left corner of

     the drapery is affixed a meticulously detailed coat-of-


     The aims of this article are to present new information

     regarding the life and tombs of Maria Raggi, as well as the

     circumstances surrounding the creation of Bernini's

     memorial to her. A revised dating of the monument will

     also be offered.

     *This article is adapted from a chapter in my dissertation, Five

     Sepulchral Monuments by Bernini, Columbia University, 1979. I am in-

     debted to Howard Hibbard for his help and encouragement. Apprecia-

     tion is also extended to Padre Carderi for his assistance in the archives of

     S. Maria sopra Minerva, and to Curtis Church, Eugene Rice, and Jacob

     Stern for their help with Latin translations.

     Unless otherwise stated, all collections and monuments are in Rome.

     1 For basic data on the memorial see Wittkower, No. 44; Fagiolo

     dell'Arco, No. 110. Titi, 178, writes: Il sepolcro di Maria Raggi, che e nel

     Pilastro quasi incontro a questa Cappella [del B. Pio V] fij fatto con

     capricciosa inventione dal Bernino. It is listed as Suor Maria Raggi

     Memorial in S. Maria sopra Minerva, in Baldinucci's catalogue, 116.

     2 Wittkower, No. 43; Fagiolo dell'Arco, No. 101. Cf. my forthcoming ar-

     ticle Bernini's Memorials to Ippolito Merenda and Alessandro Valtrini.

    3Hibbard, 110.


     In general, these game pieces must be considered simply

     as tokens of the hunt rather than as depictions of actual

     trophies. The latter is precluded by the diversity of game

     and hunting implements displayed. Like today's

     sportsman, the Dutch hunter did not employ rifles,

     falconry gear, nets, snares and other paraphernalia on any

     single hunt. Nor was he likely to pursue a large heron

     together with small finches, like those in The Falconer's

     Bag, birds requiring different methods of capture.35

     The association of hunting with the upper classes is also

     evident in the elegant hunting scenes that became popular

     in the last half of the century. Fashionable ladies and gen-

     tlemen on horseback are seen departing from their estates,

     riding through the woods, or pausing to refresh them-

     selves by a pond or fountain. Adriaen van de Velde, Jan

     Hackaert, and Philips Wouwerman are among the

     numerous artists practicing the genre. Wouwerman is

     represented by Rest During a Falcon Hunt in the Herzog

     Anton Ulrich-Museum (Fig. 10). Here, a stylish couple

     have paused for a moment in their pursuit of game. A ser-

     vant in the foreground pours wine for the gentleman and

     his companion who holds a falcon on her gloved hand.

     The dramatic increase in these and other types of

     hunting pictures in Holland after mid-century can be ex-

     plained only by the existence of a more widespread

     bourgeois market. It simply became a matter of aristocratic

     fashion to associate oneself with the sport. Rembrandt's

     Self-Portrait with a Dead Bittern should be understood as

     an early manifestation of this development. The artist's

     new prosperity and recent affiliations with a higher

     stratum of society prompted a heightened social con-

     sciousness which led to his depiction of himself as a hunter

     and a gentleman.

     North Texas State University

     Denton TX 76203

     35 Scott A. Sullivan, The Dutch Game Piece, Ph.D. diss., Case Western

     Reserve University, 1978, 143f.

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