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Philips Angels Lof der schilder-konst

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image of Oud Holland - Journal for Art of the Low Countries

Philips Angel's Lof der schilder-const (In Praise of Painting, 1642) is one of the few pieces of writing we have as a source of notions on the theory of painting in the Netherlands. Yet it was not intended as an art-theoretical treatise: Angel read the text at a St. Luke's feast as part of the activities that were being undertaken to acquire guild rights for Leiden painters. In order to assess the value of the theoretical notions on which the paper is based, it is therefore necessary to analyse as far as possible the circumstances of its writing. First the Angel family is examined. Orginally from Antwerp, the Angels moved north in the 1590s, probably because of the Eighty Years' War, settling in Middelburg and Leiden. They were fairly prosperous middle-class citizens, mostly schoolteachers, painters and small shopkeepers. Both the Middelburg and Leiden branches produced painters called Philips Angel. The Middelburg Philips, almost certainly identical with a painter called Philips Angel who was active in Haarlem, is known to have produced quite a lot of paitings. Only one small etching by the Leiden Philips has survived; nothing is known of any paintings by him. The Leiden Philips, the author of Lof der schilder-const, had a turbulent career. He joined the painters who pressed for guild rights in Leiden, to which end he held his speech in 1641. As early as 1645, though, he gave up painting and travelled as an employee of the United East-Indian Compary to Indonesia. From there, promoted to the high rank of chief merchant, he was sent to Persia. He was dismissed on grounds of embezzlement, but managed to procure the post of court painter to the Shah. By 1656, however, he was back in Batavia (Jakarta), where he again obtained a number of highly regarded positions. Fired again for mismanagement and defalcation, his end was inglorious. The Lof der Schilder-const shows evident signs of a general tendency among Dutch painters of the mid-seventeenth century to claim a higher status for their profession. The text is duly meant less as a theoretical treatise than as a rhetorical amplificatio of the painter's profession. The author seems to have been reasonably well-read, although by no means scholarly; nor was he very conversant with the Italian art theory of his day. Scrutiny of the text reveals his superficial and undiscerning paraphrases of the few sources at his disposal (mainly Karel van Mander's Schilder-boeck and the Dutch translation of Franciscus Junius' De pictura veterum). Much of his eulogy is a summing-up of the distinguished characteristics a painter ought to have. The remarkable thing is that not one of those characteristics provides specific insight into the professional practise of the Leiden painters around 1641. As far as they are at all relevant to what was being painted in Leiden at that time - take the Leiden 'Precise School' of Gerard Dou's circle -, his remarks provide little more insight than a superficial consideration of the paintings would arouse in any layman.


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