A core aspect of our project is the recruitment and development of two costumed actors who will perform the characters of Jean Pellicorne by Harmenszoon van Rijn Rembrandt and A Young Archer by Govaert Flinck to project participants, the general public and to visiting school groups.
Jean Pellicorne, a wealthy Amsterdam merchant, married Susanna van Collen in 1626, and their children, Anna and Caspar, were born in December 1626 and June 1628 respectively. The portrait shows Caspar bringing his father a bag of money, symbolising his duty as heir to act as future protector and provider for his family. This image of social responsibility and piety is further emphasised by the picture (barely discernible) on the wall behind the sitters, which shows the young Samuel being dedicated to the Lord (Samuel I, I, 27-8).
A Young Archer is the only certain work by Flinck in the Wallace Collection. The painting shows a young black boy in three-quarter length on a plain background, richly attired in hunting garb, a bow clenched in his right hand, a bag of arrows slung over his left shoulder. The intricate metal fastenings of the bag strap are carefully picked out and are highlighted, in contrast to the sombre opaqueness of the boy’s jacket. Two pearls, a pendant earring and collar-fastening, gleam against the darkness of his skin and clothing. The figure’s gaze is directed away from the onlooker with a solemnity both engaging and disquieting. The painting is a tronie or ‘expression’, a depiction of a model dressed in character. Such paintings were often produced by studio apprentices as technical exercises in the art of character study. Tronies were immensely popular in the 1630’s and 40’s in the Netherlands, where the market for collecting paintings was much broader than elsewhere in Europe.
It has been suggested that Flinck’s portrayal represents a huntsman, a lowly occupation which in the 17th-century might have been deemed appropriate to the race of the sitter. However, an inscription below a print by Jan de Visscher (c. 1636-after 1692) made from a drawing of the same subject by Cornelis Visscher (?1629-c.1658) offers the possibility of an alternative interpretation. The inscription reads:
us heft den Moor met pijl en Boogh / Den vyandt of het wilt in’t oogh
(thus the Moor with the bow and arrow shoots [looks] the enemy in the eye)
Previously thought to refer to an unknown literary figure, the inscription may in fact allude to the famed Nubian bowmen of classical times. Nubia, (another term for Kush – a region in the Nile valley south of the first cataract, and part of present day Sudan/Ethiopia), was a military power which gained immense respect in the Roman world partly because of its tradition of highly skilled bowmen. The Nubians remained famous into late Antique times, partly due to their role as mercenaries in wars across the Mediterranean, as ‘pupil smiters’- bowmen skilled in the art of hitting their target in the eye.
Why did Flinck choose to depict his young model as an archer? Reasons might include a desire to portray a different skin colour and physiognomy from his usual subjects, the availability of the archer’s props in his studio and the enormous popularity of archery as a sport in 17th-century Holland or, perhaps, an awareness of the story of the skilled archers from Old Testament Africa. Rembrandt is certainly known to have been fascinated
by Old Testament stories and characters. Whatever his true identity or purpose, there is certainly more clout to this beguiling youth than he has previously been given credit for.
During the performances the two actors will portray both a European and a non-European perspective of the expansion of the Dutch Republic and the East India Company during the seventeenth century. These perspectives will enable project participants and the general public to learn about the birth of the Dutch Republic, the wealth it created from trading goods from the East and the impact that trade and the development of the Dutch East India Company had on both the Netherlands and the countries that contained Dutch ports. This information will both inspire project participants in creating artwork, interpretation, public activities and guided tours for the intergenerational community exhibition and will also help to put the exhibition into context for visitors who will want to understand how the exhibition links to the Museum’s Dutch works of art.
In developing these two characters we are extremely lucky to be working with students from the Kensington and Chelsea College of Fashion who are very kindly making the costume for Jean Pellicorne. So far the students have studied the Wallace Collection’s magnificent painting of Jean Pellicorne and detected his style of dress and fabrics worn. The students have then researched and sourced authentic silks, laces and clogs to make Pellicorne’s stylish seventeenth century outfit. The students have also met the actor, Simon Fraser, who will be playing the character of Jean Pellicorne and Simon has attended his first fitting at the College of Fashion. I was very kindly invited to this meeting in which the students were fitting a calico version of the costume that will be used to make the pattern pieces for the silks and laces. During the fitting I was also shown samples of fabrics that will used for the costume and diagrams of the clogs that are being specially made for this project.