National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 13, 1969

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Reflections on the Jordaens Exhibition

by Michael Jaffe

Article en français

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Wer vieles bringt, wird manchem etwas bringen;
Und jeder geht zufrieden aus dem Haus.

- Goethe, FaustI (Vorspiel aufdem Theater, 11.97-8)

"Wer vieles bringt, wird jedem etwas bringen."
- Prof J. S. Held, Burlington Magazine, May 1969, p. 267, as German proverb

As organizer of the long-needed exhibition in honour of Jordaens at Ottawa last winter, and as author of its catalogue, I am glad of this opportunity to publish further information on his work in the light of the marvelously illuminating experience provided by the generosity of so many lenders in Europe and North America.

The catalogue contains reproductions of all the works in the exhibition as well as a great deal of comparative material. It was prepared at such pressure that first copies were ready only a week in advance of the opening; but there was no opportunity to compile an index, however desirable one might have been. Inevitably, there are things to be corrected, including transcriptions from Flemish, and things to be added, amongst them paintings and drawings, some of which could only be alluded to, and others of which, although directly relevant, were unknown or inadequately published. Included in these addenda, of course, are the drawings exhibited hors catalogue (two lent by Mount Holyoke College, one by Mr. Bernard Houthakker). l have prefaced my observations on the catalogue itself with two notes: one on Jordaens and Calvinism, a problem clearly presented by Marian Donnelly (1) and aired again recently by R. A. d'Hulst; (2) the other on the too little regarded problem, which could be studied intently in the exhibition, of Jordaens's use of paper as a support for some of his painted work as well as for tapestry cartoons and for drawings. I am grateful to those with sharp eyes, who during the exhibition brought errors and insufficiencies to my notice.

Since the exhibition closed on 5 January 1969, a number of scholarly reviews have been published. In the following observations it has been possible to take into consideration: Julius S. Held, Burlington Magazine, CXI, May 1969, pp. 265-272 [Held 1969]; E. Haverkamp-Begemann, Kunstchronik, XXII, No. 5, May 1969, pp. 125-132 [Haverkamp-Begemann 1969 A], and Master Drawings, VII, NO. 2, 1969, pp. 173-178 [Haverkamp-Begemann 1969 B]; John Rowlands, Pantheon, XXVII, No .4, 1969, pp. 315-322 [Rowlands 1969]. Unfortunately the most detailed review of all, R. A. d'Hulst, The Art Bulletin, LI, No.4, December 1969, pp. 378-388, reached me only after the present text had been established for translation and proof. The same applies to Janina Michalkowa, Biuletyn Historii Sztuki, XXXI, No. 3, pp. 304-317.

Cleaning and Restoration

Not least of the lasting benefits of the exhibition was its encouragement to lenders to put works in their best condition. The Soprintendenza alle Gallerie del Lazio obtained funds to do necessary but costly repairs to two tapestries at the Palazzo Quirinale [Nos. 284, 285], so that these could take their place honourably in company with the six magnificently preserved tapes - tries lent by the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna [Nos. 276, 277, 280-283]. The Albertina, which lent no fewer than eight drawings, agreed to unfold and remount one [No. 195], thereby revealing a hitherto unsuspected croquis. Fortunately, and this consideration was sometimes decisive in influencing the choice of requests to lend, many paintings had been cleaned in recent years. As many as eleven others were cleaned especially for the exhibition, and where necessary restored, to the notable improvement of their appearance and of the possibility of satisfactory study: ULYSSES TAKES LEAVE OF CIRCE [No. 58]; YOUNG GIRL HOLDING A BASKET OF CHERRIES [No. 60]; THE FOUR DOCTORS OF THE LATIN CHURCH [No. 69]; YOUNG HUNTSMAN RESTING WITH HIS DOGS AND BAG OF GAME [No. 71]; NEPTUNE ABDUCTS AMPHITRITE [No. 80]; NEPTUNE CREATING THE HORSE [No. 81]; MOSES HOLDING THE TABLETS OF THE LAW [No. 94]; INFANT BACCHUS SEATED IN A LANDSCAPE [No. 95]; THE HOLY FAMILY EMBARKED [No. 105]; THE ROAD TO CALVARY [No. III]; and MOSES STRIKING WATER FROM THE ROCK [No. 115]. It should be noted that, owing to pressure of time to have the catalogue printed for the opening, four of these paintings had to be illustrated in their uncleaned state [Nos. 69, 81, 95, III]. Ideally a few more could have been freed of discoloured varnish [e.g., Nos. 55, 62, 64]. In particular, ABRAHAM STAYED FROM THE SACRIFICE OF ISAAC [NO. 22] which was to have been cleaned - a masterpiece indeed - was, sadly, hard to enjoy under so dark a coat, and has yet to emerge in its true colours. Only then shall we have a fair chance to assess its date. Nevertheless, hardly any international exhibition of such scope since 1945 has had so much cooperation of this sort. Only one painting had patently suffered from insensitive cleaning in the past, the HOLY FAMILY WITH ST. ANNE [No. 8]; and lack of final glazes made this fine picture look rather stark in the company of better preserved paintings of the same period [Nos. 9, 10]. However, the exhibition would have been appreciably poorer without its peculiar and potent blend of the sumptuous and the intimate. 

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