Leiden-born Matthijs Naiveu specialised after his move to Amsterdam by the early 1690s in representations of open-air and in-door entertainment.
Some of these happy, colourful scenes are dated. Ours is from 1710. It represents a nocturnal feast of Epiphany or of Mardi-Gras. Three Commedia dell’Arte figures (Coviello and two Harlequins) are entertaining a crowd on the Dam in Amsterdam. In the background one recognizes the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) and the Waag (Weigh House).
About Matthijs Naiveu
Leiden 1647 - 1726 Amsterdam
His name is sometimes spelt Neveu.
He was the son of a wine merchant and inn-keeper from Rotterdam. His grandfather had been a skipper in Liège.
Genre scene painter, he occasionally also painted portraits and still lifes.
He began his training with Abraham Toorenvliet (circa1620 - 1692), a glass painter and drawing master in Leiden, father of the genre scene painter Jacob Toorenvliet.
From 1667 to 1669 Naiveu was apprenticed to the Leiden Fine painter Gerrit Dou (1613 – 1675), one of the most famous Dutch genre scene painters of the 17th century. Dou received 100 guilders a year (an exceptionally high sum) for his instruction from the Leiden notary Tersijden who, following Naiveu’s parents’ death, was the custodian of Matthijs and of the three other children.
In 1671 Naiveu entered the Leiden Guild of St Luke, of which he became one of the Heads in 1677 and again in 1678.
He married in 1675 a widow with a 3-year old daughter; the couple got three more children.
In 1678/79, aged 32 and head of a family of five, he moved to Amsterdam, probably because he wanted to make an ambitious professional advancement as a portrait painter; recently Amsterdam had lost a number of established portrait painters. But judging by his dated works he shifted towards genre scenes by the start of the 1690s.
In 1696 Naiveu was appointed hop inspector. This work did not prevent him of producing a considerable number of paintings.
The earliest known work by Naiveu is dated 1668, the latest 1721.
There are dated paintings for almost every year in between; his most productive periods were 1675-79 and 1705-12, his most productive year was 1677, that is the year before his move to Amsterdam.
Naiveu died in 1726 at the respectable age of 79.
About our painting
After his move to Amsterdam in the late 1670s Naiveu tried to establish himself as a portrait painter, but by the early 1690s he focused more and more onto depictions of events, theatre performances, quack doctors, festivities and amusements both in the open-air or in-doors. “He chose aspects from life that would entertain - people in hilarious situations, some in exaggerated poses or costumes, either playing the part of fool consciously or unconsciously. Showing people acting out during the festivities is to amplify the everyday scene of the ‘theatre of life’ like Naiveu and his contemporaries saw in the plays performed by actors.” (Adele-Marie Dzidzaria 2007, P. 24). These scenes can be set against a local, Amsterdam background (as is the case here) or against a Roman setting (for which he must have been inspired by engravings, as our painter never travelled to Italy).
Our nocturnal feast with Commedia dell’Arte entertainers can represent:
- either “the Twelfth Night” (Epiphany) on 5 or 6 January,
- or Shrove Tuesday (Mardi-Gras, the last day Carnival, before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday, which lasts for some fourty days until Easter) in February or March.
The winter of 1710 was mild, certainly when compared to that of 1709, which is known as the winter that Europe froze. The winters of 1709 and of 1789 were the coldest European winters of the past 500 years.
Naiveu has situated the action in Amsterdam on its main square, the Dam, in front of the former City Hall (today the Royal Palace), which he did not include in his composition. At left one recognizes the small houses built against the Nieuw Kerk (New Church), while the large building behind the left Harlequin is the Waag (Weigh House) that was torn down in 1808. The Waag is recognizable by its large central window decorated with the coat of arms of Amsterdam. Above the left harlequin’s head one can clearly see two of the three vertically ordered silver or white Saint Andrew’s Crosses, which decorate the field of the escutcheon of that Amsterdam coat of arms.
The three main dancing figures are so-called Zanni or comic servant characters from the Italian Commedia dell’Arte. They can be identified as Coviello and two Harlequins:
- Coviello could dance (and play the mandolin) quite well. He can be recognized by the plume(s) in his hat.
- Harlequins (Arlecchini) are easily recognizable by their colourful chequered costume.
Typical of Naiveu satisfying the contemporary vogue is the inclusion of fashionable dressed people among and contrasting with the plain types and the Commedia dell’Arte figures.
Naiveu regularly dated his paintings:
- his oldest dated depiction of the figure of Harlequin dates from 1702 (a theatre performance in the candle-light);
- his oldest dated out-door performance in horizontal format dates from 1704 (the foot-doctor).
Our painting is dated 1710. It was unknown to Adele-Marie Dzidzaria who wrote her Research Master Theis in 2007 on “Entertaining genre of Matthijs Naiveu – depicting festivities and performances at the dawn of the ‘Theatre Age’.” Madam Dzidzaria did include the pair of undated theatre plays from the Museum of Art and History of Genève, which she dates circa 1710.
About Commedia dell’Arte
Commedia dell’Arte was a form of improvised comedy theatre, usually performed in the open air, often played with masked actors, which originated in Italy in the 16th century. Revolutionary was the fact that the female roles were no longer played by men, but by women.
Many Commedia dell’Arte troupes travelled all over Europe, adapting their characters and style to the local preferences. The performances were very physical, verbal and emotional. During the 17th century they were especially popular in France. In Holland they only got popular after 1682 when the repertoire got accessible for the French-oriented Dutch public thank to Parisian “comédiens italiens” who started performing here in French.
Its professional actors played very recognizable social types that were an embodiment of a certain mood. Its plots are always about sex, love, old age and of course jealousy.
Some of these Commedia dell’Arte troupes combined improvised performances with public outdoor marketplace quackery. These actors had understood that laughter engages attention and encourages relaxed spending, and they pitched their performances accordingly.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is a happy nocturnal scene set on Amsterdam’s main square.
Because it is an important signed and dated addition to the corpus of outdoor entertainment scenes by Matthijs Naiveu.