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Gerrit Van Honthorst: Art Analysis Essay

The piece of Art, Smiling Girl, a Courtesan Holding an Obscene Image, painted by Gerrit van Honthorst in 1625 can be seen at the Saint Louis Art Museum. I was initially drawn to this image from across the gallery mostly due to the subject’s bright red dress with gold sleeves, it was one of the brightest colored images in the gallery. It is about three feet tall and two feet wide, it is an oil on canvas painting. As I approached the image, I was still intrigued as the image she is holding is of a naked man facing away, the subject in the painting seems to get enjoyment from this.

To me this piece of art makes me curious, I want to know who this woman was and why she is holding that image. The artist seems to be communicating the importance of the common person in this painting, as it is clear that this girl is not royalty or anyone of much importance since she is holding such an obscene image. Smiling Girl, a Courtesan Holding an Obscene Image is the image of a girl wearing a brightly colored red and gold dress. Her dress stands out very well on the black background, making her pop against the dark background.

Her bust is bursting out of the dress, making it clear that she is not a proper lady. She has gold and red feathers in her blond hair. Her pale skin and rosy cheeks make her look like a typical Dutch girl. In her hand she holds an oval portrait of a naked man with his back to the painter. The portrait stands out against the black because it is a brighter teal color and a light tan. The young girl is pointing at the image and had a big smile on her face, as if she is clearly amused by the image. The textures in the painting are typical of the northern style of painting during that era.

The pleats in her dress are clearly defined and look exactly like what silky fabric would look like on someone’s arm. The feathers on her head look flowy and light as a feather would. Over all, the textures are very realistic. In, Smiling Girl, a Courtesan Holding an Obscene Image, the artist uses mostly curved lines, there are very few if any horizontal or vertical lines within this painting. Van Honthorst’s use of lines within this work of art, makes the girl seem to fade into the dark background of the image.

The texture in this painting is characteristic of seventeenth century northern European art. The texture within this work of art is realistic as though what is in the painting could be touched and feel like silk on the sleeves of the dress and the feathers look like they feel soft and fluffy. There is a great range of value within this piece, the background of the painting is very dark while the girl in the painting has very pale skin making her stand out from the dark background.

This image is asymmetrical, the way that the girl is seated and holding the oval portrait make the painting unbalanced, the image would be symmetrical if the girl was facing forward rather than a three-fourths view of her. The emphasis in this painting is her face and her smile, her pale face against the dark background really stand out, her rosy cheeks and big smile make it easy to spot across the room. This painting is realistic, she is proportionate and she looks like any other girl that one might see. Over all, this painting is pleasing to the eye and had a wonderful texture, and color.

This image, at first glance, looks like an average girl holding a portrait, but upon reading the description one finds out that it is not just an average girl. It it is said in the description that the girl is in fact a prostitute, hold in image of a naked man (Smiling Girl, a Courtesan Holding an Obscene Image. ). I believe that the artist is trying to communicate the importance of the average person, not just the wealthy. In the past art the only people that were painted were the nobility, wealthy people and religious icons, that could afford to commission a portrait of themselves or a religious painting.

I think that van Honthorst did a good job of portraying this, there is not much of a better way of depicting the working class than depicting a prostitute in contrast from the nobility and religious icons. She also is lacking the jewels and opulent clothing that is usually seen on the nobility in paintings, this shows that she is infact of the working class. Gerrit van Honthorst was born in November 4, 1590, in Utrecht, Dutch Republic . He was a greatly influenced by Caravaggio. In 1610, van Honthorst, moved to Italy to study Caravaggio’s realism and dramatic use of artificial light (Gerrit van Honthorst).

Caravaggio is one of the most widely imitated artists in the history of Western art. Many of Caravaggio’s followers, including van Honthorst, were particularly interested in Caravaggio’s paintings of the underbelly of Rome’s street-life (Benay). His followers were most likely struck by Caravaggio’s ability to grant subjects dignity that was not necessarily consistant with the lowly actions shown in the painting (Benay). The image, Smiling Girl, a Courtesan Holding an Obscene Image, clearly shows van Honthorst’s use of Caravaggio’s technique of making subjects that were engaging in unseemly behavior still look ignified.

Gerrit van Honthorst returned to the Netherlands in 1620, after studying the methods of Caravaggio. Van Honthorst stayed in Utrecht until 1627. Although van Honthorst continued to paint using Caravaggio’s techniques in his works, by 1624 a number of his painting began to depart from the usual stylistic formula of his fellow Caravaggisti; artificial illumination was used less frequently in his major compositions (Errata: Gerrit van Honthorst: A Discussion of His Position in Dutch Art, 1962). Van Honthorst’s most significant contribution to Dutch art was his leadership, of the Utrecht followers of Caravaggio.

It is thought that Rembrandt’s use of Caravaggio’s techniques in his early works comes in part from his knowledge of van Honthorst’s paintings (Errata: Gerrit van Honthorst: A Discussion of His Position in Dutch Art, 1962). Even though van Honthorst is not as well known as Rembrandt or Vermeer, he still had a major impact on Dutch art in the seventeenth century, as he is somewhat responsible for bringing Caravaggio’s techniques to the Netherlands. My favorite part about this work of art by Gerrit van Honthorst is the way the bright colors pop on the dark background.

I also really like the unexpectedness of this piece of art. I really like the fact that the girl in the picture is a actually a prostitute, it makes the painting more intriguing. It makes me want to know more about her, to know her story, to know how she ended up sitting for this painting. I am just very intrigued by this painting, it caught my eye the moment I stepped into the gallery, and the more I learned about the painting the more I was intrigued. Now that I am aware of van Honthorst’s influenced by Caravaggio and Caravaggio’s style of painting the regular people on the streets of Rome, it makes sense.

I still really like this painting, I now want to see more of van Honthorst’s work in person to see if I enjoy it as much as I enjoy Smiling Girl, a Courtesan Holding an Obscene Image. I believe that this piece is inexhaustible, if it was not, I do not think that it would still be catching people’s attention and curiosity like it did mine. I believe people will always be intrigued by a girl with a smile, there is just something about a smile like the one she has that draws you in and makes you want to know more.

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