From De Lairesse to Simis. Decorative painting in the Republic: a quantitative approach (Van De Lairesse tot Simis. Decoratieve schilderkunst in de Republiek: een kwantitatieve benadering).

Dr. Piet Bakker

Compared to easel paintings, relatively few decorative paintings have been preserved. The reason for this is obvious. Contrary to easel paintings, they were often, quite literally, inextricably connected with the residences for which the artist had made them. Since the decorations left behind in a move only seldom agreed with the tastes of new occupants, they were frequently removed and replaced by new ones. As most decorations have thus disappeared over the course of time, both the artistic and economic importance of this genre of art are difficult to appreciate today.

To get an impression of the scale on which this branch of painting was practiced in its day, the probate inventory – an important source in the research of the production of easel paintings – is unhelpful, since it only contains information on movable goods. Therefore we are, when attempting to form a nuanced view of both the scale and development of this genre of art, for the most part dependent on archival sources that provide data on the painters themselves. And to gain an understanding of the artistic significance of decorative paintings, it is necessary to reference contemporary art historical literature (De Lairesse (1707), Houbraken (1718-1721), Weyermans (1729), Van Gool (1750-1800), Simis (1801-1807)).

The emphasis in this research project is on the commission and production process. To this end seventeenth and eighteenth-century examples of both (semi) public and private commissions are incorporated, in which the focus is on such aspects as the patron, the manner in which the commission took place and the reason of the commission (i.e. new construction, renovation, (re)decoration). In addition this project considers the choice of the subject matter and where its contents originated (i.e. patron, architect and/or painter), as well as a range of factors such as price rates (painter), available budgets (patron) and the division of labor during the execution, and ultimately the final result.

While the study aims to provide conclusions applicable to the entire Dutch Republic, it limits its focus to one city: Leiden. This choice is guided by the availability of source materials, making possible a fairly reliable reconstruction of the Leiden artist community. Primary research is mostly concentrated on the more or less complete administration of the St. Luke’s guild that contains data on local painters between 1648 and 1795. This information not only allows for the reconstruction of the quantitative development of the entire painters’ community, but also that of two subcategories: the artist painters (fijnschilders) and coarse painters (kladschilders). This reconstruction results in a better insight into the scale on which decorative painting was practiced in Leiden.

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