Abraham Bloemaert 1566-1651 BACK

Bloemaert was a Dutch painter of biblical and historical subjects, portraits and still-lifes. After a period of travel, which included Paris (1580-3) and Amsterdam (1591-3), he settled in the city of Utrecht. There he played an important part in founding the Utrecht school. He had a great reputation, being visited by Rubens and Elisabeth, Queen of Bohemia, and was the master of J. G. Cuyp, G. Honthorst, and H. Terbrugghen. Through the Dutch 'Itatianizers' he was affected by Mannerism and Caravaggio's use of chiaroscuro.

An excerpt from Masters of Light by Marten Jan Bok
In Bloemaert's workshop this role must have been filled by his great supply of study drawings collected over decades of artistic production. They were of an importance hardly to be overestimated. His painted tronies, on the other hand, must be understood as paintings in their own right. Only one of them can be found to have been inserted into a bigger composition later on, the Old Woman shown here. It is identical to the head in Old Woman with a Rooster. This is a half-length life-size genre painting that is very much in keeping with the Utrecht tradition. Since in no other case is Bloemaert known to have repeated his own paintings, it is highly unlikely that this picture is by his hand. Copying the master's tronie into a genre painting rather seems to be a fitting assignment for a pupil. Even the son's Tekenboek, a printed book of drawing models ranging from eyes, ears, and hands to entire compositions, reproduced only one of the painted heads, that of an old man. Almost all of what is reproduced in this book, in fact, is from the visual material the workshop was using, and that was drawings. In general, phystognomic studies of old men seem to have played a much greater role than those of women. in the Tekenboek there are only about a dozen heads of old women,6 while studies of old men abound.

Bloemaert created a number of paintings with heads of old men and women that are so closely related to each other that they form a coherent group apart from his other work. In addition to the age and social status of the sitters and the fact of their being busts, they also stand out for their tonal color scheme and thoughtful expression. in addition, the light coming from outside the picture picks out only certain areas while reflecting in the undefined background in such a way that the dark side of the figure is outlined as clearly as the bright side. All of these paintings, amounting to twenty-two plus a few doubtful ones, show the same kind of peasantlike person. in fact, some of the faces reappear several times, though never in identical form. Even more striking is the fact that most of them are dated, with the dates spanning no more than a decade, from 1632 to 1641. Figures and faces of old people belonged to Bloemaert's standard repertoire from the very beginning of his career, as in the Munich Peleus and Thetif, a Judgment of Paris, or an Apollo and Daphne of the 1590s, to name only a few. They were compulsory for figures like the 1622 Saint Jerome or in the 1624 Adoration of the Magi. Even though the type of face-at least compared with these last ones-remained the same, Bloemaert did not develop the type of picture represented by Head of an old Woman until he himself approached his seventies. Nevertheless, a mere biographical motivation to paint these pictures seems unlikely, considering the very limited time span in which they were produced. More likely, they are a reaction of the painter to public interest in this particular type of picture.

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Image List
Moses Striking the Rock, 1596

The Four Evangelists, 1615

Adoration of the Magi, 1624

Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, 1624

Virgin and Child, 1628

Head of an Old Woman, 1632

Amaryllis and Mirtillo, 1635

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