Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My Favorite Paintings in Prince William V Gallery, Den Haag

In Den Haag, beside the estimable Mauritshuis, I also made a stop at a smaller museum - Prince William V Gallery (Galerij Prins Willem V).  The Prince William V Gallery was the first public collection of paintings in the Netherlands dating back to 1774.  It showcased the eighteenth-century painting collection of the  Stadholder William V, Prince of Orange-Nassau (1748-1806), in its original setting of long and high-ceilinged room, cramped from top to bottom of the walls.  Many of the highlights from the original collections were moved to Mauritshuis in 1822 but it still contained some impressive paintings. There were about 150 paintings hang in the Gallery, mainly by Dutch and Flemish masters such as Steen, Potter, van Mieris, van Honthorst and Rubens.

I am very partial to Greek mythology so it was no surprise that I was attracted to the painting named Sisyphus, a king punished by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this action forever.

Sisyphus, c. 1660-1665, Antonio Zanchi (1631 - 1722)

Sisyphus / 西西弗斯 / Sisyphus
Sisyphus, 2003
Matthew Felix Sun
I found the Sisyphus by Antonio Zanchi (above) startling in its direct confrontation to its viewers.  The view point zoomed into the condemned laborer, and omitted all of the other elements in the story.  We saw only half of the hero, carrying the large, but not outsized stone, in some flowing draperies, which gave him some modesty and dignity.  Burdened by not beaten, this Sisyphus held himself together, muscles flashing, strides steady.  This was a defiant tragic figure. 

I found it worth pointing out that Zanchi painted no slope where the boulder was to repeatedly roll down.  When I made a painting on the same subject three years before my trip to the Netherlands, I was more interested in the overall impression and narrative of the story, than depicting the character of Sisyphus.  My boulder was much larger, the slope vertical and Sisyphus tiny without details.  Very different take from Zanchi, whose version, if not for the title, it could be depicting any human being in such a struggle.  That was why a well-known classic story so fascinating to reinterpret. 

The other painting I liked very much from that Gallery was titled Argus, Mercurius and Io, by Jacob van Campen.  Io was, in Greek mythology, a priestess of Hera in Argos, a nymph who was seduced by Zeus, who changed her into a heifer to escape detection. His wife Hera sent ever-watchful Argus Panoptes, with 100 eyes, to guard her, but Hermes was sent to distract the guardian and slay him. Heifer Io was loosed to roam the world, stung by a maddening gadfly sent by Hera, and wandered to Egypt, thus placing her descendant Belus in Egypt; his sons Cadmus and Danaus would then "return" to mainland Greece. [] 

Argus, Mercurius and Io, c.1630-1640, Jacob van Campen ( 1596 - 1657)

This painting was about disguise, deception and anticipation.  Here, Van Campen used the Roman name of the god, Mercury, who was a smooth and graceful youth, confidently lured the old Argus to sleep.  Argus was presented as a balding old man though with younger person's body, without his numerous extra eyes, which would adore Hera's peacock feathers.  I almost felt pity for Argus, knowing that he would be slay by the deceptive Hermes.  Also interesting to me were the two heifers in the background - one looked away indifferently, and the other peeping at the activity with intent interest - this one must be Io.  I also like the parallel poses Hermes/Mercury and Argus - their torsos and limps, formed a diamond shape - diagonal, dynamic, yet serene and sleepy.

Few dogs scattered across the painting enriched the setting and added some intrigue and nervous energy.  The gaze from Io/Heifer and from the black dog at the feet of Argus were full of anticipation and anxiety and I got a sense of upcoming storm, which was also reinforced by the dark clouds dramatically hanging high, again, in diagonal formation, added another touch of a high stake.

My Favorite Museum Collection Series

>> My Favorite Museum Collection Series 56: My Favorite Paintings in Groeninge Museum, Bruges (Brugge), Belgium
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List of My Favorite Artworks in the Museums I've Visited

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