The story of Danae is an ancient Greek myth: a prophecy had told the king of Argos that if ever his daughter Princess Danae would be pregnant, she would give birth to a son that would kill him. The king had her therefore locked up in a bronze chamber, but this could not prevent Zeus to “visit” her in the form of a golden rain, and nine months later Perseus was born.
The first century AD Roman author Pliny the Elder told of a contest between Greece’s most famous painters: the winner had painted a curtain, which the other contestant wanted to pull aside. Painting “fake” curtains that seem to hang “outside” of the painting became the ultimate test for painters.
Our painter has even gone further and painted two curtains: one inside the mythological scenery and a second one outside of it.
About the attribution of our painting
Our painting has received very diverse attributions until now. Although there still exists no absolute certainty about its author I do agree with Dr. Fred Meijer from the RKD, The Hague, that an attribution to Daniel Thivart is very plausible.
The painting appeared in four successive German auctions in the 1930s as by Nicolaus Knupfer. This early attribution by J.H.J. Mellaart was confirmed by J.I. Koeznetsov in 1964 and in 1974. Jo Saxton in her 2005 monograph on Knupfer has refuted this attribution: Nr. R11, P. 205-206.
Albert Blankert has proposed an attribution to Jacob van Loo in 1993. Eric Jan Sluijter has accepted this attribution in several publications, in 1999, 2000 and 2006. But then David Mandrella in his 2011 monograph on Jacob van Loo has refuted that attribution: Nr. PR. 17, P. 221. This author proposed either to accept Nicolaus Knupfer as the painter or to see our painting as an early work of Emmanuel de Witte.
In May 2012 came yet another proposition of identification of our painter: Dr. Fred Meijer from the RKD in The Hague suggested Daniel Thivart as its author.
About Daniel Thivart
Amsterdam 1611 – 1656 (?)
Painter of religious and mythological subjects.
He was the son of an art dealer.
It is not known whom he studied painting with. He seems to have been influenced by Leonart Bramer (Delft 1596 – 1674 Delft) and by Willem de Poorter (Haarlem 1608 – in or fater 1649). It is thought that he might have spent some years in Italy.
He favoured rather emotional, dramatic subjects.
About Jacob van Loo, whom our painting was attributed to in the 2016/2017 Dusseldorf exhibition
Sluis 1614 – 1670 Paris
Painter of genre scenes, portraits and historic subjects (mythological and biblical subjects).
Son of a notary, Jacques van Loo.
In 1635 van Loo is already documented in Amsterdam, where he married Anna Lengele, sister of the portrait painter Martinus (or Maerten) Lengele (1604–1668) in 1643. The couple had seven children in eleven years.
At an early stage van Loo was influenced by Thomas de Keyser for his portraits and by Jacob Adriaensz Backer for his Classicist nudes, later also by Flemish painters (Sir Anthony van Dyck). In the 1650s he began to paint gallant scenes featuring musicians, soldiers and young women.
In the autumn of 1660 van Loo was involved in a fight in a tavern outside the St Anthony’s gate of Amsterdam; he stabbed a wine dealer, a certain Hendrik Breda, in his belly, who later died of his injuries. Although his brother-in-law had made two separate declarations with several witnesses before a notary to testify of the extremely violent character of Breda van Loo was accused of murder. He fled from the Dutch Republic and was sentenced to death in absentia (decapitation with a sword), which forever prevented his return to Holland and West Frisia.
Van Loo settled in Paris in 1661. There he continued to enjoy great success and in 1663 was admitted to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture as a portrait painter, presenting as his entry work a portrait of Michel Corneille the Elder (Musée du Louvre, Paris). In Paris van Loo mainly work as a portrait painter, dropping the clarity of his Amsterdam years for a marked claire-obscure. The figures in his history paintings were also portraits.
Jacob van Loo was the founder of a real dynasty of painters:
- two of his sons: Abraham and Johannes;
- two of his grandsons, sons of Abraham: Jean-Baptiste and Carle Vanloo;
- two sons of Jean-Baptiste: Charles-Amédée-Philippe and Louis-Michel Vanloo.
About Danae and Perseus
Danae was a Greek princess, the only child of King Akrisios of Argos in the Peloponnese. A prophecy told the king that Danae would give birth to a son who was destined to kill him. The king locked Danae away in a subterranean bronze chamber. This did not prevent Zeus, reputed for his adultery relations with mortal women, to “visit” Danae in her prison. He impregnated her in the guise of a golden shower. Their son’s name was Perseus. King Akrisios tried to avoid the inevitable without committing murder: he placed Danae and the infant in a chest and set them adrift at sea. By the providence of the gods they made it safely to the island of Seriphos where the fisherman Diktys offered them refuge in his home. King Polydektes of Seriphos sought Danae for his wife and when Perseus grew to manhood the king wished to get rid of Danae’s son. He commanded Perseus an impossible task, to fetch the Gorgon's head. The hero returned victorious only to learn that his mother had fled to the temple of Athena seeking refuge from the king. In anger Perseus turned Polydektes and his allies to stone with Medusa’s head.
Later Perseus joined the athletic games in Larissa. Perseus’ discus accidently killed a man in the public. Thus the prophecy was fulfilled, for Perseus had just killed his grandfather, King Akrisios of Argos.
About the art of painting a “trompe l’oeil”
In his “Naturalis Historia” (Natural History), the Roman author Pliny the Elder (23 AD – 79 AD) tells the story of a competition between the 5th century BC Greek painters Zeuxis of Heraclea and Parrhasius of Ephesus (who settled in Athens).
Zeuxis painted a bunch of grapes so real that birds flew down to peck at the painting. Confident of his success, Zeuxis asked Parrhasius to draw back the curtain covering his work, only to realise that the curtain itself was the painting, a painted illusion, and that Parrhasius had won the competition.
A “trompe l’oeil” is a game, a manipulative joke, a cheating device. Painting also: how can a painter represent in two dimensions the effect of depth, of a third dimension? How far would these painters go in playfully excelling in their art? How refined could culture get? Painters turned art into a game and a game into art.
These paintings were called “bedriegertjes”, that is “a small imposter, a small crook”. Their aim was not only to deceive by perfectly imitating the objects, but also to be identified as painted fiction.
Parrhasius’ curtain became the ultimate test for painters.
About our painting
In 17th century domestic interiors paintings were sometimes kept behind real curtains, for example rather erotic subjects, such as Danae.
What makes our painting so special is indeed the combination of a known mythological subject with a curtain. While the interior with Danae belongs to the world of painting, the curtain, though painted, does not: it belongs to the real world, to the world of the viewer. It stands for shame and innocence. This interesting combination turns into a conflict: one is attracted to the intimate scenery and not supposed to look at a curtain, so one wonders what is hidden behind it. It marks the boundaries between publicity and privacy, it leads the viewer to consider what painting can reveal or conceal.
In classical mythology Danae stood for chastity and virtue, but in painting her story acquired a more erotic flavour. She is usually shown lying in bed, with the old maidservant at her side. She is no longer raped by Zeus, but seems to accept his golden rain joyfully.
Why should you buy this painting?
First of all because it is a great trompe l’oeil painting and a great mythological painting.
Secondly because our painter is a real genius for he has combined two curtains:
- the first one, as part of the legendary interior, hanging behind Danae;
- the second one, as part of our world, which has been partly moved to reveal that mythological scene.