Recently, I came across a painting by the Dutch Mannerist painter and engraver Abraham Bloemaert (ca.1564-1651), which stroke me as very interesting and unsual (image not available at this point but I will post it once I have it). “Judith Holding the Head of Holofernes” has been a recurrent theme and the subject of many famous representations, also by Michelangelo and Caravaggio. Depicting the beheading scene, Bloemaert´s painting caught my eye, for all characters involved in the narrative show their back on us, completely careless of us as viewers. Challenging the classical concept of painting as a “world placed before our eyes”, oblivious to the traditional conception of painting as a sort of stage where narrative unfolds, Bloemaert´s version prevents us to connect with the story, forbiding us to assume our tipical role as objective and distanced observers achieving some universal principle. On the contrary, we only know what it is about because of the title and a few represented icons in the painting, for all participants are engaged in something which we´re not given easy access to. Gathering in an almost closed circle with their backs to us, this representation strikes me as extraordinary for its time.
After a period of travel which included Paris (1580-3) and Amsterdam (1591-3), Bloemaert settled in the city of Utrecht becoming a very influential painter, who even raised the attention of Rubens who visited him in his studio in 1627. Very influent as a painter of biblical and historical subjects, portraits and still-lifes, Bloemaert not only taught a generation of Utrecht’s best artists, including Hendrick Ter Brugghen and Cornelis van Poelenburgh but also had a decisive influence in others, namely Jan Both, Aelbert Jacobszoon Cuyp, Gerrit van Honthorst, Hendrik Terbrugghen, and Jan Baptist Weenix. His engravings openly circulated around at the time.
Bloemaert´s activity sprang throughout 50 years from mythological and religious paintings, in some cases completely new to Dutch art, to tapestries, stained-glass windows and more than 1,500 drawings. He also co-founded the famous Utrecht’s Guild of Saint Luke in 1611. His style is usually summoned up as a decorative synthesis of Caravaggio’s contrasting light effects and Mannerism’s bright and acid colors, this late feature as showned in the Charity depiction from c. 1590 above. His painting incorporates Mannerism’s restless light effects and strong contrasts, richly colored palette, and lots of movement and detail. Over time, we watch the subject matter of his landscapes became more and more incidental and even difficult to find…
His elongated figures and complex compositions are no doubtly a part of the ongoing maneristic program but his specific preocupation with human back makes him in my view very special.
Above I post some examples.