Case Study
 
           
           

Historical Rewards:

A Dutch and a Flemish Discovery
           

Egbert van der Poel
"Barn Interior" 164[6]
After Treatment
           
           
           
 

Related Themes
 
           
           
The Children
           
It was noted in the painting's initial examination that "two children, one seated and one standing, are placed next to a single-wheeled cart in the central area. The standing child appears to be drinking from a container." The discovered inclusion of the flayed pig now offers an understanding of the child's pose. Using art historical references, the child's purpose becomes clear and can be revisited similarly on genre, historical, and symbolic levels.
           

Egbert van der Poel
Detail "Barn Interior" 164[6]
After Treatment
           
In reexamining the sixteenth-century van Cleve, one notices two children in the doorway along the painting's right edge. The standing child is riveted on his younger sibling who is "blowing up a balloon." While it may appear that the child is blowing up a balloon, in the context of the painting, the youth is actually inflating the animal's bladder. The inflated sac was a common children's toy during this time period. (22)
           

Martin van Cleve
"The Slaughtered Pig" 1566
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna



Martin van Cleve
Detail "The Slaughtered Pig" 1566
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
           
Isaac van Ostade reiterated this theme in the below images from 1642 and 1645. Both paintings include children playing with a pig's bladder. The seated child in Ostade's 1642 version is remarkably similar to the child in the treated painting, suggesting that van der Poel may have been aware of this earlier image. The standing child in the treated painting is not "drinking from a container"; he is inflating the animal's bladder. On a genre level, these artists were simply showing a common scene. Children would have delighted in using the bladder as an amusing toy.
           

Isaac van Ostade
"The Slaughtered Pig" 1642
Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem

Isaac van Ostade
Detail "The Slaughtered Pig" 1642
Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem
           

Isaac van Ostade
"The Slaughtered Pig" 1645
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille

Isaac van Ostade
Detail "The Slaughtered Pig" 1645
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille
           
The interplay between the children and the pig is now clear. But what is the meaning behind the children? Why are they included? And what is the significance of the bladder/balloon?
           
The symbolism of the balloon is rooted in the "homo bulla" motive. "Homo bulla" means "man is a bubble" and was a well-known saying in the sixteenth century. (23) Erasmus explains the classical saying "ut duciter, homo bulla" in his Adagia from 1500 stating, "The lesson of this proverb is that there is nothing so fragile, so fleeting and so empty as the life of man. A bubble is that round swollen empty thing which we watch in the water as it grows and vanishes in a moment in time." (24)
           
A bubble, like a balloon, is a reminder that our world can vanish in a moment. This imagery is perfectly symbolized in Karel van Sichem's "Homo Bulla" etching from 1617, pictured to the right. (25) A young child is depicted blowing bubbles as he sits on a skull. One of the bubbles is even labeled "Homo." The meaning of the etching clearly relates to the balloon imagery in the treated painting.

Karel van Sichem
"Homo Bulla" 1617
Private Collection
           
Frans van Mieris's 1663 "Boy Blowing Bubbles," pictured right, reflects a similar theme. While the bubble imagery symbolizes life's transience, van Mieris repeats this motif throughout the composition: the painting is dated in Roman numerals, a numbering system from a once seemingly invincible civilization; the window frame is weathered and chipped; and the right sunflower suggests the daily movement of time. As a side note, the sunflower leaves were originally painted green using a mixture of blue and yellow pigments, but over time the fugitive yellow pigment has broken down leaving only the blue. "Even the painting itself is a bubble in time." (26)

Frans van Mieris
"Boy Blowing Bubbles" 1663
Mauritshuis Gallery, The Hague
           
Rembrandt's below left etching "Sleeping Hog" from 1643 is also symbolic of life's ephemeral nature. The resting hog, unaware of his fate, lies peacefully in the foreground while the young child gleefully clutches his toy balloon. A reexamination of the van Cleve reveals a similar theme: the child at the right is holding a toy arrow--a foreshadowing of the bubble's fate. The thematic relationship of life and death, balloon and bubble, here today/gone tomorrow is also mirrored in van der Poel's figures.
           

Rembrandt van Rijn
Detail "Sleeping Hog" 1643
Private Collecion

Martin van Cleve
Detail "The Slaughtered Pig" 1566
Kunst Historisches Museum, Vienna
           
           
 

The Figures
 
           
The woman is placed next to the flayed pig. She holds a long spoon and appears to be preparing food in a shallow mixing bowl. Her juxtaposition to the animal reinforces that the pig is sustenance while also emphasizing her role in offering sustenance for the family.
           
Her image, on the left, is contrasted with the two men smoking long clay pipes on the right. The imagery of pipes and smoke relates to the Dutch saying "des menschen leven gaat al een rook verbij" ("man's life passes as smoke"). (27) The smoking urn in the pictured "Homo Bulla" carries a similar connotation.
           

Egbert van der Poel
Detail "Barn Interior" 164[6]
After Treatment

Egbert van der Poel
Detail "Barn Interior" 164[6]
After Treatment
           
David Bailly's (1584-1657) 1651 "Self Portrait with Vanitas Symbols," below left, is a multi-focus image that contains numerous references to life's ephemeral character: the skull, the overturned glass, the extinguished candle, the severed flower on the table, and the hourglass on the right. Bailly's composition, like van der Poel's "Barn Interior," includes a long clay pipe and smoke. These references are "hidden" within van der Poel's apparent genre composition. Once interpreted, they are transformed from the incidental to the meaningful.
           
A humorous play on life's reflections and understandings is rendered lower left in David Teniers's 1642 "House with Slaughtered Ox." While the woman prepares the cut meat, she takes a moment to glance at the animal that returns her gaze with a deeper comprehension of life and death.
           

David Bailly
"Self Portrait with Vanitas Symbols" 1651
Stedelijk Museum, Leiden.

David Bailly
Detail "Self Portrait with Vanitas Symbols" 1651
Stedelijk Museum, Leiden.
           

David Teniers the Younger
"House with Slaughtered Ox" 1642
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

David Teniers the Younger
Details "House with Slaughtered Ox " 1642
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
           
           
 

Final Thoughts
 
           

Egbert van der Poel
"Barn Interior" 164[6]
After Treatment
           
Returning van der Poel's "Barn Interior"--a signed, seventeenth-century, Dutch painting in a small college's collection, the pendant of which hangs in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam--to its original composition was a personal reward for the author.
           
While finds of this nature are rare, another startling discovery evolved in the treatment of the Figge Art Museum's "Crowning of St. Catherine." A review of this painting's condition follows on the next page.
           
           
Footnotes    
(22) Reference of bladder used as a toy from Bergervoet, N.
(23) Bergervoet, N.
(24) Erasmus, Desiderius. The Adages of Erasmus. Google Books. William Watson Barker Editor. Adagia II, 3,48. p.171. Accessed 1/7/09
(25) This image is depicted in Bergervoet, N. and in the on-line article As Time Goes By, by Daniel Hiltbrunner. http://oldprints.wordpress.com/2006/09/18/as-time-goes-by. Accessed 1/10/09.
(26) Van Mieris image depicted in Hiltbrunner, D. While the author recognized the fugitive character of the yellow pigment, Mr. Hiltbrunner's wonderful phrase is quoted for the last sentence.
(27) Kelly, Raymond J. To Be or Not To Be: Four Hundred Years of Vanitas Painting. Flint Institute of Arts. 2006. p.22.
           
           

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Table of Contents, Biography, "Barn Interior" Examination, Treatment,
The Flayed Pig, Related Themes, "The Crowning of St. Catherine" Examination

 





Barry Bauman Conservation
Contact: Mr. Barry Bauman
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