Skip to main content

Jacob Jordaens

Jordaens Family of the artist
The Family of the Artist, ca.1621

Born on May 19, 1593, Jacob Jordaens was a Flemish painter from the Baroque era who worked together on occasion with Anthony Van Dyke under the workshop of Peter Paul Rubens. Jordaens' style, having been taught by Adam van Noort, the same teacher as Rubens, is often difficult to discern between the two and today several drawings and oil sketches require scholarly interpretation to identify the artist. His paintings however are a Rubenesque-Caravaggio Baroque flavor that is uniquely Jordaens with his strong dramatically-lit figures, dynamic composition and vibrant palette. Having never travelled to Italy, Jordaens' artistic inspiration came from studying copies or originals available within his vicinity. His work has an immediacy and depth that is more inviting than his Flemish counterparts, and you can see this in person studying his work in that he relies on color and chiaroscuro. Jordaens, like Rubens, most often painted on a massive scale.

In The Family of the Artist above, Jordaens portrays himself confidently with his wife and daughter, although it is unclear whom the woman is seated with her arm around the young daughter. Note the dark palette, accented by his wife Catherine who is wearing red and he pinches her blouse unaffectionately. Despite the various symbols of fidelity and marriage throughout the painting, the dog in the corner appears to be snarling as if ridiculing the idea of faithfulness. Jordaens holds a lute in his left hand, both a popular instrument of the time and a symbol of faithfulness. Jordaens manages to create an atmosphere of formality and warmth here, and the use of contrasting cool and warm colors underlines this duality.

Below are some samples of Jordaens' superb knowledge of line and shading in whatever medium he chose. He had an innate ability to conjure character whether in portraiture or the nude.

Jacob Jordaens - Female Nude, Seen from the Back - Google Art Project
Female Nude Seen from Behind, 1601

Two Kneeling Male Nudes, ca. 1615-16

Study for Boating party, ca.1635

Portrait of a Young Woman, ca. 1635–40

Head of an Old Woman, with a Ruff and a Cap ca.1660

Jordaens Portrait of a Young Married Couple
Portrait of a Young Married Couple, 1620

An example of Jordaens' formal portraiture, the identity of this couple is unknown but it is clear they came from a family of status and wealth. I love the spontaneity of their facial expressions;it has the immediacy of a photograph. While Jordaens may lack the penetrating psychology of Van Dyck, here he shows us not only natural facial expression but how costume can define a portrait. The brushwork on the young woman's costume is varied and beautiful, from the ornate tracery of her sleeves to the Titian-like warmth of the red skirt, and the silvery-greenish gold hues of the inner blouse is gorgeous. The man, in contrast, is painted in a traditional Flemish dark cloak that reveals few details but reveals a patriarchial status that is not to be questioned.

Jordaens Satyr and the peasant Kassel
The Satyr and the Peasant, ca.1620

A subject that was painted by Jordaens more than once, it illustrates a story from Aesop's Fables where a Satyr is invited to dine with a man to learn more about people. Earlier the Satyr sees the man blow on his hands and when asks why, the man tells him it is to keep his hands warm. Later, while eating the man blows on his soup and when asked why again by the Satyr, he is told it is to cool down his soup. The Satyr is offended and states that he cannot trust a man who "with the same breath blows hot and cold". The moral of the story is the contradictory nature of humanity, and here Jordaens' genius for anatomy, facial expression, contrasting textures and color is in full force. The Satyr is portrayed as a straggly old man with such stark realism as to make us disbelieve we are looking at a mythological figure. Jordaens also portrays all ages here from the child in the mother's arms right through to the elderly Satyr. The use of hand gestures is also intriguing in helping to tell the story and to lead the eye throughout the figures. And the crossed feet of the man, woman and child reflect the "contradictory" nature of humanity to contrast with the Satyr, whose hooved feet are carefully placed together as if to appear like one.

Two Views of an Old Woman’s Head, c. 1620

Jordaens' natural craft for painting faces with smooth blending, character lines and warm skin tones is hypnotic here. His facility for painting the elderly is absolutely superb.

Four Evangelists Jordaens Louvre Inv1404
The Four Evangelists, ca.1630

A very popular subject for painting during the Baroque era, Jordaens once again demonstrates his uncanny ability to create personality from anyone, whether religious, mythological or genre painting. Note how he groups the heads in a way that is visually interesting, separated into two groups, with the second two at nearly right angles while the first two at a lower plane but with descriptive hand gestures to help tell the story. Jordaens also varies the facial expressions and pays particular attention to the lips of each person. The drapery here has a flowing quality that leads the eye upward to the faces drawn into their writings.

Jacob Jordaens - Portret van Rogier Le Witer
Portrait of Rogier Le Witer (1591-1678), Merchant in Antwerp, 1635
click here for zoomable version at the Rijksmuseum

This stunning portrait of an Anterp merchant showcases Jordaens' unique talent for immediacy and beautiful brushwork. Note the restraint in how he paints the highlights of the forehead with muted yellow drybrush, and warm dark shadows under the eyebrows. Those thin, transparent strokes of hair on the edges of his head add a natural and friendly disposition to this otherwise formal portrait, and even though the lips are hardly defined it adds a dimension that is inviting and honest nonetheless. Contrast this with Van Dyck, who would have never painted anyone unless their eyes and lips were the central dynamic of the portrait. Each artist has his own way of seeing people, and what they choose to focus on is what we ultimately see and experience. Look at the character in those hands, painted in very cool grey drybrush tones. Never underestimate simplicity.

Jordaens Christ driving the Merchants from the temple
Christ Driving the Merchants from the Temple, 1650

A Rubenesque scene of full Baroque splendor, I had the pleasure of seeing this and other Jordaens works at the Louvre a month ago. This popular biblical scene has received so many interpretations from so many great artists, but here Jordaens' unique approach is symphonic and chaotic at the same time. Jordaens does not believe in halos for religious figures...Christ here is identified only by his colorful robe contrasting warm and cool.It is interesting how Jordaens sees humour in scenes such as this, with many of the figures here gleeful that Christ is disrupting the greed and kicking some ass in the process. Note how the main action is towards the bottom center of the composition while the top, left and right of the frame depicts various figures both seated and standing but calmly reacting to the chaos. Note the donkey at far left watching the ensuing action with bemusement.

Jordaens had an eye that although was greatly influenced by his peers, he developed a style so uniquely his own and unwittingly outlived Van Dyck and Rubens to become a giant in Flemish painting in his time. Today however, he remains under the shadow of his two great colleagues, and for no good reason. I encourage anyone travelling to see his work in person, it is truly wonderful.


Popular posts from this blog

More Old Master Drawings

There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body.
Robert Henri

Charles Louis Müller, A Standing Female Nude Leaning Against an Arch, ca.1864

Once again I decided to talk about some Old Master drawings and delve into the thinking behind how these drawings may have been created and the knowledge of the artist. In the above drawing by Müller, done in sanguine with white chalk highlights, the figure is drawn from a low view-point, with her body twisting toward her left side while resting on one knee. Note how Müller alternates the bent right leg with the bent left arm to create dynamic contrast. The right arm is also foreshortened and partially in shadow. Expressing power and femininity, this is a study that is Renaissance in spirit, even Mannerist, revealing the female nude as sculptural yet always graceful.

Anton Raphael Mengs, Seated male nude viewed from the back, 1755

One of several Academic nude studies by Mengs, this …


Nymphs and Satyr, 1873

If there is one artist today that hardly needs an introduction, it would be William-Adolphe Bouguereau, supreme giant of 19th century Academic art. Born on November 30, 1825 in La Rochelle on the southwest of France, his talent would define the era he lived in only to fall into obscurity for decades after his death in 1905 until as recent as the early 1980's, shockingly. Today he has the distinction of being lionized by the Art Renewal Center as one of the greatest artists of all time while at the other end of the spectrum vilified by modernists as artificially perfect and sentimental. In fact it is quite rare to see such polarization over an artist of a calibre like Bouguereau, whose bravura is difficult to equal yet at the same time thematically his work admittedly tends toward women and children, a subject matter that sold well and he had endless patience for. Over the vast array of his oeuvre, some 820 paintings, I have tried to find some of his very b…

Pompeo Batoni

Apollo and two Muses, 1719

Giant of the Rococo and early Neoclassicism, Pompeo Batoni was born on January 25, 1708 in Lucca, Italy. Immensely popular in his time, his name sadly is not commonly recognized today because like many Old Masters, his work is not defined by one or two singular masterpieces but by an oeuvre that is overall, incredible. Batoni is something of an anomaly in that he had the midas touch in every genre he worked in, whether portraiture, mythological, and biblical. He trained under a few painters, notably Sebastiano Conca yet he quickly fused his own style together by reinterpreting Classicism with his own vigor for dynamic posing, color and anatomy that he felt was lacking in many artists of the Rococo. His reputation as a portraitist in Rome was highly successful, particularly for many British patrons of the Grand Tour who had heard of Batoni by word of mouth and sought his genius.

In Apollo and two Muses above Batoni seems to conjure mythology and Classicism w…