Portrait of a Couple, Franz Hals, c. 1622, Amsterdam Rijskmuseum
This happy couple posed for the great Dutch portrait artist Franz Hals in around 1622. They were married in April of that year. They seem completely at ease with each other, and they exude the joy of love. They are believed to be Isaac Abrahamz Massa and Beatrix van der Laen. The relaxed pose was unusual at a time when portraits were serious business. However, Hals was known to break conventional norms all the time in order to show the true humanity of his subjects. And these people were known to be friends of the artist.
Hals included references to love and marriage: a garden of love to the right, and to the left an eryngium thistle. This plant was a symbol of male fidelity. (Let’s hope Isaac took the symbol to heart). I’d like to think these two joyful people enjoyed a long and happy marriage. Happy Valentine’s Day, Isaac and Beatrix!
I took a short train ride from Amsterdam to the nearby town of Haarlem, especially to visit the Frans Hals Museum. One of the more charming pieces I found there featured monkeys and tulips. Frans Hals was a contemporary of Rembrandt; they competed for the same clientele of wealthy Dutch citizens during the Golden Age of Dutch painting, in the 1600s. His namesake museum has many Hals paintings, plus work by other artists of his time.
“A Satire of Tulip Mania” by Brueghel the Younger, Public Domain
“A Satire of Tulip Mania,” by Breughel the Younger, was painted in 1640, just after the debacle of the tulip boom and bust cycle. This was the seventeenth-century equivalent of the dot-com boom and bust. It was probably the first modern instance of rampant speculation in a commodity, followed by a crash. At the height of the frenzy, a single tulip bulb sold for ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.
Brueghel dressed his gullible monkeys in contemporary clothes and showed them facing debtor’s court and even urinating on discarded tulips, turned from priceless to worthless overnight.
Today the tulip trade is much more stable. The museum had spectacular arrangements of tulips and other spring flowers in every room.
Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!