2. Portrait of Constantin Huygens and his Clerk
De Keyser’s portrait is truly unique among Dutch works of the seventeenth century (Figure3). The closest compositional parallels are found in paintings by Flemish artists like Anthony van Dyck (Hawley, 2008, 13).
Semiotics, as a model that enables people to understand the world they live in, can be transform this understanding process into a systematic method with more effort. Semiotics is not only interested in sign, it also covers the formation period of the meaning. Units forming a meaningful and structured whole point to the existence of syntagmatic relations between the sign systems. It implies that the not similar structures, but opposing structures creates the meaning. Hence, semiotics seeks to work in a consistency conforming to the structure of the product (outcome) and production (process), even when approaching literary and artistic products (outcome) and production (processes) of intense meaning, which are considered to be at the highest stages of intellectual, linguistic and fictional creation of human (Rifat, 2009, 21-23).
The dating of these Transylvanian rugs is primarily based on the 17th century pictorial source material. An impressive representation of such a rug in Thomas de Keyser’s “Portrait of Constantin Huygens and his Clerk” (1627) been referred to frequently, not only because it is a very good example, but also because it is a very early one (Ydema, 1991, 49)
Thomas De Keyser’s painting, which we handle with a semiotic approach, is his work called “Portrait of Constantine Huygens and his Clerk”, dated 1627. The painting, which is the canonical image of one of the strongest intellectuals of the Golden Age Netherlands, is an interesting example in this regard with the image of the Transylvanian rug as the “signifier”. Each signifier points to another signifier and the signifier chains that create the understanding turn into an endless game of meaning.
Huygens, one of the popular Dutch people of the 17th century, chose to depict Thomas de Keyser sitting while doing intellectual work, and taking a note from his clerk, which constitutes the unique structure of the composition. The artist does not only elegantly make the composition dramatic through this lean action, but also establishes a social hierarchy between the characters. His attitude and behavior that ends the tradition of great masters in painting while developing it lies under the differences between this work of Thomas de Keyser and other outstanding Dutch paintings.
De Keyser has carefully calculated how these objects function within the painted framework. Indeed, Huygens and De Keyser have developed the clerk’s image through space and the objects which occupy it. The space has become Huygens’s stage and the objects the theatrical props (Hawley, J., 2008, 33). Obviously, a prerequisite for achieving such a portrait is the social status. Huygens’ clothes help him to understand the social class that he was a member of. In the painting; a young aristocrat, who was a counselor and secretary of Prince Frederic and the members of Orange Principality in 1625, who was raised to knighthood by I. James, with the gloved right hand, ruffle, spurred riding boots, and a hat.
The painting, which has an important place in the “trend of rugs in paintings”, which was based on the Pre-Renaissance in the history of art, is a documentary painting used to introduce Huygens by scientists researching the political personality of Huygens, secretary of Stadhoders Frederik Hendrik and William II. As a farsighted person who recognized and supported the talent of Rembrandt and Jan Lievens, Leiden’s young artists, Huygensgoes way beyond the high political role he had at the beginning of his life (Hawley, 2008,1).
Erwin Panofsky, have stated the importance of identifying the images right. The interest in the painting is Huygens’s identity, which is associated with other figures and objects around him. This interest has continued for centuries not only in terms of researchers who have worked only on this period but also in the context of aesthetic perception.
As a significant political personality of the period, the fact that young and rich Huygens have positive qualities is important in terms of the pictorial presence of rug theme. “Huygens and his clerk” describes both an ordinary working moment of the high-level bureaucracy of the twentieth century, and affirms the place they are in and each object. The rug is an object that was frequently discussed in the paintings of western artists from religious paintings to mythological subjects and everyday spaces. Therefore, it supports and determines the issue that is described in the painting rather than being a pictorial image on its own. The painting reflects the tension between the main characters and the rug, including all the ties that took place between the west and the east, to readers. Not only it repeats the state of the rug as a sign of wealth and status, but visually, it also joins the canonical structures of the history of painting art. Here, semioticians can refer to “uniformity- the formal coincidence between one or more structures, resulting from the similarity of the network of associations forming them (Greimas; 1993, 197).
The work of art we deal with, such as language and writing, is a discourse that has been shown to the reader with all its subjectivity including the signifier and the signified as a visual sign. It occurs depending on tradition in history, and with a formal stylistic emulation in the light of historical data, repeating the narrative structure of the tradition.
The known rug feature change shape by adding new figures and time-dependent items to traditional figures while repeating the structures as a visual element depending on the richness of the variety of nature. In a visual sign, such as a linguistic signifier, takes place in the context of “form and content”, “signifier and signified”.
We will examine De Keyser’s painting called “Portrait of Constantine Huygensand his Clerk” via sectioning process following Jacques Fontanille’s view as “sectional study of a semiotic object is the first analytical work to be done in order to reveal its fundamental antagonisms and to carry out an examination according to objective criteria (Fontanille, 1994, 79).
De Keyser’s depiction, the painting of the young aristocrat who appeared doing his normal work, reveals an asymmetric structure consisting of a left plane and a right plane, including the middle plane. By separating the painting in two sections and by reading that offers two separate analyses, we can see that the two painting planes also contain other reading possibilities.
The plane on the left and center of the reader’s view is almost the focal point of the painting, and it shows the main characters, Huygens and his clerk, which supports the vertical composition of the painting plane, a two-dimensional structure. The figurative structures that make up the main characters of the painting are Huygens and his clerk. The viewer of De Keyser’s moderately- sized full-length portrait is confronted, at least initially, with the countenance of a man surrounded by the tools of his profession—in front of him, a table strewn with books, two globes, a lute, piece of paper, and pen and ink well, while behind him stands his clerk presenting a letter. There is little, if any, overt reference made to Huygens’s upcoming marriage. Nor does his staid facial expression betray the vrolicke demeanor expressed in his poem of 2 August (Hawley, 2008, 9)
Huygens is portrayed as a member of the “cavalier” class, when he was knighted by King I as part of Sir Dudley Carleton’s diplomatic mission in 1622, with his spurred boots and rank, describing his international connections. On his heels, the clerk obediently offers a paper in a folded form that he held in his bare hand to the gloved hand Huygens with hat. Moreover, the painting appears to relate to the theater and contemporary stage design in its use of the tapestry as an “omdraeyendedoecken” (rotating curtain) and openness along the left and right sides of the stage, both of which had become popular in the first half of the seventeenth century.
The most notable of such elements on Huygens’s own “stage” is the tapestry which has been pulled back to reveal the entrance into the room. Such pulling away is selective; the viewer sees only what the artist and patron allow—the partially open door by which Huygens’s clerk has entered the room. The opening along the back of a room was a particularly popular motif in Dutch art, known as the doorsien, or “view through” (Hawley, 2008,33).
The light on the portraits emphasizes the relationship between their statues as well making Huygen’s and the clerk’s heads visible who were shown from the front and the side, respectively. The first plane, in which the main figure becomes clear, is the first outstanding part of the overall painting which clarifies the statistical meaning as a major sign in the painting.
The portrait of young Huygens with the self-confidence, in his eyes, portrayed as slightly bent, while taking the letter, diverges the reader’s point of view and differs from the traditional postures. This posture might have been preferred by the artist to soften the official stance of the strong political personality in the painting. Huygens’ outfit and gloves are the sign of the elegance of an elite class of his time. The stylistic rhetoric that describes the artist’s feelings and views forms the signified structure. Moreover, the right edge of the tapestry, visible along the back wall, is pulled back to reveal the entrance to the room. Thetapestry, like the Porcellis painting, shows Huygens as a discerning collector and provides evidence of the range of his collection and taste.
In the left plane, a general discourse for Huygens reflects a basic method because it contains a distinctive personality that was emphasized and outstanding.
The plane to the right of the reader’s point of view, where we will direct our attention, is the plane where Huygen was surrounded by symbolic objects that depict his rich and famous political personality and it emphasizes a basic horizontal space. Each object points to Huygens’s distinguished bright personality and political situation. In the Golden Age of Dutch art, an object can have more than one meaning. In the painting, as well as being a musical instrument, the lute on the table may refer to the close marriage of him with Suzannavan Baerle by being associated with love. In a world in which knowledge and enlightenment came to the fore, new discoveries by sea were intensely carried out; the globes symbolizing the contemporary information, the great interest to the geographical discoveries of the century, can be metaphoric as one of the stars of the eternal universe for Huygens’ unique love. The letter which the clerk is giving leads the reader to questions in uncertainty by giving no clue of being public or private.
The right plane, which stands out with the clear tone of white papers on which Huygens’ left hand stands in the secondary position draws the reader in this direction for a journey of discovery with its narrative dimension. The strong political position of the young Huygens and the antagonism and the tension created by the art of the eastern art lying under his arm shows a traditional approach.
Here, the reader reads a painting with an attitude that matches Umberto Eco’s “encyclopedic knowledge” in the light of cultural and historical codes.
Before Huygens sits, the table was covered with an early Western Anatolian rug showing the wealth and status by observing the fashion of the period, with objects which represents different intellectual explorations were scattered on it. De Keyser’s painting takes place among these visual myths, whose historical formation process began in Central Asia, which were produced by the anonymous artisans of the East and painted by the masters of Europe. The rug on the table is a decorative element that western artists frequently painted in accordance with the fashion from time to time. These very expensive rugs on the tables of the kings, nobles and the bourgeois, or rarely depicted as spread under the feet of the royal family and Saint Mary, are also the sign of the status and wealth of the person who ordered the painting in the history of art. A pictorial image, as signifier, both with its harmony with the main characters in the painting and as the signified, has the effects of western and eastern cultures on each other.
The star and cartridge borders, surrounded by protective strips and secondary borders with reciprocal clover patterns and a chain-like pattern, are so subtle in these tables that they can be directly linked the rugs at present (Franses, 2007, 75).
The sectioning made on the painting brings innovation to the traditional style with Huygens’ posture in the theatrical stage arrangement, while the left and right planes repeat the tradition in formal and stylistic context.
“Portrait of Constantine Huygens and his Clerk” is unique in that it depicts an environment which readers as well as artists know and desire. Every detail in the environment, for example the painting of the waters cape attributed to the large Jan Porcellisseen on the obscure fire place, emphasizes the intellectual taste of Huygens.
At first glance, the painting seems to be more striking on the left plane. By placing Huygens and his clerk in the focal point of the painting, the artist draws narrative dimension of the painting in this direction.
Huygens must have liked the painting very much that he wrote the poems about the painting. Besides, the painting, also in this respect, shows the feature of being the only painting in the history of painting art for which poems were written. On January 31, 1627, he wrote his first poem for his portrait painted by De Keyser. The poem, first of which was in Latin, constitutes an example for the next two.
De Keyser seems like he determined Huygens’ young and political stance by pointing to the current and the new one with the small sized painting of the famous painter Porcellis on the fire place, and to the art of the East with the rugs in both sections of the painting.
Through this painting of the artist, we can say that the popular prayer rugs and Transylvanian rugs in paintings take all their meaning from the tension that exists in the essence of fundamental contradictions such as east and west, traditional and contemporary in the Golden Age.
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