By happy coincidence, the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum has just acquired two unusual and exciting Dutch paintings: Portrait of a Gentleman by Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck and Joseph Interpreting the Dreams of Pharaoh's Butler and Baker by Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijn. These mid-seventeenth-century oil paintings will be available for public viewing for the first time on March 21, with the opening of the museum's spring exhibition, Designing the Natural World through Dutch Eyes.
Verspronck's portrait of an expressly unadorned Dutch gentleman reflects the great sobriety of the Dutch reform movement. It also captures the Northern Dutch emphasis on individualism at a moment when booming Dutch trade was generating massive wealth for many of its citizens. Rather than representing his subject surrounded by the trappings of his material success (as was the fashion among many other portraitists at the time), Verspronck used tight strokes, tight framing, and an utterly plain background to foreground his subject's interior life.
The three figures of Volmarijn's Joseph Interpreting the Dreams of Pharaoh's Butler and Baker appear lit from within. They glow like lanterns against the inky shadows of the Pharaoh's prison. Idella Plimpton Kendall Professor of Art History John Varriano describes the painting as having had "some of the shock value of modern photography" for its seventeenth-century viewers. The highly theatrical work is a perfect example of the international Caravaggesque style, both for its dramatic, selective illumination, and for its down-to-earth portrayal of a religious narrative.
The Verspronck and Volmarijn paintings complement important Dutch works of art from the art museum's permanent collection, including seventeenth-century landscapes by Jan van Goyen, Jan Both, and Willem de Heusch. All of these works will be featured in Designing the Natural World through Dutch Eyes.
Museum visitors who fill out a visitor's survey will receive a postcard or a magnet-sized reproduction of Volmarijn's painting. Young visitors (including visitors who are young at heart) may participate in any of the museum's ongoing "Through Dutch Eyes" family activities, which will include a self-directed scavenger hunt and still life drawing.
On March 28, at 4:30 pm, Varriano will deliver what promises to be a fascinating gallery talk titled "The Dutch Paradox: Guilders and Guilt." All are welcome to the talk and reception, which is free and open to the public.