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Young Man and Woman Studying a Statue of Venus, by Lamplight

Godefridus Schalcken (Made 1643 – 1706 The Hague)
date
ca. 1688–92
medium
oil on canvas
dimensions
43.8 x 34.9 cm
signed information

signed faintly lower right on the base of the statue: “G. Schalcken”

inventory number
GS-103
Currently on view: The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

Jansen, Guido. “Young Man and Woman Studying a Statue of Venus, by Lamplight.” In The Leiden Collection Catalogue. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. New York.

https://www.theleidencollection.com/archive/ (accessed May 27, 2018).

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In this engaging and atmospheric picture, a young man is shown wearing a painter’s beret and holding a drawing in his left hand that displays the contours of the plaster or marble statue of a kneeling nude woman in front of him. He points to this statue with his right hand while looking up at the young woman standing next to him, to whom he apparently explains the drawing and the statue. A copper oil lamp illuminates the scene, which is closed off on the right by a green curtain. Discernible in the right foreground is the plaster cast of the head of an antique female figure, probably the so-called Juno Cesi. Godefridus Schalcken might have been familiar with the actual antique statue of the kneeling Venus (or Aphrodite), or he might have owned a plaster cast of it. He could also have known of this fragment through an engraving by Jan de Bisschop (1628–1671), which De Bisschop based on a drawing by the Roman artist Franceso Salviati (1510–63). Bisschop published this drawing in his Signorum veterum icones of 1671 ().

Because of its subject—the viewing of art—the painting has previously been interpreted mainly in the context of art theory. Young painters, who had to study antique sculptures before progressing to drawing from a live model, were advised to draw such sculptures by artificial light; this approach caused the contours of the sculptures to emerge more clearly and allowed the artist to practice rendering objects in relief. This academic practice has fused perfectly here with Schalcken’s artistic strength: rendering nocturnal scenes illuminated by artificial light. The glowing flame of the oil lamp both models the smooth surface of the sculpture and gently illuminates the young painters, drawing them together through the subdued reddish tonalities of their faces. Indeed, the atmospheric effects created by the flow of light and color across this image—from the flame’s white heat to the sculpture’s muted ivory-colored surface and the softly-lit figures—are beautifully rendered and quite evocative.

The presence of lamplight may also allude to studious diligence and dedication—a figurative illumination, or enlightenment, resulting from the true artist’s rigorous training. Schnackenburg, a strong proponent of this view, considers the entire painting to be exemplary of a new stylistic and thematic direction in Schalcken’s art, in which he examines Bisschop’s ideas and ponders classicist thought. Crucial to this interpretation is the identification of the young man in the painting as Schalcken himself. Schnackenburg also attaches great importance to the presence of the statue of Venus, which in her eyes refers to the rivalry between painting and sculpture.

The presence of the statue of Venus is clearly significant, but it has less to do with the many art-theoretical notions attached to the figure than to her role as the goddess of love for the ancient Greeks and Romans alike. Here the subject chiefly involves the love presumed to exist between the young man and the young woman, for which the magnificently spotlighted statue of Venus serves as a catalyst. The amorous context depicted here fits in perfectly with the main themes found in Schalcken’s oeuvre, which is filled with references to the kindling of love between two people. The multiple layers of meaning that can be found in this composition make it clear that Schalcken gave great thought to his subjects, an observation previously made by Hecht.

Beherman dated this small work to between 1680 and 1685, owing to his identification of the protagonists as the painter and his young wife, Françoisia van Diemen, who married in 1679. The dating of Schalcken’s genre and history paintings is often problematic because we know only a handful of dated genre scenes and half a dozen dated history paintings, which mainly stem from his later years (see GS-112). Nevertheless, Beherman’s dating of Young Man and Woman Studying a Statue of Venus, by Lamplight neglects the fact that the work—in Schalcken’s most frequently used format of approximately 44 by 34.9 cm—is painted on canvas. At that stage in his career he would have been more likely to execute paintings of this size on panel, or occasionally on copper (see, for example, GS-102). Moreover, the dry, thin manner of painting and the use of pastel hues, evident here in the figures’ pink lips, also differ from the works painted around 1680.

Stylistically, Young Man and Woman Studying a Statue of Venus, by Lamplight is closely related to Schalcken’s Allegory of the Treaty of Nijmegen (). Beherman dated this latter painting, of a size rather large for Schalcken, to around 1676–77, largely because the French painter Henri Gascard (1635–1701) produced a thematically similar work depicting The Signing of the Treaty of Nijmegen between France and Spain on 17 September 1678, which is preserved in the Museum Het Valkhof in Nijmegen. It is more likely, however, that Schalcken’s Allegory of the Treaty of Nijmegen, with its thin application of paint and somewhat divergent, tempered use of color, originated around 1688–92, toward the end of the artist’s activities in Dordrecht. This stylistic dating can be underpinned in yet another way. For this unusual composition, Schalcken appears to have made use of a French engraving published in Paris by François de Poilly (1623–93) in 1684 (). Young Man and Woman Studying a Statue of Venus, by Lamplight should, therefore, be dated to the same period, from around 1688 to 1692. This later dating immediately calls into question the identification of the young artist and his pupil as Schalcken and his wife. Moreover, a small, recently discovered portrait of Françoisia reveals that in these years, having given birth to eight children, she no longer looked as she did in the first year of her marriage ().

The influence of Schalcken’s teacher Gerrit Dou (1613–75) is still present to a remarkable degree in this late painting. Dou painted a large number of works portraying an artist, mostly himself, sometimes working in his studio but always wearing a painter’s cap. Occasionally the artist is shown drawing a statue by the light of an oil lamp, as in An Artist Drawing in Brussels (), which is the work most closely related in subject to Young Man and Woman Studying a Statue of Venus, by Lamplight.

- Guido Jansen
2017
  • Private collection (sale, Christie’s, London, 18 April 1832, no. 57) [£2.2 to Pennell].
  • Giles Sebright, Bart (his sale, Christie’s, London, 2 July 1937, no. 130).
  • Private collection (sale, Christie’s, London, 4 March 1938, no. 66).
  • [Galerie Lingenauber, Düsseldorf, by 1988, unpaginated, with ill.].
  • [Galerie Edel, Cologne, 1988].
  • Private collection (sale, Hampel Fine Art Auctions, 8 December 2006, no. 310).
  • [Salomon Lilian B. V., Amsterdam, 2006].
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2006.
  • Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum, “De Zichtbaere Werelt: Schilderkunst uit de Gouden Eeuw in Hollands oudste stad,” 29 November 1992–28 February 1993, no. 72.
  • Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Fondation Corboud, “Wettstreit der Künste: Malerei und Skulptur von Dürer bis Daumier,” 25 May–25 August 2002, no. 121.
  • New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, on loan with the permanent collection, September 2009–September 2015 [lent by the present owner].
  • Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, “Schalcken–Gemalte Verführung,” 25 September 2015–24 January 2016; Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum, 21 February–26 June 2016, no. 14 [lent by the present owner].
  • Paris, Museé du Louvre, “Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection: The Age of Rembrandt,” 22 February–22 May 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Beijing, National Museum of China, “Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 17 June–3 September 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund, “Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 23 September 2017–25 February 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • Beherman, Thierry. Godfried Schalcken. Paris, 1988, 150–51, no. 54.
  • Marijnissen, Peter, Wim de Paus, Peter Schoon, and George Schweitzer, eds. De Zichtbaere Werelt: Schilderkunst uit de Gouden Eeuw in Hollands oudste stad. Exh. cat. Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum. Zwolle, 1992, 267, no. 72.
  • Mai, Ekkehard. Das Kabinett des Sammlers: Gemälde vom XV. bis XVIII. Jahrhundert. Cologne, 1993, 226–28, no. 90.
  • Mai, Ekkehard, and Kurt Wettengl. Wettstreit der Künste: Malerei und Skulptur von Dürer bis Daumier. Exh. cat. Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Fondation Corboud. Wolfratshausen, 2002, 331, no. 121.
  • Neumeister, Mirjam. Das Nachtstück mit Kunstlicht in der niederländischen Malerei und Graphik des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts. Petersberg, 2003, 340 and 415, no. 16.
  • Schnackenburg, Sophie. “‘Studium’ und ‘Inspiratio’: Godfried Schalcken’s Gemälde ‘Kunstbetrachtung bei Lampenlicht’ (um 1680/85) im Spannungsfeld ikonographischer Tradition und zeitgenössischer Kunsttheorie.” Müncher Jahrbuch der Bildenden Kunst 54 (2003): 183–217, no. 1.
  • Franits, Wayne. Dutch Seventeenth-Century Genre Painting: Its Stylistic and Thematic Evolution. New Haven and London, 2004, 247–49, no. 227.
  • Cook, Nicole Elizabeth. “Eros, Intimität und Begehren in den Genrebildern von Godefridus Schalcken.” In Schalcken – Gemalte Verführung, edited by Anja K. Sevcik, 81-84. Exh. cat. Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum; Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum. Stuttgart, 2015.
  • Jansen, Guido M. C. “Ein Mann und ene Frau betrachten beim Schein einer Lampe eine Venus-Statue, 1685-90.” In Schalcken – Gemalte Verführung, edited by Anja K. Sevcik. Exh. cat. Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum; Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum. Stuttgart, 2015, 122-24, no. 14.
  • Cook, Nicole Elizabeth. “From Amoris Causa to Pygmalion’s Creative Dream: Schalcken’s Young Man and Woman Looking at a Statuette by Lamplight and Theories of Love in Art. Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch 77 (2016): 127–43.
  • McCarthy, Alexa.  “Young Man and Woman Studying a Statue of Venus, by Lamplight.” In Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection: The Age of Rembrandt. Edited by Blaise Ducos and Dominique Surh 70, no. 25. Exh. cat. Paris, Musée du Louvre. Paris, 2017.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Rembrandt and His Time: China and the Dutch Republic in the Golden Age.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 10; 15, no. 43. Translated by Li Ying. Exh. cat. Beijing, National Museum of China. Beijing, 2017.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Young Man and Woman Studying a Statue of Venus, by Lamplight.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 106–7; 182, no. 43. Translated by Li Ying. Exh. cat. Beijing, National Museum of China. Beijing, 2017.
  • Long Museum, West Bund. Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Exh. cat. Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund. Shanghai, 2017, 118, 121.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Young Man and Women Studying a Statue of Venus.” In The      Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 206–7; 246, no. 70. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina. Exh.cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.

The support, a single piece of coarse, plain-weave fabric, has been lined. All four tacking margins have been almost entirely removed, and narrow remnants of primed fabric remain. Cusping along the upper edge only suggests the support has been cut from a larger primed fabric. There is one paper label but no wax collection seals, stencils, or import stamps along the lining or stretcher.  

The fabric has been pre-primed with a gray ground followed by a light red ground applied below the composition area. The paint is applied with thin layers of transparent glazes that refine the effects of light and the transitions into shadow, and with broader scumbles along the folds of the artist’s proper right sleeve.

No carbon-based underdrawing or compositional changes are readily apparent in infrared images captured at 900–1700 nanometers or in the X-radiograph.

A faint signature located in the lower right corner is visible in the X-radiograph but not under normal light conditions or in infrared images.

The painting was cleaned and restored in 2008 and remains in a good state of preservation despite areas of thinness and fine drying cracks through the background.

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