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

Bulletin 13, 1969

Annual Index
Author & Subject

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Reflections on the Jordaens Exhibition

by Michael Jaffe

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Large paintings apart, the hanging could in most cases follow the catalogue order; so that the arguments for the appropriate dating of the vast majority of the works which were undated could be visually sustained. The layout of illustrations in the catalogue corresponds generally to what was sought in the way of juxtapositions: but the Nieuwenhuys CHILD HOLDING A PROMEGRANATE [No. 40] hung so happily next to the Mainz ADORATION OF THE SHEPHERDS [No. 23] that there seemed to be a case for dating them nearer together; and the Leningrad ADORATION OF THE MAGI (AFTER RUBENS) was illustrated in error as No. 41, a numbering corrected in the text to No. 25A, since it was painted by Jordaens in the autumn of 1620. Disparate size of reproductions in the catalogue obscures the fact that hanging "THE KING DRINKS" beside "AS THE OLD SING, SO THE YOUNG TWITTER" [Nos. 64 and 65] could, and did, confirm that they were painted as pendants. The Dayton VISITATION [No. 76], included as an example of the standard of work Jordaens could expect from an assistant just at the critical period when he himself was left as the prime painter in Antwerp, was hung tactfully at some distance from autograph works.

The hanging in numerous instances, besides that of an actual pair such as Nos. 77 and 78, confirmed how tellingly close particular works were one to another in tone and colour, as well as in technique and handling. Conspicuous amongst these pairings were Nos. I and 2; 26 and 27; 29 and 30; 33 and 34; 36 and 37; 41 [25A] and 43; 70 and 71; 74 and 75 (original portion); 85 and 87; 106 and 107; 111 and 112; 168 and 169; 235 and 236; and 247 and 248. Perhaps the most telling and beautiful of all such conjunctions were the copies in full colour after Rubens and Veronese, Nos. 2523 and 253. But the circumstantial dating of these two drawings to 1654, the year of Queen Christina's passage through Antwerp, rather than ten years earlier, still presents a problem. In the exhibition, they settled, one above the other, comfortably between two other highly finished drawings in the same style but in grisaille: the British Museum APOLLO AND PAN [No. 208] and the Hermitage EDUCATION OF JUPITER [No. 209], both seemingly drawn c. 1645, the year in which Jordaens is first known to have been in contact with the Queen through Harald Appelbom.


Number references in square brackets are to entries in the catalogue; those in round brackets refer to other sources. Figure references in square brackets are to the comparative material listed on pages 15-36 of the catalogue; round brackets identify the figures accompanying this article.

Jordaens and Calvinism

Since the exhibition closed, Professor d'Hulst's article (see note 2) has appeared with an interesting discussion of the membership of Jordaens and his father-in-law and teacher, Adam van Noort, in the Reformed Church. As evidence of Jordaens's early Calvinism, d'Hulst adduces the Leningrad version of PAUL AND BARNABAS PREACH1NG AT LYSTRA, dating it c. 1615, which may be more correct than the date c. 1617 proposed in the Ottawa catalogue [see No. 75]. Although d'Hulst uses this work and the St. Louis " "SUFFER THE LITTLE CH1LDREN TO COME UNTO ME" (MATTHEW XXIX, 13-15; MARK X, 13-16; LUKE XVIII, 15-17) to argue for Jordaens's early Calvinism, there are unfriendly Catholic interpretations of the same subjects from the same period, including Van Dyck's CHRIST BLESSING THE CHILDREN in the National Gallery of Canada (No. 4293). (4) In default of more evidence than d'Hulst provides, it seems wiser not to interpret these two paintings of the artist's early twenties as specific declarations of Calvinist convictions. This topic is treated further by me in the Bulletin of the i. B. Speed Art Museum (Louisville, Kentucky), XVII, No. 2, May 1970.

Jordaens's Use of Paper

Jordaens made extensive use of paper as a support: when working in oils, for studies of heads or arms [e.g., Nos. 2, 25-27, 42, 56], and for modelli and modelletti of compositions [e.g., Nos. 42, 43, 59, 82-84, 104]; when working in gouache, for tapestry cartoons [e.g., Nos. 265-267]; as well as when using a wide variety of other media on a smaller scale for what are conventionally classed as drawings. His use of complex arrangements of rectangles and strips, sometimes of more irregular shapes, in the make-up of these supports has often been remarked. And clearly the limitations on size of a sheet of paper made by hand left him no alternative to such composite arrangements when preparing cartoons with larger-than-life figures for the weavers. But the complexity to be found in the supports even of drawings [e.g., Nos. 183, 225] and oil sketches [e.g., Nos. 59, 82, 84], whose span could have been contained on single sheets of normal seventeenth-century dimensions, has occasioned some confusions about his working methods. These confusions, (5) springing from incorrect observations, have led beyond technical considerations to misinterpretations of working methods and dating. Fortunately, although such tapestry cartoons by Jordaens as survive intact were too frail to travel to Ottawa - and this vital stage in his production had to be represented by fragments only [Nos. 265-267] - a tremendous array of his graphic work on a smaller scale was exhibited; and there was an unequalled opportunity to study the idiosyncracies of his preparations for drawing. Facile assumptions that almost every strip of paper was an "addition" to his original sheet were dispelled. Such "additions" had been too often taken to have much later in his career, presumably because he manifestly treated a number of his paintings in this way [e.g., Nos. 73, 75, 114, 115], and indeed very occasionally a drawing [e.g., No. 261].

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