Trumpet and Toupee
Over the years, the trumpeter, who was given a central role in this painting by Palamedesz., has suffered greatly. But not from the dangers of military life. The brush proved mightier than the sword.
Battle scenes were a popular subject in seventeenth-century art, especially during the second half of the Eighty Years War. The importance of the armed struggle, in which the Dutch hoped to gain religious freedom and independence from Spanish oppression, was generally recognised and understood. Perhaps the popularity of the theme was also linked to the economic prosperity of these years, the growing national awareness and the positive course of the war. Most of the population remained unaffected by the various battles, the majority of which were fought along the border with the Southern Netherlands. Paintings enabled them to form a picture of what was happening there. Cavalry skirmishes, raids on convoys, army camps and naval battles were therefore favourite subjects for artists.
In the Northern Netherlands the military situation was generally calm. A permanent mercenary army was nevertheless maintained, and the soldiers spent most of their time waiting, without actually seeing action. To house them and give them somewhere to while away the days they were stationed in billets known as cortegaardjes. The term cortegaard derives from the French corps-de-garde, denoting a military post or guardhouse. Some might imagine these to have been clean and sober places, but seventeenth-century reality was rather different. Sinister taverns and dilapidated barns were what most of the off-duty soldiers had to call home.
In this painting we see a cortegaard which appears to consist of a tall brick-built structure, barely lit by an opening on the left. But it is precisely in this light that the trumpeter is standing. It is his job to get the soldiers back to their posts and so he blows the signal on his instrument. The man seated on the left responds to the call and puts on his boots, but the figures on the right, beside the fire, do not show any sign of stirring to action. They are warming themselves by the fire, chatting and smoking tobacco.
The central figure in the painting is the trumpeter. With his light-tinted buffalo-hide jacket, a blue sash about his waist, with the brass trumpet and its blue banner, and the blue-feathered hat he brings colour to the scene. All the attention focuses on him. In fact he is the world of difference in this painting. Because at one time someone thought a little cosmetic surgery might make this man slightly more attractive. When we acquired the painting the trumpeter turned out to have been partially painted over: his pointed nose and eyelids had been changed and a full toupee had been placed on his bald pate. All these embellishments disappeared when the painting was cleaned. Today it is no longer surprising, perhaps, but when we compare the trumpeter before and after restoration, the original almost caricaturesque figure clearly fits far more comfortably in the spirit of the day.
Interestingly, the soldier’s long hair, extending to the shoulders, did not disappear with the rest. Apart from being fashionable, long hair had a practical purpose. It helped protect soldiers from sabre wounds to the neck at a time when armour went out of date.
One of the artists who specialised in military scenes was the painter of this work, Anthonie Palamedesz. His Guardroom with Trumpeter dates from the 1640s, when the contrast of dark and light was one of the main characteristics of his work. That is clearly visible in this painting. The boundary between light and shade follows a diagonal line marked by small objects scattered on the floor. It is precisely on this imaginary line that the trumpeter is standing. His colourful garb makes him the focal point of the painting. Another figure is hidden by the semi-darkness on the left, whose function in the composition is to accentuate the sense of depth.
Originally from Delft, the painter Anthonie Palamedesz. was a pupil of the famous portraitist Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt. In 1621 Palamedesz. enrolled with the artists’ guild in Delft and served twice as the society’s principal. At some stage he appears to have moved either to Haarlem or Amsterdam. As a painter his talents were varied, painting merry gatherings and guardroom scenes, but also portraits and still lifes. His work, especially his interiors, reveal the influence of the artist Dirck Hals of Haarlem and of Pieter Codde whose studio was in Amsterdam. As Palamedesz. developed his depictions of military scenes, he embellished these with his own, original inventions, of which the figure of the trumpeter is a fine example. At the time of his death in 1673, Palamedesz. senior appears to have been staying in Amsterdam with his son and pupil, Palamedes Palamedesz.
For those who know a little about Anthonie Palamedesz.’s oeuvre the trumpeter in our painting is hardly an unfamiliar figure. Clearly, the same person must have stood as a model for Palamedesz. on various occasions. His characteristic features make him easily recognisable. He appears, for example, on a panel at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Here, however, he is armed with a halberd. That he is encouraging the men to their posts is clear from his determined expression and the way he gesticulates with his right hand. He is dressed in the same clothes as in our painting, with high boots, short breeches and a band around his waist. His bald head is, however, concealed here under a hat. Indeed, the painter may well have used several regular models: the man picking up his armour is also remarkably similar to the person putting on his boots in our painting.
Authenticity as premise
The man who modelled for our trumpeter was certainly a characteristic figure. Palamedesz. seems to have considered him ideal in the role of soldier. That is an important aspect for us. Contemporary paintings can provide valuable insights into the seventeenth century. They give an idea of the kind of people that lived in those days and what they looked like. That is one reason why we were happy to see the trumpeter get his own face back. Authenticity is after all worth more than the aesthetic dictates of today’s world.
Delft 1601 - 1673 Amsterdam
Guardroom with Trumpeter
Panel, 40.5 x 63 cm
Kunsthandel Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder, The Hague
- after restauration -