Jan Van Noordt

An Amorous Scene

Jan Van Noordt
( Amsterdam, 1620 - 1675, )

Oil on canvas : 131 x 174 cm

Collection of T. Ockley ; sale C. Fairfax Murray and others, London (Christie’s), 20 January 1920, lot 353 (as Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, Vertumnus and Pomona, canvas 52 x 671/2 inches [132 x 171.3 cm] ; to Tooth) ; London, A. Tooth & Sons, dealer, advertised in Burlington Magazine 66, October 1924, p. xxxi, November 1924, p. xxxiii, December 1926, January 1927 ; sale, London (Christie’s), 15 February 1929, lot 81 (as J. van Noordt, Cavalier and a Young Lady, with sporting figures and gypsies, canvas, 52x67 in. (132 x 170cm), for £136.10s) ; London, J. Leger & Son, advertised in Burlington Magazine 73, April 1931, p. xi ; United States, Private collection

1) Canvas, 117 x 188 cm, sale S. Eckman Jr. and others (anonymous section), London (Sotheby’s), 18 October 1967, lot 11 (as A Hunting Party Resting, by J. van Noort : “with a woman in elegant dress, an attendant and a negro holding a hawk and dogs in middle distance, four figures conversing in the background ; in a rocky setting with trees”) 2) Canvas, 128 x 179 cm, sale, London (Sotheby’s), 15 December 1976, no. 17 (as Vertumnus and Pomona, by Jan van Noordt : Pomona, in blue seated in the left foreground, Vertumnus disguised as an old woman covered by a brown shawl behind, a young man in balck with a black hat to the right, dogs and a servant with a falcon behind)

Maastricht, TEFAF 2006, exh. cat. p.114.

A. Staring, Weinig bekende portettisten. III. Joannes Van Noordt, Oud Holland, 61, 1946, p. 74 ; Cats 1966 ; S.J. Gudlaugsson, 1975, p. 29, ill. no. 25, 33 ; Benezit 1976, p. 750 ; W. Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt – Schüler, 1983-1996, vol. 1, p. 142, note 64 ; vol. VI, pp. 3534 - 3535, note 88, ill. p. 3576 ; P. Schatborn, Tekeningen van Jan van Noordt, Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum, 27, 1979, pp. 119-120, ill. no. 3 ; I. Gaskell, Transformations of Cervantes “La Gitanilla” in Dutch Art, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 45, 1982, pp. 263, 267, ill. 46A ; P. van den Brink in exh. cat., Utrecht 1993, pp. 22, 235 and 238, note 1 (conflates the present picture and the second copy, given below) ; W. Sumowski, 1998, p. 79, note 15 ; D. de Witt in Van Noordt : Painter of History and Portraits in Ams, McGill Queens Univ Pr., 2007, pp. 146 – 149, illus. p. 147.

To the right stands a man leaning against a large rock. He turns to the left, and looks across to a young woman in a satin gown, seated on a mound near the centre, who returns his gaze. Behind her is an old hag, draped in a rough cloak with a hood. Further back are some more figures, including a young black man holding a falcon. Previously, it had been identified as a genre-like "Cavalier et une Jeune Femme," or the classical story of Vertumnus and Pomona. Gudlaugsson pointed out the connection to Jacob Cats’ Het Spaense Heydinnetje (The Spanish Gypsy Girl) of 1637, a Dutch adaptation in verse poetry of Cervantes’s La Gitanilla di Madril first published in 1610 (1). More recently it has become clear that Van Noordt’s painting follows an adaptation of this story for the stage, published in 1643 by Mattheus Gansneb Tengnagel (2). Especially the roses in Pretioze’s hair and hands, and her luxurious white gown, are explicity mentioned by Tengnagel, in his monologue of Don Jan as he spies on the gypsy band, with Pretioze in their midst (3).

But heavens, what do I see ! This is beyond my understanding !
It is a gypsy band of men and of women !
People strew flowers about ! They must be holding a wedding !
Or it is a preliminary for a similar feast.
And if someone was married, then it was the one,
Who in white clothing sits in the middle preening.
I wish that she would just look around ! There she turns to look !
what sparkle [...]

Because she is dressed splendidly, Don Jan at first mistakes her for the goddess Diana. It is an aspect not reflected in Cat’s earlier version of the story. Cats’s poem was published with print illustrations by Adriaen van de Venne, including one of the scene of the first meeting. There, the figure of Pretioze wears rather plain clothing (4).

The somewhat affected pose of Don Jan is explained by reference to the play, which indicates that he is already saddened by the recent loss of his mother, and that he has taken great fright at the voices of the Gypsy band deep in the forest. He is a little crazed, and first thinks that Pretioze is the goddess Diana, taken prisoner by a band of devils. It is in this rather helpless state that he is then smitten with love for her. Van Noordt paid special attention to the figure of Don Jan, devising a limp-wristed gesture to project his emotional state. The artist arrived at this invention in a lavish and careful preparatory study drawing, in the Amsterdam Rijksprentenkabinet (cat. no. D12).

Van Noordt painted this picture around 1660. Its composition does not relate to previous depictions by other artists, but rather to his own painting of The Triumph of David, likely done a few years earlier. It shows the same approach of placing of important figures at some distance across from each other, in the foreground. Perhaps a theatrical device, to create tension between them, is reflected here.

Dr. David de Witt
Bader Curator of European Art

1 - See : Gudlaugsson 1945.
Agnes Etherington Art Centre
Queen’s University, Kingston

2 - The frontispiece to Tengnagel’s text mentions the play’s performance at the Schouburg in that year. See : Tengnagel 1643, frontispiece.

3 - Tengeagel 1643, p. 76. Tengnagel’s text has two parts, the first a heavily-moralizing prose recounting of the story of Don Jan and Konstance/Pretioze, and the second a play version of the same story. The prose section contains greater description, going so far as to specify that Pretioze’s white dress shows blue reflections, and that her white skin is blue-veined. On the other hand, the play mentions the wreathes of flowers being woven by Pretioze, that also appear in the painting, but are not cited in the prose text.

4 - Gaskell observed that the luxurious costume of Pretioze in Van Noordt’s painting discounted the connection drawn by Gudlaugsson to Van de Venne’s print. Gaskell, who only knew the London sale picture, thought that Pretioze wore a diadem in her hair, referring to Don Jan’s mistaking her for Diana ; it is, however, a rose, as Van den Brink has pointed out. See : Gaskell 1982, p. 263 ; Gudlaugsson 1945, p. 33 ; Peter van den Brink, in exhibition catalogue Utrecht 1993, pp. 236, 238 note 5.