To the National Gallery in London to see Dutch portraits. Rembrandt and Frans Hals. A strange thing, they couldn’t paint children, they made them look like little adults. I was aware that medieval painters did this, but I was surprised to find that the Dutch masters still hadn’t mastered it. This one’s Frans Hals, Catharina Hooft and Her Nurse, around 1620.
Is the baby's head big enough? I'm not sure. Has the artist has made the head to body ratio that of an adult? But Betsy Wieseman, a curator at the National Gallery, points out that the picture is interesting in another way, that the nurse is not in a subservient role, and is just as much the subject of the painting as the rich child. In 17th century Netherlands, she says, if you encountered someone walking down the street or at market, you might not be able to distinguish from dress or demeanour whether they were servant or master. As portrayed in the film of Girl with the Pearl earring, she said.
The exhibition catalogue says that in the seventeenth-century the rising Dutch merchant class was eager to record its newly-found prosperity by commissioning an unprecedented number of portraits, of which this is a sample. It is now thought of as the golden age of Dutch Baroque portraiture.
Betsy Wieseman mentioned this picture on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week in August 2007.
Image courtesy of about.com (art history)