Friday, 30 August 2013

Verspronck's Quiet Grandeur

Detail of Johannes Verspronck, Portrait of Willemina van Braeckel,
1637. Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem
My recent trip to the Netherlands included a visit to the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem. This lovely museum in a seemingly quiet small 17th century street just outside the centre of town is just a delight to walk to. The town of Haarlem still shows an abundance in 17th century - Golden Age - streets and houses and so when you enter the little street where the Frans Hals Museum is you are already in proper 17th century mood.
Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem

The museum holds around 10 paintings by Johannes Verspronck, some of which have only recently been acquired.  Johannes Verspronck lived, worked and died in Haarlem from around 1601/03 to 1662.
He never married and lived a quiet life. He was well off, both from his earnings as a painter as from legacies but never entered public life as a civic guard or on the board of a painters' guild. From his hand around 100 paintings survive, all painted in a period of 25 years.  All paintings surviving are portraits, save for 3, so we can confidentally call him a portraitist. He might have studied with Frans Hals and has certainly been influenced by him. Hals was slightly older (1582-1666) but working in the same town and therefore competing directly with Verspronck. In Verspronck's early career we see that he used Hals' poses in his portraits, but later on, Verspronck developed his own style, which is significantly different from Hals. Johannes Verspronck's work is characterised by a quiet grandeur, a stillness and friendly dignity in the sitters that is very attractive. He provided a true alternative to Hals for the clients in Haarlem in offering a completely different style. He painted two huge group portraits (but no family portraits as far as is known) both of groups of women. The regentesses of the Holy Spirit Orphanage and the regentesses of the St. Elizabeth Hospital are both positioned around a table ( a common design in this time used by many painters). The women are grouped skilfully to create a lively ensemble and the orphanage painting even included two very well painted children to enliven the scene. Most of his other works are single portraits, sometimes painted in pairs (husband and wife) or more (couple and children). His painting style shows an enormous attention to the precise depiction of clothing and jewellery which we can trust to be faithful representations of the sitter's outfit. His precision is not stiff but beautiful and quiet.
Detail of Johannes Verspronck, Portrait of the Regentesses of St. Elizabeth's
Hospital, 1641. Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem.
Johannes Verspronck, Portrait of Willemina van Braeckel,
1637. Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem

Most of the women in Verspronck's paintings wear a beautiful and enormous cartwheel ruff. These ruffs were slightly old-fashioned at the time but you see many women wear them still in mid-seventeenth century portraits. For many women it was not their place to be 'fashionable' and modern but they would rather be associated with being calm, timeless, trustworthy and, well there is a good Dutch word for it: 'degelijk'.  Ruffs like these therefore continued to be worn, even if their more 'streetwise' husbands wore the more fashionable falling collars (flat collars). 

Other and more modern styles of fashion we also see in other portraits, especially the stunning pieces in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The 'Girl in Blue' (1641) and the beautiful still painting of Maria van Strijp (1652) who are both wearing flat shawl like collars (kerchiefs) finished off with the most beautiful Flemish bobbin lace. The Girl in Blue is wearing extensive lengths of scalloped bobbin lace, while Maria van Strijp wears a straight Flemish lace. Both laces are beautifully and skillfully painted by Verspronck with the smallest of brushes, painting almost every thread and carefully depicting the repeating design of the lace.

Detail of Johannes Verspronck, Girl in Blue, 1641.
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

A leather-clad room in the Frans Hals museum shows the stunningly realistic still lives from Holland's Golden Age. I could not keep this beauty off my blog, despite it having nothing to do with lace....

Further reading:
Rudi Ekkart, Johannes Verspronck and the Girl in Blue, Rijksmuseum, 2009
Rudi Ekkart, Quentin Buvelot (eds), Dutch Portraits. The Age of Rembrandt and Frans Hals, Waanders, 2007
Mariet Westerman, A Worldly Art. The Dutch Republic 1585-1718, Yale, 1996
Marieke de Winkel, Fashion and Fancy: Dress and Meaning in Rembrandt's Paintings, Amsterdam University Press, 2006
Anita Jansen (ed), De Portretfabriek van Michiel van Mierevelt, WBooks, 2011
and more...


More Blog Posts about Verspronck:
Verspronck’s Style Development
Verspronck’s Quiet Grandeur
A Little Verspronck
The Lace Maker
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