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Harmensz Luydingh
Still life

Introduction

The Still life by Harmen Luydingh, (1637 – 1673) poses a challenge to the viewer.[1] Little is known either about the artist or the painting itself. The painting was given to the Hunterian in 1963 and remains there today, however nothing is known of its history prior to this date. The gallery records suggest that the painting dates from after 1673, however this is after the death of the suggested artist. Perhaps dating its oak panel could help confirm a more exact date. Until then, its purpose and meaning may be considered by close analysis and comparison with other paintings of similar date and type.

Biography

Unfortunately little is know about the artist Luydingh, also spelt Loeding and Lotding, as well as several other variations. In 1664 he became a member of the Leiden guild, for which he became a master craftsman in 1665. His membership of the Leiden Guild ended in 1673. An inventory after his death showed that his home contained many still lifes.[2] There are around half a dozen Luydingh Still Lifes in various museums across Europe and in 1904 two Still Lifes signed Luydingh were sold by a London art dealer.[3]

Description of Painting

The painting shows a selection of fruit with a Roemer goblet and a chunk of broken bread. The objects are grouped close together in an unnatural display. The food is painted in vibrant colours, however the background, is a variety of dark browns and reds. Even though the items sit on the edge of a dark wood table, only a tiny portion of the table top is visible as a ruffled dark red cloth covers the greater part of it. The vibrant colours of the grapes and lemons jump out of the panel at the viewer. The paint work used in the goblet, cherry stalks and the cherries themselves is raised and so catches the light; adding to the paint effect of light falling on the curved shapes. Light from the window is reflected on the goblet; painted in lead white and lead tin yellow in a high relief that stands out from the panel. The feet of the goblet are hidden by the fruit. The sharp light is also caught in the cherries and in some of the top most grapes. One cherry droops into the goblet, bobbing on top of the liquid. The lemon provides a strange contrast, dry pitted peal juxtaposed with juicy flesh. A drip of juice sits on the cut peal. Both the lemon peal and grapes over hang the table edge.

Contemporary sources describe how to lay out fruit Still Lifes to give a balanced image: ‘…carefully paint some of the fruit that one wishes to [depict] in its entirety in the front. For example, bunches of grapes, melons, apples or other fruit, and behind these paint others that stand out a little from behind the first so that one can see half of, or less, which looks like many pieces of fruit are laid together and one only needs to paint a few perfectly and the others can be treated lightly.’[4] The artists may have looked to sources such as this to help shape his composition.

As is often the case in Dutch paintings of the time, this painting evokes our senses. The viewer sees the shine of the Roemer, smells the sharp citrus juice from the cut lemon, tastes the juicy busting grapes. The contrasting textures of the smooth Roemer, cherries, and grapes against the rough lemon peel and doughy bread evoke the sense of touch. Including two types of grapes creates a direct contrast in both colour and taste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iconography

Many of the items depicted here were used for symbolic purposes in contemporary painting. Kitchen scenes with food often gave the viewer a choice between good and evil. A religious or moral scene can regularly be found in the background contrasting with the central display of food. Food was seen as transient, a passing pleasure. Man should focus on the religious or moral; not on something that will decay. It is hard to say whether or not the items were intended to evoke symbolic meaning, and how it would have been interpreted by viewers of the time. Many objects have several interpretations so it is not always possible to work out the moral message intended. Often symbolic meanings of certain fruits or objects came from emblem books of the sixteenth and seventeenth century.[5]

Contemporary viewers would be familiar with grapes representing a variety of meanings. The grapes could refer to morality within a marriage, using. Eddy De Jongh suggests that this symbolism for virginity and purity originates from interpretations of two emblems by Jacob Cats, (1577-1660), ‘The Maidens Duty’ and ‘Honour is Fragile’.[6] In each emblem the bunch of grapes symbolises the girl and her virginity and the stem symbolises marriage. If the girl loses her virginity through marriage then she remains pure, if she only uses it to procreate, not to satisfy lust she can keep in tact her second virginity.[7]

It could conversely refer to the ‘fruitfulness of the vine’ [8], as an indication of fertility and children. An example of this can be found in the Song of Solomon where it is stated: ‘Your wife is like a fertile grape vine.’ [9]

Grapes would also be a familiar metaphor for love and friendship. Fruit generally is also emblematic of the fall of man and can be seen as a reference to transience and the vanity of earthly deeds.

An alternative interpretation could be that the stem symbolises Mary and the grapes themselves represent Christ.[10] The wine could similarly be seen as a reference to the blood of Christ. Having the fruit and wine side by side could be interpreted as a choice for the viewer between good and evil. All fruit can be seen as a symbol of fertility and conversely as representative of the transitory nature of life and earthly vanities. The lemon and grapes together could indicate the fall of man and his redemption.[11] The grapes and glass of wine could symbolise Christ, and the bread could again refer to Christ at the breaking of the bread. The bread could indicate that viewers should follow the teachings of Christ.[12] In contrast it is also suggested that bread merely symbolises an everyday food of little value, contrasting with the exotic fruits.[13] This interpretation is less relevant in reference to this painting as even the citrus fruits would have been relatively common by the seventeenth century.

It could be that the Lemon could refer to original sin as the bible speaks of the fruit of a lemon tree. Ildiko Ember suggests: ‘…the lemon is a sign of luxury – just as the lemon is outwardly inviting but has sour fruit, so to is luxury externally enticing but leads to a bitter end, alienating man from god.’[14] Another indications that citrus fruits could represent the apple comes from the fact that the Dutch for a Seville orange is ‘oranjeappel’.[15] Intending the citrus fruit to be interpreted as the fruit representing original sin could be a pun based on the various names given to fruit in the Netherlands. However, Sam Segal suggests that citrus fruit is a symbol for eternity, as citrus plants don’t shed their leaves in winter.[16] These different interpretations lead back to the ungoing debate as to whether artists intended their works to have symbolism of this sort and to what extent they expected viewers to critique their work with respect to its deeper meanings.

Leiden painters tended to specialise in ‘Vanitas’ still lifes and perhaps this influenced the way Luydinghs painting was intended to be interpreted. Vanitas paintings contain symbols of vanity and are intended to provoke reflection in the viewer. Is this a reminder of how delicate life is or merely a technique to bring the objects of the painting closer to the viewer? The broken bread sits right next to the lemon, is this a choice between good and evil?

‘Tazza’s’ and ‘Roemer’ drinking vessels could be seen as a symbol of friendship as they were passed round to show that all the drinkers were equal.[17] This could be seen as an indication that the painting was produced for a specific purpose, perhaps as a token to a friend who was moving away. However, it is more likely that the Tazza was chosen because it gave the artist the chance to portray his talent at painting a variety of textures.

Market

Which market segment was Luydingh’s still life aimed at? This will affect the subject matter, symbolism and painting type. Presumably this painting was for an affluent family as it contains a rich looking velvet cloth and citrus fruits which would have to be imported over water and so would be a luxury item in many of the houses of Europe at the time. However, in the seventeenth century Netherlands, trade with exotic parts of the world was common and as the power was moved away from the capital to the individual cities the new merchant class owned much of the wealth and spent it on ostentatious display.

Painting manuals of time provide information on how still life painting was viewed during the seventeenth century. The painter and writer Karel van Mander, (1548-1606) [18], suggests that history painting is the ultimate form of painting as it involves both technical skill and the artists imagination to create the scene. Still life painting by contrast was mere copying and so should be seen as taking little effort.[19] Van Mander considers still life as a stage in training which artists aspiring for greatness perfect before they move onto higher things. Samuel van Hoogstraten, (1627-1678) [20] referred to still life painters as ‘common soldiers in the army of art’.[21] Another view was expressed by Philips Angel in his 1642 treatise which suggested that all painting genres were equal, however he does not make specific mention to still life painting.[22]

Housing inventories in the late sixteenth century suggest that Still Lifes accounted for up to fifteen percent of paintings in houses. Paintings were sometimes seen by the middle classes merely as a way of decorating their homes. The painting ‘Tailor’s Shop’[23] exemplifies this point as the hook used to hang a still life is also used for a large hat which obscures part of the painting. Few still lifes were commissioned and as a result the artist did not know what position the finished painting would be hung on while he was working on the painting. As many still lifes were hung over mantels pieces they had a low view point so they could be hung high up. However other sources suggest that where paintings were hung in tiers, the smaller paintings were hung at the bottom so that the viewer would be encouraged to come close to look at them. This could account for why Luydinghs painting has a high view point.[24] He could have been taking into account the height it was likely to be hung at.[25]

The relatively sober content of this still life and it modest size, can be contemplated when viewed in comparison to, for example, in De Heem’s ‘A righly laid table with parrots’, where the desire to display wealth is wildly obvious.[26] When compared with such pieces it is obvious that Luydingh’s work was not for a buyer wishing to convey his wealth. Presumably it was made for the knowledgeable middle classes who would appreciate the potential symbolism of the piece. Or perhaps it is merely a practise piece by a first time artist wishing to test his skills on conventional objects, made popular by their symbolism and numerous meanings.

Technique

Support
Panel’s tend to be bevelled on the back to allow a close fit in the frame. The bevelling on the back of this panel indicates that it has been cut down at an angle, taking off approximately one centimetre on the top, bottom and left hand side. Perhaps the artist or indeed a later owner felt that the composition could be improved by reducing the area around those edges of the painting. The panel also has a wax seal which appears to show a wooden adjustable artists’ model leaning on a globe. The seal is worn down making it difficult to confirm what it shows; despite investigation the seal has not been identified.

Ground layer
Before painting was begun, the panel was coated with a chalk and glue ground layer, followed by a pale yellowish transparent isolation layer. This isolation layer is visible through the tassels and fabric of the table cloth. There are also other areas where the lower layers of paint are visible through the objects on the table.

Paint layers
Red dead paint has been used under the table cloth and the cherries. A dead paint layer was always used as the first layer to block in the basic colour and other layers were built up on top. The red layer can also be seen through areas of shadow in the cherries. There is some overlap in the paint layers; for example the red can be seen shining through parts of the bread and the lemon peel. The shinning tassels of the tablecloth are painted with tiny specks of lead white, visible close up but from a distance creating the effect of delicately tumbling threads catching the light.

The green grapes were painted on top of a pale blue dead paint. There are spots of red used in the green grapes, reflecting both the tablecloth below and the cherries above. Relatively large pieces of ground azurite cause the green/blue shades of the grapes. Again, lead white is used for the highlights; the angle of the highlighted areas in the grape suggests the light is from the same source as the window reflected in the Roemer. The impression of volume was often given by using different thicknesses of glaze on the fruits.[27] In places, the grapes have been painted over the Roemer, both the shape and colour of which can been seen through them.

The two main areas of the lemon have been painted at different times. The body of the lemon has been reserved in the background painting, and painted straight over the isolation layer. However the peel that curls around and onto the table has been painted over the bread and the tablecloth. A blue tone shines through the fleshy area of the lemon. Lead tin yellow has been used for the body of the lemon. In several areas of the peel the tablecloth and bread can been seen through the peel. It is unclear whether this is a result of the artist painting the peel as if it had been cut so thinly as to be translucent, or whether it is due to the increasing transparency of the paint layer over time, leading to the lower layers of paint becoming visible.

In the Spanish grapes retreating into the background behind the Roemer Luydingh used a variety of colours which are also found elsewhere in the painting. Small areas of residual glaze indicate that originally the grapes may have had considerably more shine. They have been painted with a dark red lake with areas of copper green and blue/white mixture. The shape of the grapes is defined by sweeps of darker blue with specks of a very pale blue. Theodore Turquet deMayerne, a contemporary Swiss physician describes how to paint Spanish grapes: ‘Purple is made with esmail [smalt] and [red] lake for the darker hues[…]. Shadow it with smalt and lake and as much as is suitable a little black in the darkest parts,… Highlights adjusted with a little white.’[28]

The Roemer has highlights in both lead white and lead tin yellow as well as dots of a pale blue colour, the same blue that is found in the grapes and the leaves. The areas of lead tin yellow in the Roemer and lemon peal have a blue underpaint layer.

The bread has been painted with curved brush strokes on the crust, shiny and smooth to show its firm consistency; however the doughy centre of the brush strokes are more turbulent, painted in all directions. This area of the painting contains the most highly textured objects.

The area around the signature has been painted in black paint, perhaps to make the signature stand out more than if it were only against the brown background.

Luydingh’s repeated use of the same group of colours throughout the painting helps to create continuity through the painting. It is unfortunate that few examples of his work are known as it would be interesting to compare them with this piece. Little is known of Luydingh’s work so his signature on the piece cannot yield much further knowledge of it than that which can be gathered from viewing the piece itself.

References

1 Thieme-Becker Kunstler-Lexikon, vol. 23, (Leipzig, 1929), 315.
2. Thieme-Becker 1929, 315.
3. This information comes from both Thieme-Becker 1929, 315, and E.Benezit, Dictionnaire Des Peintre Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs, et Graveurs, Vol 7, (Paris,1976), 29.
4. A. Wallert ed., Still Lifes: Techniques and Style. The examination of paintings from the Rijsmuseum, (Amsterdam, 1999), 35.
5. I. Ember, Delights for the senses. Dutch and Flemish Still-life paintings from Budapest, (Washington, 1989), 18.
6. J.B. Bedaux, ‘Fruit and Fertility: Fruit symbolism in Netherlandish portraiture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’, Simiolus, 17 (1987), 154.
7. Much of the information in this paragraph comes from Bedaux 1987.
8. E.J.Sluijter, Seductress of Sight, (Zwolle, 2000), 74.
9. Sluijter 2000, 78.
10. This idea is suggested by De Jongh in reference to a family portrait. This is discussed in Bedaux 1987, 158.
11. Ember 1989, 35.
12. S. Segal, A Prosperous Past. The Sumptuous Still Life In The Netherlands 1600-1700, (Amsterdam, 1988), 65.
13. Segal 1988, 73.
14. Ember 1989, 24.
15. Segal 1988, 72.
16. Segal 1988, 153.
17. Segal 1988, 125.
18. Thieme-Becker 1929, 608.
19. G.M.C.Jansen, ‘‘On the lowest level’: the status of the still life in Netherlandish Art Literature of the seventeenth century’, in A. Chong & W. Kloek eds., Still life paintings from the Netherlands 1550-1720, (Amsterdam, 1998), 51.
20. www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/hoogstraten_samuel_van.html
21. Jansen 1998, 53.
22. Jansen 1998, 52.
23. Quiringh Gerritsz. Van Brekelenkam, Tailor’s Shop, 1653, Oil on Canvas, Worcester Art Museum, Massachussetts.
24. J.Rosenberg, S.Slive, E.H.ter Kuile, Dutch Art and Architecture 1600-1800, (Harmondsworth, 1984), 333.
25. Much of this paragraph comes from J.Loughman, ‘The Market for Netherlands Still Lifes, 1600-1720’, in Chong & Kloek 1999, 87-95.
26. Jan Davidsz de Heem, A richly laid table with parrots, oil on canvas, c1655, The John and Marble Ringling Museum, Sarasota.
27. Wallert 1999, 23.
28. Wallert 1999, 27.