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3 Tutorials that teach Genre Painting
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Genre Painting

Genre Painting

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will analyze some examples of paintings of Dutch interiors.

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Tutorial

An overview of Dutch genre painting

Video Transcription

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about genre painting.

As you watch the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin. Today's objectives are listed below. But the end of the lesson today, you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the types of symbolism found in Dutch genre paintings, and identify examples of Dutch genre paintings.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow. First key term is "genre painting"-- images in any various media that represent scenes or events from everyday life, such as domestic settings, interiors, parties, inn scenes, or street scenes. Allegory-- a symbolic narrative, representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through material forms.

Camera obscura-- an early device with a hole in one end of an enclosed box or room that projects an image of its surroundings onto a flat screen or surface. And I'll show you an example of that in just a moment. Satire is the use of sarcasm or ridicule, emphasizing weakness more than the weak person, denouncing vice and folly, and implying moral judgment. The big idea for today is that Dutch genre paintings contained strong symbolism integrated within scenes of everyday life.

Now we are looking at the time period from 1660 to 1675. And I've marked the Salem witch trials in America in 1692 as a reference point. I thought it was an interesting comparison between the goings on in this Protestant Dutch Republic that we'll look at today with the goings on in an American, predominantly Protestant community. On one hand, we have the creation of masterpieces. And on the other hand, we have the execution of supposed witches.

We'll be focusing in on the Netherlands again today, and in particular, the city of Amsterdam. And before we start, I'd like to take a look at one of our key terms, "camera obscura." Now this was the precursor to the camera and was essentially a closed box with a pinhole that let in light, which could be reflected onto a surface, reproducing the image of a particular area. And it was essentially using a mirror to reflect light onto a surface but using the pinhole to concentrate on a particular area, similar to how the camera aperture allows in a fixed amount of light from one direction.

Now artists could use this device as a way of accurately reproducing an image, sometimes tracing it and then painting it. Now the English painter David Hockney argues that Jan Vermeer, one of our artists today, used a camera obscura to assist in the painting of his interiors, citing evidence such as halo effects in Vermeer's paintings, thought to be the result of using a camera obscura, or minute details that one wouldn't have noticed if he was painting from afar but would've detected using a camera obscura. So he argues that Vermeer was using this device as a way of helping him depict more realistic effects of light and color. It doesn't take away from the fact that this is still an incredible artist and one of the premier painters from the Dutch Republic.

Now Vermeer was an extraordinarily talented artist. And his paintings in many ways bordered on the photographic in how incredibly realistic they appeared. He was a true master at capturing the extremely realistic impression of light. His paintings are filled with them. And in a sense, he captured the detail and realism of the Dutch landscape but moved it indoors.

Now you may be most familiar with Vermeer's work because of the movie that was made a few years ago called The Girl with a Pearl Earring, referencing one of his most famous paintings. Now we are going to focus on a different painting called The Letter, which is composed in a way that makes it appear as if we're hiding in a room, peering out onto the event as it unfolds. Now it's a private moment that we are looking in on.

The woman playing the lute, which is a symbol of love, receives a letter from a servant. Now the use of the lute and the peaceful painting behind the woman of a calm sea suggests it's a love letter. It's an example of Vermeer's skill in color reproduction and understanding of realistic shadow, as well as his possible use of a camera obscura.

Now this doesn't mean he simply traced and colored this work. This camera would have helped him in depicting realistic color, light, and shadow. And it's a wonderful example of Vermeer's type of genre painting, with people typically working, playing musical instruments, or reading.

Now Vermeer's Allegory of the Art of Painting is one of his most impressive works. And as you see, the use of the pulled-back curtain implies that we are looking in, once again, on a private moment, this time between the artist and his subject. Now the way in which light fills the room and reflects, refracts, and scatters around the room is incredibly realistic looking.

This is one of two allegories by Vermeer. But as opposed to references to morality seen in the works of art like Jan Steen, which we'll look at in just a moment, Vermeer's allegories lack this complex symbolism. His allegories are much more straightforward.

Now Speaking of the Jan Steen, his Feast of Saint Nicholas is an example of an allegorical painting that offers up a moral message, specifically on the dangers of over-indulgence. Now the kids are running around after each other or running around just in general, searching for their presents from Saint Nicholas. The little girl in front with a doll runs from her mother, appearing to not want to share.

The boy on the left is crying for apparently receiving, according to historians, a birch rod, being held by the impish little boy in the middle of the picture, who's mocking and pointing at the older boy. Now in all fairness, he received a stick for a gift. I think I'd cry, too.

Now notice how the house is rather disorganized and chaotic, compared to the organization and cleanliness of the Dutch home depicted in Vermeer's paintings. Another important point is the subject matter. And although the focus is on the children, it functions as a satire of adult selfishness and jealousy.

So that brings us to the end of our lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you describe the types of symbolism found in Dutch genre paintings? And can you identify examples of Dutch genre paintings?

And once again, the big idea for today is that Dutch genre paintings contained strong symbolism integrated within scenes of everyday life. And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Genre Painting"

Key Terms

Genre Painting

Images in any various media that represent scenes or events from everyday life such as domestic settings, interiors, parties, inn scenes, or street scenes.

Allegory

A symbolic narrative; a representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through material forms.

Camera Obscura

An early device with a hole in one end of an enclosed box or room that projects an image of its surroundings onto a flat screen or surface.

Satire

The use of sarcasm, ridicule emphasizing weakness more than the weak person, denouncing vice and folly and implying moral judgment.


Citations

Image of the Netherlands Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EU-Netherlands.svg; Image of Camera Obscura Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Camera_obscura_box.jpg; Image of Girl with a Pearl Earring Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Johannes_Vermeer_(1632-1675)_-_The_Girl_With_The_Pearl_Earring_(1665).jpg; The Letter; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Love_Letter_Vermeer.jpg Art of Painting; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jan_Vermeer_van_Delft_011.jpg Feast of St Nicholas; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jan_Steen_-_Het_Sint_Nicolaasfeest.jpg

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Genre Painting

    Images in any various media that represent scenes or events from everyday life such as domestic settings, interiors, parties, inn scenes, or street scenes.

  • Allegory

    A symbolic narrative; a representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through material forms.

  • Camera Obscura

    An early device with a hole in one end of an enclosed box or room that projects an image of its surroundings onto a flat screen or surface.

  • Satire

    The use of sarcasm, ridicule emphasizing weakness more than the weak person, denouncing vice and folly and implying moral judgment.