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Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Artwork of the day

Four Members of the Amsterdam Coopers Guild, Gerbrand Van de Eeckhout, 1657, oil on canvas, National Gallery London 
The final kind of Dutch portraiture to discuss (although after a long gap due to arm pains) is the group portrait. Closely connected to professional and civic identity, it was widely commissioned not by families or individuals but by guilds and other professional bodies. These paintings were usually displayed in professional board rooms and their number in the Dutch Republic is exceptionally great.
One example is the artwork examined today by Gerbrand Van de Eeckhout. Four men from the Amsterdam guild of coopers are represented, the individual characteristics of which are portrayed, while their names written in one of the documents on the table. Several parts of the painting show the professional identity of the sitters with most notable being the picture of St Matthew, patron of the guild, holding the axe symbol of his martyrdom but also of the coopers' trade. The dog in front of them is a symbol of fidelity that aims to inspire the trust of the viewer along with the calm but determined faces of the protagonists. The painting looks like a photographic snapshot as the four men seem to spontaneously interrupt their work only for a moment to look at someone who has just entered the room.

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