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The Dutch Laughed in Their Golden Age



(p. 16) HAARLEM, the Netherlands -- If you were asked to quickly close your eyes and conjure a picture of the Dutch Golden Age, you might come up with an image of dour, pale figures clad all in black with stiff white ruffs bracing their necks. But it may be time to update that image.

Jokes, and particularly coarse or bawdy humor, were apparently central to the life and art of the Dutch 17th century, according to a new exhibition at the Frans Hals Museum here, "The Art of Laughter: Humor in the Golden Age" which runs from Nov. 11 through March 18, 2018. The exhibition features about 60 masterpieces from leading artists such as Hals, Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Judith Leyster and Gerard van Honthorst, inspired by comic characters, explicit humor and visual punning -- with lots of images of people laughing.

"If we learned anything from the research, it was how incredibly important and how widespread humor was in the Golden Age in Dutch culture, but also in painting," said Anna Tummers, one of the show's curators at the museum, in an interview a few weeks before the opening. "The more we worked on it, the more we realized quite how many paintings have a joke as their very core."


. . .


The type of humor in the pictures breaks down into three categories. More than half make scatological references (in which "human excreta feature prominently," according to the exhibition catalog) while sexually suggestive images make up much of the rest. In the second category, the jokes often focus on "unbridled lust or unequal love." The third category is trompe-l'œil images -- which are designed to fool the eye -- or painted practical jokes, which had been in existence since antiquity but surged during the Dutch Golden Age.

"There are lots of sources about how art lovers and others couldn't stop laughing when they realized that they were taken in by pictures of for example, a boy sleeping or a maid that someone tried to kiss, but who turned out to be a painting," Ms. Tummers said.



For the full review, see:

NINA SIEGAL. "Need a Laugh? The Dutch Golden Age Can Help." The New York Times FINE ARTS & EXHIBITS Section (Sun., OCT. 29, 2017): 16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 21 [sic], 2017, and has the title "Need a Good Laugh? Check Out Some 17th-Century Dutch Art." The wording of the online version differs substantially from that in the print version. The passages quoted above, are from the online version.)






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