The Young Mother
is, perhaps, the most precious known painting of Gerrit Dou. According to the sources, the States General of the Netherlands bought it from the artist for an incredible amount at the time of 4000 guilders. The panel was one of the diplomatic gifts to the English king Charles II on the occasion of his accession to the throne after the Restoration in 1660.
This piece can also be called a demonstration of the virtuoso technical skills of Dou, the founder of the Leiden school of fijnschilders or “fine artists”. It is characterized by a special painting style, an extremely accurate, scrupulous depiction of details in a small format. Indeed, the skin on the mother’s face looks almost translucent. The strands of her hair hanging out from under the cap, and the feathers of a dead bird on the table to the right are carefully painted with the finest brush. Dou also carefully captured and rendered various reflective surfaces of the objects that filled the spacious interior.
The contrast of light and shadow sets the depth and atmosphere of this complex and voluminous composition. The balustrade at the top with the drapery thrown on it is an element often used by other Dutch artists of the 17th century (for example, Jan Steen
), but rarely by Dou himself. The arched form of the panel reinforces the association with theatrical proscenium. The artist resorts to this technique in many paintings depicting arched windows, which enhances the visual perception of the work.
The female subjects of The Young Mother are united by the play of their glances: the nanny girl looks lovingly at the child in the cradle, who looks at its mother, busy with needlework. She, in turn, directed her gaze to the viewer, as if involving him in this silent dialogue. Furniture and objects around them perform a double function, they are both a sign of wealth and picturesque elements of the still life. The active bustle of servants, barely distinguishable in the background, testifies to a well-organized household.
Here, Dou depicts the world of a Dutch lady with all her responsibilities as mother and housewife. Like all genre scenes of the Dutch artists of the Golden Age, this one can be “read” in a special way — according to the poses of the subjects and the interior elements. Sewing has traditionally been associated with diligence, economy and, finally, virtue. This activity signals that the mother will serve as a good example for her daughter, transfer her this important female role. The value of proper parenting is embodied in the behaviour of the girl as she lovingly bent over the cradle. The shoe thrown away and the overturned unlit lantern designed for people to go outside with may hint that a woman’s place is in the house. On the contrary, the husband, the owner of the sword, cloak, globe and books is, possibly, somewhere outside the dwelling. Despite his absence, the cupid, prominent on the pillar, and the birdcage (which often carries erotic associations) suggest a marriage of harmony and love.
There is a version that The Young Mother was originally intended as a wedding gift. Researchers Abraham Bredius and Cornelis Hofstede de Groot have identified the coat of arms on the window as that of the influential Van Adrichem family of Delft. Magdalena van Adrichem married lawyer Dirck van Beresteijn in 1652. However, he died less than a year after the wedding and the order was eventually withdrawn. This may explain the change in the date on the panel and its fortunate presence in the Dou’s studio when the Dutch Senate needed a present for the new king of England.
Having received this magnificent picture, Charles II immediately offered Gerrit Dou the position of court painter. However, the artist declined this invitation.Written by Vlad Maslov