Thursday, October 24, 2013

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Misers, 1548-1551

The Misers
A Follower of Marinus can Reymerswaele
c. 1550
Acquired by Queen Anne
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Historians believe that Queen Anne (the second daughter of King James II) added this handsome and strange painting to the Royal Collection. The scene was painted between 1548 and 1551 by an unknown student artist who is believed to have been a follower of Marinus van Reymerswaele (c. 1490/95-c. 1567). Painted on board, the painting also mimics a 1440 work by Jan van Eyck which depicted a banker in conference with his client. While this painting by van Eyck is believed lost, it is credited as having launched a genre of works which showed businessmen in Fifteenth Century dress engaged in money matters. Of the sixty variations of the scene, most of them are composed in a style which hints at a strong Dutch influence. Most of these compositions can trace their stylistic roots to the works of van Eyck. Still, others are clearly inspired by the paintings of van Reymerswaele and, also, another Dutch master Quinten Massys.

Let’s take a closer look at this piece which is entitled, “The Misers.” This follower of van Reymerswael has taken great pains to show the nature of the men. Their faces are masks of avarice and greed and their claw-like hands nod at the common conception of those involved in the changing of money. The scene is meant to be amusing and the visages of the men purposefully lean toward caricature. Despite the piles of coins in front of them, we’re reminded that this wealth will not aid them for long. The brevity of life is suggested by the candle which burns near them—it is almost spent, just as their lives are. 

What I find most interesting about this work is that the ledger on the table has been inscribed in French, indicating that this piece was likely a copy by a student—commissioned by a French patron who much admired the original by van Reymerswaele.

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