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Abraham Bloemaert

(c. 1565 Gorinchem – 1651 Utrecht)

Head of an Old Man Looking Down. Red chalk over a light preliminary drawing in black chalk, white heightening, on brownish  paper. 25.6 x 17.5 cm. With the number “39” in the top right-hand corner. Circa 1595–1605. Bolten 809.

Thanks to his longevity Abraham Bloemaert, the founder of the Utrecht school of painting, left an astonishingly extensive œuvre, reflecting many of the artistic currents of his time. He was also very influential as a teacher and played a major part in the development of Dutch painting during the first half of the 17th century. His pupils included such varied talents as the Utrecht Caravaggists Hendrik Terbrugghen and Gerard van Honthorst, as well as representatives of the later Italianate style of landscape painting, such as Cornelis van Poelenburgh and Jan and Andries Both. The artist’s graphic œuvre is no less extensive. Bloemaert worked intensively from nature and produced countless figural and compositional studies, which were not only intended as preparations for paintings, but also served didactic purposes in connection with his activity as head of a flourishing studio.

Executed in a strong, vigorous style this Head Study of an Old Man is an extremely fine and relatively early work that was probably done between 1595 and 1605. Bloemaert has characterized the volumes and textures of this distinctive elderly male head with great graphic accuracy, while the masterly use of white heightening creates effective highlights on the man’s brow, nose and beard, adding life to the portrait. In stylistic terms the present sheet is very close to several drawings of the so-called Giroux Album (Bolten 1093–1136), a loose collection of figure studies dating from various creative phases, which were probably intended as a guide for Bloemaert’s students. The numbering on this sheet suggests it formed part of a similar compendium.

Throughout his life Bloemaert cherished the notion of a didactic project in the form of a manual for artists. This project took a long time to realise and was not completed until shortly before Bloemaert’s death. About 1650 his youngest son, Frederik Bloemaert, published the Konstrijk Tekenboek, a model book containing a selection of 120 engravings after drawings by his father which appeared in separate instalments. This didactic work was held in high esteem well into the 18th century, a second edition being produced in 1740 by the Amsterdam publishers Reinier and Josua Ottens.

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