Exhibition Call for Justice, Art and Law in the Netherlands (1540-1650)

For the past few years, GEMS member Samuel Mareel has taken on the role of curator for the exhibition Call for Justice, Art and Law in the Netherlands (1540-1650). He worked together with Manfred Sellink and Elsje Janssen. The expo is held in the new museum Hof van Busleyden in Mechelen, a sixteenth-century Burgundian palace thScreen Shot 2018-04-19 at 12.35.35.pngat was restored recently for this purpose. Call for Justice is open from 23 March until 26 June 2018.

The exhibition highlights the rich and fascinating interaction between art, law and justice in the Netherlands from the 15th to the 17th century. In turbulent political and religious times, central institutions such as the Great Council of Mechelen gradually came to exercise more control over the legal process. While the administration of justice became more professional, it also became more unwieldy and less accessible. So it is no coincidence that justice and its administration feature as one of the most prominent themes in the art of the Low Countries in this period.

The exhibition builds on three central themes: justice, jurisprudence and injustice. You will discover prestigious masterpieces by artists such as Quentin Massys, Maarten van Heemskerck, Peter Brueghel the Elder, Maarten de Vos, Peter Paul Rubens, Antoon van Dyck and Philippe de Champaigne. Call for Justice examines the legal, historical and cultural context in which these works were created, gradually revealing one of the most universal human desires, namely the pursuit of justice and the complexity when it comes face-to-face with reality.

Some of the most prestigious museums in the world have loaned works for this exhibition. They include the Prado and the Patrimonio Nacional in Madrid, the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford as well as national and international private collections. Call for Justice is the closing event of the OP.RECHT.MECHELEN city festival.



GEM: Auerbach in English

Auerbach kaftStill looking for a last-minute Christmas gift? Princeton University Press just published Time, History, and Literature: Selected Essays of Erich Auerbach. Twelve of these essays, by one of the most continuously inspiring literary critics of the twentieth century, have never been translated into English before, others, such as the famous ‘Figura’ were only available in the hard-to-come-by Scenes from the Drama of European Literature from 1984. The topics dealt with by Auerbach in the texts from this volume range from typology in medieval literature, via the notion of world literature, to Proust. Time, History, and Literature was translated from German by Jane O. Newman, who was a guest of GEMS in May 2011, when she presented her previous book, Benjamin’s Library: Modernity, Nation, and the Baroque in the context of the GEMS Atelier series.

GEM: An early modern author portrait


Pictured above is a miniature oil on copper portrait (11×9 cm.) by the eighteenth century Dutch painter Jan Maurits Quinkhard. As a small inscription on the back of the portrait indicates, the individual depicted is Matthijs de Castelein, a sixteenth century Flemish priest and rhetorician poet and playwright. The painting belongs to an extensive series of portraits of about the same shape, size and material that Quinkhard made of writers from the early modern Low Countries. Other authors in the series, which is now conserved in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, are Jason Pratensis, Nicolaas Heinsius, Jacob Lascaille and Constantijn Huygens.

When Quinkhard painted his portrait of De Castelein the author had been dead for about two hundred years. Quinkhard probably made the painting on the basis of an older engraving, a technique that he also used for other portraits in his series. Two extant early seventeenth-century editions of works by De Castelein, printed by Felix van Sambix in 1612 and by Jan van Waesberghe in 1616, contain an almost identical portrait, probably the same one that Quinkhard knew.

Thanks to the portrait in the 1612 and 1616 prints, Matthijs de Castelein is the oldest Dutch rhetorician of whom we know (or believe that we know) what he looked like. Quinkhard’s skill as a portraitist and his use of the medium of oil paint has added a more genuinely human countenance to the somewhat sketchy face in the copper engraving. Looking at Quinkhard’s portrait thus provides the viewer with a sense of immediacy and physical presence of an author who lived almost five centuries ago. For anyone interested in authors and authorship from that period, this is a rare and therefore all the more exhilarating sensation.

But what is it that we are actually looking at? Continue reading