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In the Age of Rembrandt

July 15th, 2019

Jan Steen, An Elegant Company Playing Cards, about 1660. Oil on panel. 45.7 x 60.3 cm. Promised gift of Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo, in support of the Center for Netherlandish Art. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Field trip! This week the AGOinsider paid a visit to the ROM to see the latest exhibition In the Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. And yes, we didn’t forget our permission slips. And no, we weren’t disappointed.

Featuring 70 paintings, including intensely observed still life paintings, detailed interiors, moody cityscapes and mesmerizing portraits, these striking artworks tell a nuanced and rich story of life in 17th century Netherlands. But as we found out, not all is as it seems. Because of their highly accomplished levels of realism, many of these works contain hidden meanings, with artists delighting in curious detail, metaphor and visual puns.

Exhibit A: Rachel Ruysch’s Still Life with Flowers, 1709.

Rachel Ruysch, Still Life with Flowers, 1709. Oil on canvas, 78 x 64 cm. Promised gift of Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo, in support of the Center for Netherlandish Art. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

At first glance, this exquisite painting appears to be a celebration of colour and beauty. But a second look brings the eye to the broken stem of a marigold. Why would Ruysch choose to spotlight this? To remind us that life is as fragile as a flower.

Exhibit B: Jan de Bray’s Portrait of a Boy holding a Basket of Fruit, 1658.

Jan de Bray, Portrait of a Boy holding a Basket of Fruit, 1658. Oil on panel. 67.9 x 56 cm. Charles H. Bayley Picture and Painting Fund and other funds. 1992.475. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

At first look, the ivy trailing over the boy’s arm in this picture may not seem terribly odd. However, when you consider that ivy is a plant that overruns others and that fruit requires careful cultivation, one has to wonder if the artist is actually commenting on the moral fate of his subject, as he appears to be between symbols of good and bad upbringing.

These are a few of the exciting details on view this summer as the ROM hosts these remarkable works of art from the Dutch Golden Age. And get ready for more 17th century masterpieces this fall, when the AGO celebrates the return of The Massacre of the Innocents, part of Early Rubens, opening on October 12.

Admission to the AGO Collection and all special exhibitions is always free for AGO Members, AGO Annual Pass holders and visitors 25 and under. For more information, please visit the website.

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