The Story of A Wedding – Painting by Frans Hals Explained

hi welcome to stories of art my name is
Carel Huydecoper, today I’d like to tell you a story about this lovely
painting by Frans Hals it’s in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and was
made in 1622 now it’s a lovely double portrait that is a good opportunity for
me to tell you the sort of small details that you can find in a painting like
this that tell you more about the couples you see here but let me get out
of the way so I can get started with the story the people we see here in this
painting are Isaac Massa and Beatrix van der Laen they had gotten married
they were both prominent citizens of the city of Haarlem one of the wealthy
cities in Holland the more populous area of the Netherlands he was a rich
merchant she was the daughter of one of the mayors of the city now as I said
they came from Haarlem and Haarlem had been a rich city for ages I had only
just been sort of surpassed by Amsterdam which was more of a boomtown that had
only come to prominence in the past few decades but Haarlem already had a
painterly tradition for years and years and Frans Hals was the most talented of
the portrait painters of his generation he was in fact so famous at making these
portraits that people came from all kinds of different cities to be
portrayed by him which was unusual usually painters would go to where the
work was but Frans Hals didn’t like to travel so you had to come to him in this
case nobody had to travel because well these two people lived in Haarlem as well
and they were portrayed for the occasion of their wedding but the area we can see
them in is not Haarlem Haarlem is a city right next to the dunes the coastline of
the Netherlands and it’s a completely flat landscape like the background but
in the background we see what you might call a love garden it’s a garden filled
with well there’s couples walking around there’s uh there’s beautiful buildings
statues and there’s fountains and the fountains are
actually something that you don’t find in the Netherlands because we don’t have
fountains or we didn’t have any the reason for that is that Holland is flat
and to have a fountain you need water pressure and water pressure you get from
a water reservoir somewhere higher up then your fountain so ideally a lake in
the hills around your city we don’t have that we have dunes there are some little
ponds in there but not big enough to have a working fountain in fact just a
year before this painting was made in Amsterdam all fountains were banned you
were not even allowed to make one some people did but had to do it in well I
guess in secret because you had to have a reservoir on the on the roof of your
house only rainwater that you could catch on your roof you could use that
for your fountain so it couldn’t work all day long well for some reason the
City Council decided to ban all of these fountains because it because it led to
indecent behavior apparently but in this case I would say it’s a it’s a fountain
in a love garden in this for the fantasy landscape that they’re in now when we
move towards the couple themselves one of the things that of course always is
noticeable in all these paintings by Frans Hals is his brushwork it’s it’s very
fast it’s very loose sort of brushwork and it even looks as if if you look at
such a lace cuff like this one as if you’ve just painted it with these fast
strokes as if as if you’ve done it in a couple of minutes actually maybe he did
I don’t know what they were wearing actually they’re they’re wearing black
today we might expect a bride to wear white but that wasn’t a fashion yet but
that came into play only in the 19th century
no she’s wearing her Sunday best you might say her most festive clothing and
her most expensive clothing because all the fabrics you see are massively
expensive and apparently black cloth was more expensive than any
other and what she’s wearing around her neck is is particularly expensive
that’s a millstone collar millstone collars are as I said very very
expensive because they’re made up of a very long stretch of very fine linen
actually 30 meters of fine linen goes into one of these millstone collars you
had to fold them and tie them in every time you wore them which is not
something you can do by yourself then you needed two or three people to do
that so you would only wear that for something very very festive and because
it’s expensive it’s a lot of work to do and of course they get dirty and in
Haarlem they were actually very proud of their of the water around the city that
came from the dunes and that was very clear water and Haarlem was famous for
its industry of cleaning these these mill stone collars not just for for the
city itself but for people from all around and I have a painting here by
Jacob van Ruisdael where you can actually see these long strips outside
in a garden next to a house the white strip you see there is not actually the
Millstone collar would be kind of strange to wash one of these strips of linen and
then just putting them and then just putting them on the ground no there’s
sheets there and on top of them would be the white linen of the collars you can
also see that she is leaning on her new husband’s and you can she has her hand
sort of in between them it’s her right hand and on her right index finger
there’s a ring now that is kind of telling because that’s probably her
wedding ring we don’t know that much about the way people got married because
there were no standardized traditions as we have today in fact you didn’t even
have to go to a priest or a church or a judge or whatever all you had to do is
just agree to be married and then you were that so it wasn’t even recorded
anywhere unless you wanted it to be and people
would always advise to record it to write it down and to have witnesses and
if you didn’t you could easily get into trouble actually pretty much every town
in the Netherlands had a special sort of court for marriage troubles and these
marriage troubles were often deciding whether or not people were married but
one of the few traditions we think most people did was that the man would give a
ring to the woman and not so much the other way around by the way just the
mantid woman and he would place that ring on her right index finger the
reason for that is that there was this belief that there’s a special vein that
runs from your right index finger straight to the heart so that vein was
called the love vein and for that reason it’s placed on the index finger but that
only is for the the first bit of the marriage first six to eight weeks and
then the ring would move to the ring finger which is pretty much safer now
both of these people look pretty happy of course you would look happy on your
wedding portrait what you don’t immediately see is that there’s a pretty
big age difference between the two an age difference would be pretty normal in
the in the Netherlands at the time many couples had an age difference where the
man was about a decade older than the woman but in this case there and the age
difference is a lot bigger there he is twenty four years older than she is and
and apparently they made a little joke about them they showed in their painting
a reference to that from mythology and for that you have to look at the tree
behind them you see the tree behind them has plants growing all over it which
would not be unusual of course you could expect old trees to have ivy or
something growing on them but it’s not ivy its vines so grapes basically and
vines are not that normal in the Netherlands you don’t find them here
growing wild and cultivating wine is not something we do
large scale here in the Netherlands simply it’s simply too cold but it’s a
reference to a story from Roman mythology the story of Vertumnus in
Pomona if you want to know more about that story by the way I made a special
video about it and there tell you the story at length but here I’ll give you
the short version there once was a a God called Vertumnus and he was a God
that dealt with seasons and he fell in love with this female God Pomona she was
in charge of letting getting fruit to to grow he tried to seduce her try to woo
her and she rejected him and then he changed shape and came back and tried
again she rejected him again he changed shape a third time and
eventually a fourth time because she kept rejecting him and of course he had
to change shape four times because he’s a seasonal God and the fourth time he
told her a story about a tree and vines vines grow better when they have an old
tree to climb up against and she fell madly in love and they lived happily
ever after eternally I suppose they’re God’s it’s a
story about an older God the tree and the younger goddess climbing up against
the tree and finding support in the older tree and both would strengthen
each other and both will be better off so it’s kind of fitting to find that
story a reference of that story right behind these two lovebirds now this is
just a short story about this painting that you can still see in the Rijksmuseum
it’s there you can see it there life I guess and if you like this story then
please give me a thumbs up and if you want to see more of my videos of course
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thank you for listening and then hopefully you see you again bye


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