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Davidgeeft Uria de brief voor Joab: Niet Govert Flinck, maar Jacob Backer

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

The large Daivid gives Uriah Joab's letter in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden has long been regarded as a late work by Govert Flinck, and compared with his David and Bathsheba, dated 1651, in Dublin. The two paintings are undoubtedly comparable as far as the composition is concerned. Nevertheless, these two history pieces differ considerably in style and technique. The figures in the Dublin picture are clearly recognizable as Flinck's stock-in-trade types, whereas none of the figures in David and Uriah seem to display any relationship to his painted oeuvre. Kurt Bauch pointed out the close relationship between the Dresden composition and the work of Jacob Backer as early as 1926, but did not question the traditional attribution. However, David gives Uriah Joab's letter was indeed painted by Jacob Backer and not by Flinck, his younger companion in Lambert Jacobsz.' Leeuwarden workshop. The painting, an early one, might best be compared with Backer's Saint John the Baptist Admonishing Herod and Herodias, signed and dated 1633, in Leeuwarden. Other paintings from this period, such as David and Nathan, Tribute Money (Stockholm) and thc recently auctioned Christ und the Woman Taken in Adultery, also have much in common stylistically with David and Uriah. Two figures in the Dresden painting certainly merit a closer examination. The old clerk who has just written Uriah's death sentence is a familiar face in Backer's oeuvre. He can be seen in several other paintings, including the early Democritus and Hippocrates, now in the collection of Alfred Bader. This face was evidently one of Backer's favourite 'tronies', for he painted at least four versions of this old man's head, two of which are also in Dresden. Another familiar face is that of Uriah himself. We encounter it in two studies, one of a Shepherd in Leeuwarden, the other of a Drinker in Berlin. Like the 'tronies' of the old man, these two seem to have been painted in the early 1630s. One wonders why the obvious relationship between the Dresden painting and several of Backer's history pieces and 'tronied' went unnoticed for so long. The chief reason seems to be that our knowledge of Backer's early development as a history painter has always been obscure: the signed Duvid and Nathan and the signed and dated Saint John the Baptist were published only recently.


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