Wednesday, August 26, 2020

"Threat Assessment"

10 x 10"
oil on panel

With my own traveling restricted most of this year and museums around the country closed until further notice, there have been many generous friends on Instagram who've allowed me to use their photos as a painting reference, including the one used for this painting.  Thanks to Jelmer, who photographed in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum.

The little girl is viewing the very dramatic The Threatened Swan by Jan Asselijn - and the story behind, what was the Rijksmuseum's first acquisition, is so interesting.  Asselijn painted this piece in 1650 - at first glance it's a furious swan defending her nest against the approaching dog on the bottom left (hidden behind the girl's head).  A closer look reveals three inscriptions - under the swan, translated, The Grand Pensionary, on one of the swan's eggs, translated, Holland and above the dog's head, translated, The Enemy of the State.

At the time the museum acquired the painting, it was understood as alluding to the famous Dutch statesman, Johan de Witt, who was the foreign policy guy also in charge of the commercial interests of Holland.  He strove for peace with England, a competitor and enemy of the province at the time.  De Witt's family symbol was also a swan, so it seemed obvious - the English dog threatening the swan symbolizing the enemy of the state.  You get the picture.  

But.... there's a big but - years later, someone realized the artist in fact died before De Witt even started his political career and he probably had no intention of his painting being propaganda.  It was then the museum discovered the inscriptions were added later but by whom remains a great mystery.

The painting on the girl's left is The Cannon Shot by Willem van de Velde the Younger.

Please click here for a larger view.

~ Stay safe. Stay healthy. Wear a mask.

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