Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne (Dutch, Delft 1589 - 1662 The Hague)
Allegory of Poverty ('t Sijn ellendige beenen die Armoe moete[n] draege[n]) , ca. 1630s
Oil on panel
21 7/16 x 16 5/8 in. (54.5 x 42.2 cm)
Mrs. F. F. Prentiss Fund, 1960
Adriaen van de Venne's unsparing images of peasants and beggars usually include a painted motto that provides a humorous or ironic commentary on the scene. Here, the inscription ("they are feeble legs which must carry poverty") alludes to the oppressive burdens of privation.
In contrast to the colorful and minutely detailed landscapes and historical scenes characteristic of his early period, after his move to The Hague in 1625 Adriaen van de Venne produced vigorously brushed grisailles (grauwtjes),1 as well as somewhat more finished polychrome paintings, in which the figures dominate. A number of these scenes depict--often with disturbing realism--the everyday joys and sorrows of the lower social classes. In the seventeenth century, vagrants and roving beggars fell outside the highly structured norms and institutions of Dutch society and were thus regarded by respectable citizens as a suspicious and potentially anarchic element. Van de Venne's paintings poke fun at the mishaps and misconceptions of an ignorant peasantry, and at society in general. Peasants, cripples, and the itinerant poor are the usual butt of his jokes, but dandies and courtiers are certainly not immune from ridicule.
Most of van de Venne's grisailles (and the less common polychrome pieces like the Oberlin painting) are provided with a banderole containing a motto that articulates the painting's meaning.2 Comparable juxtapositions of image and text can be found in contemporary emblem books. These popular volumes typically couple an illustration and a motto, which together constitute a puzzle or riddle that is then explained or expanded upon in the text below. The emblems (and van de Venne's paintings as well) served as didactic exemplars, often using raw humor as a vehicle for serious moral instruction.
In keeping with the rather grim content of many of van de Venne's grisaille images, the accompanying inscriptions frequently allude directly to poverty, misery, wretchedness, and death. In the present painting, a blind beggar, led by a small dog, carries on his back an old woman who holds a leper's clapper and alms bowl; she in turn carries a small child. The figures' tattered garments, and the man's rough, straw-stuffed wooden shoes, emphasize their mean existence. Discarded in the foreground are a pair of wooden hand cleats, used by the lame to propel themselves along the ground.3 The banderole beneath the figures carries the words "'t Sijn ellendige beenen / die Armoe moete[n] draege[n]" (they are feeble legs/which must carry poverty), a blunt allusion to the grinding afflictions of privation.
The pendant to this scene, An Allegory of Wealth, represents a dandy carrying a fashionable young woman who spills a glass of wine and frivolously scatters gold coins.4 On the ground at his feet are balls, a badminton racket, a mask, and other diversions of the well-to-do. In contrast to the humble farm building in the background of the Allegory of Poverty, the pendant features an imposing castle. The banderole in the Allegory of Wealth is inscribed: "Het sijn stercke beene[n] die / Weelde konne[n] drage[n]" (they are strong legs which can carry wealth), a mocking allusion to the dubious burden of superfluous wealth. Van de Venne presented a similar juxtaposition of poverty and wealth in the pendants "Armoe[de] soeckt lijst" (poverty leads to cunning) and "Rijkdom soeckt weelde" (wealth leads to luxury).5
There are at least three copies of the Oberlin painting known:6 a grisaille version in the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam,7 and two polychrome versions (The Hague, private collection,8 and [formerly?] in the collection of Edgar Feder, New York).9
M. E. Wieseman
A prolific and inventive painter, draftsman, and poet, Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne was born in Delft in 1589. His parents had fled from Protestant persecution in the Southern (Spanish) Netherlands during the 1580s. Van de Venne was educated in Leiden, where he became part of the vibrant political and intellectual community around the University. He settled in Middleburg, in Zeeland, by 1614; his earliest dated paintings are also from this year. In 1625, van de Venne moved to The Hague, where he remained until his death. He executed several commissions for the Dutch stadholder Frederik Hendrik, was repeatedly elected dean of the guild of St. Luke, and in 1656 was one of the founding members of The Hague painters' confraternity, "Pictura." Van de Venne painted histories, portraits, and genre scenes; from 1618, he was also active as a printmaker and book illustrator, notably for the popular poet Jacob Cats. His literary accomplishments included satire and political propaganda, as well as several books of poetry.
Royalton-Kisch, Martin. Adriaen van de Venne's Album. London, 1988.
Bol, Laurens J. Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne: Painter and Draughtsman. Doornspijk, 1989.
Collection Dukes of Sachsen-Gotha-Altenburg (possibly acquired by Herzog [Duke] Ernst II von Sachsen [1745-1804]), later Dukes of Sachsen-Coburg and Gotha
Herzogliches Gemäldegalerie, Gotha (inv. 228)
With Hans Cramer Oude Kunst, The Hague, from whom purchased in 1960
Parthey, Gustav. Deutscher Bildersaal: Verzeichniss der in Deutschland vorhandenen Ölbilder verstorbene Maler aller Schulen. Vol. 2. Berlin, 1864.
Francken Dz., D. Adriaen van de Venne. Amsterdam and Paris, 1878, p. 56, no. 28 or 29 (both as "Illustration d'un proverbe. Grisaille. Musée de Gotha").
Schneider, H. J. Katalog der Herzoglichen Gemäldegalerie. Gotha, 1883, no. 228.
Aldenhoven, Carl. Katalog der Herzoglichen Gemäldegalerie. Gotha, 1890, p. 48, cat. no. 228.
Wurzbach, Alfred von. Niederländisches Künstler-Lexikon. Vol. 2. Vienna and Leipzig, 1910, p. 759.
Bol, Laurens J. "Een Middelburgse Brueghel-groep." Oud Holland 73 (1958), p. 131.
Bernhard, Marianne. Verlorene Werke der Malerei: In Deutschland in der Zeit von 1939 bis 1945 zerstörte und verschollene Gemälde aus Museen und Galerien. Munich, 1965, p. 130.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum. Oberlin, 1967, p. 155, fig. 59.
Nash, J. M. The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer. New York, 1972, fig. 79.
Plokker, Annelies. Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne (1589-1662): de grisailles met spreukbanden. Leuven and Amersfoort, 1984, pp. 211-12, and n. 5.
Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, p. 212.
The paint surface is generally in good condition, although the panel support has been weakened along the bottom edge by several small splits and insect tunneling. The panel is somewhat bowed, and there is a vertical split running the height of the panel to the left of center. Restorer's paint along the split and in other, smaller restorations is somewhat discolored. Extensive underdrawing in a black carbon-based material is visible under infrared examination, and also apparent to the naked eye in more thinly painted areas of the figural group. The final painting differs from this sketch only in minor details. The style of the underdrawing is similar to that of van de Venne's independent drawings of peasant subjects; compare, for example, the Peasants Fighting (Leiden, Prentenkabinet der Rijksuniversiteit, inv. 217) or Beggars Fighting (Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett, inv. 2669), or the two sets of drawings depicting similar figures in the Albertina, Vienna.
On the back of the panel is inscribed at top: "Van der Vinne, Rth [Reichsthaler]
175.--" in an eighteenth-century hand; the inscription may indicate the valuation of the painting when it entered the collection at Gotha, probably in the late eighteenth century (see Provenance).
1. Or more properly, brunaille, monochrome paintings executed in tones of brown.
2.For a catalogue and analysis of the various sayings represented in van de Venne's grisailles, see Annelies Plokker, Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne (1589-1662): de grisailles met spreukbanden (Leuven and Amersfoort, 1984).
3. Compare similar cleats being used by lame beggars in Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Battle Between Carnival and Lent (1559; Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum) and Cripples (1568; Paris, Musée du Louvre), as well as in an anonymous engraving after Hieronymous Bosch (?) of Cripples, Fools and Beggars; see Walter S. Gibson, Bruegel (New York and Toronto, 1977), figs. 49, 135, and 136, respectively.
4. The original painting is lost, but the composition is known through several copies; see Laurens J. Bol, Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne: Painter and Draughtsman (Doornspijk, 1989), pp. 95 and 184, and Annelies Plokker, Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne (1589-1662): de grisailles met spreukbanden (Leuven and Amersfoort, 1984), pp. 214-16.
5. See Annelies Plokker, Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne (1589-1662): de grisailles met spreukbanden (Leuven and Amersfoort, 1984), nos. 19 and 84, respectively; and Laurens J. Bol, Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne: Painter and Draughtsman (Doornspijk, 1989), pp. 85-88.
6. On the various copies, see Annelies Plokker, Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne (1589-1662): de grisailles met spreukbanden (Leuven and Amersfoort, 1984), pp. 211-12; and Laurens J. Bol, Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne: Painter and Draughtsman (Doornspijk, 1989), pp. 84, 95-97, and 184 (without mention of the Oberlin panel). In each, there are minor variations in details of the composition and in the spelling of the motto on the banderole.
7. Oil on panel, 62 x 50 cm, inv. 2194.
8. Oil on panel, 63.5 x 47 cm; see Edwin Buijsen in The Hoogsteder Exhibition of Music & Painting in the Golden Age (exh. cat., Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder, The Hague, 1994), pp. 303, 304 ill.
9. Oil on panel, 56.5 x 45.1 cm.