The invention of the solo exhibition

The Rijks Conserven contain a lovely fruit syrup with cinnamon, which would be perfect to serve at a children’s party. The syrup is inspired by Still life with fruit (1668) by Johannes Hannot (1650 – 1683). And if anybody knew how to throw an artist’s party in the 17th century, it would probably be Hannot. He was not only an excellent still life painter, he was also a wealthy wine merchant.

Still life with fruit (1668) by Johannes Hannot
Still life with fruit (1668) by Johannes Hannot

Because of his love of the arts and his wealth, Hannot became the patron of one of the most important painters of his time, Gerard Dou (1613-1675). Although less known nowadays, Dou was the student of now one of the best known painters of the 17th century: Rembrandt van Rijn. It’s a small world, after all.

In 1655, Hannot’s property in the Breestraat, opposite the town hall of Leiden, became the location of the first known solo exhibition by a living artist. Other artists and city residents paid a small fee to see 27 panels by Gerard Dou. The works were carefully protected from curious hands; they were hung in small greenhouses, behind glass. That was also a clear statement: these works are of great value.

Painting with umbrellas

Dou was loved by many because of his breathtaking technique. The artist used a magnifying glass and brushes with only two or three hairs to achieve the finest, most detailed realism possible at the time. He was also an absolute master of glazing. With this technique he created the suggestion of depth, although the surface of the panels stayed smooth as a mirror. He painted layer upon layer, until the illusion of reality was complete. And he was careful not the mess up his work; he always had an umbrella hanging over his head while painting, to ensure that no dust particles from this workshop could end up in his work.

Because of his extreme realism, Dou had the reputation of a magician. But his patron, Johannes Hannot, was not without merit himself. His works also show precise and delicate brushwork. He also loved to use luminous colours and paint fruits, flowers, crystals and flower vases, often with added insects, although no insects are present on the still life from 1668. Instead, in this work he focused on the ripeness of the depicted fruits, their delicious juices and their delightful taste. It almost one big advertisement for a lovely fruit syrup!

All of the Rijks Conserven, including the fruit syrup, are available at the webshop of the Rijksmuseum.

Fenneke van der Aa

Fenneke van der Aa is an art historian and journalist. For Spoon of Art she explores and writes about the merging of art, history and food.

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