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Title: Hiëronymus Janssens (1624-1693), the Antwerp 'à la Mode' Painter: Fashion and Dance in Southern Netherlandish Genre Painting, 1645-1685
Other Titles: Hiëronymus Janssens (1624-1693), de Antwerpse 'à la Mode'-schilder: Mode en dans in Zuid-Nederlandse genreschilderkunst, 1645-1685
Authors: Magnus, Hannelore
Issue Date: 10-Jul-2015
Abstract: Summary

This dissertation focuses on the genre paintings by the Antwerp artist Hiëronymus Janssens (1624-1693). Janssens is by far the only painter from the second half of the seventeenth century in the Southern Netherlands who specialised in the depiction of dance, corporality, music and leisure ofnbsp;society. In contrast to his fellow Northern Netherlandish genre painters, there has barely been any scholarly attention paid to this Antwerp painter thus far.
Apart from seventeenth-century inventories and archival documents, the oldest sources that discuss Hiëronymus Janssens in-depth are written in the eighteenth century. It is these eighteenth-century documents that mention his nicknames for the first time: Janssens, ‘the dancer’ or Janssens, ‘the à la mode painter’. Both of these nicknames have been useful guides in our understanding of the oeuvre of Janssens. In this dissertation, Janssens’ depictions of dance and fashion are the main focus in the iconographical parts (chapters 4 and 5).
This research transgresses the boundaries of art history, as I have made use of and contributed to cultural history and the history of costume in the second half of the seventeenth century in the Southern Netherlands. As Janssens’ paintings are depictions of the ideal aristocratic life of the seventeenth-century elite, the contextual background of dance and fashion of the elite is discussed in-depth as well.
In seventeenth-century Antwerp, the urban elite (wealthy people who had political and/or economical power and (consequently) high social prestige) consisted of members of the commercial elite with aristocratic aspirations (‘homines novi’), or the new nobility who originated from this mercantile social group who had been recently ennobled (and thus have reached the aspired goal). The culture of these groups in society who also tied themselves through marriage with the rsquo; aristocracy, had many similarities (cultural osmosis).
The members of the urban elite (both the mercantile elite and the recently ennobled) paid a lot of attention to outward symbols of their (aspired) aristocratic lifestyle, such as country houses, riding in coaches, starting an art collection and displaying connoisseurship, etc. Among these symbols, buying expensive and fashionable dress and learning how to dance elegantly and how to adopt the correct, elegant posture, also played an important role (beingagrave; la mode’). Precisely by stressing these outward symbols in his paintings, Janssens appears to have stressed that these social layers of society (the rsquo;) who needed the outward symbols most, were represented in his paintings (as they were also depicted in his painted art galleries). Nevertheless, not only such a ‘positive approach’ was present in his oeuvre; the aristocratic character of the figures in Janssens’ brothel scenes and depictions of the story of the prodigal son undoubtedly also stressed the negative aspects of dance and fashion (similar to the many condemnations of moralists). By depicting ‘elegant company scenes’ and such moralising brothel scenes, Janssens played with both the positive and negative ideas that existed about dance and fashion.
In the first chapter of this dissertation I have indicated that Hiëronymus Janssens did not himself belong to the group of urban elite he depicted in his paintings. As were his many fellow painters, Janssens was part of the well-to do middle class of society. Janssens participated in urban city life (he was a member of the swordsmen’s guild, he visited the theatre and the opera, he played an important role in his parish, etc.). These activities indicate Janssens strived for social prestige and status. In these organisations, Janssens was able to connect with members of the social groups he depicted in his paintings (commercial elite with aristocratic aspirations/new nobility). Moreover, Janssens was able to connect with possible buyers, patrons, colleagues, and art-dealers.
Archival information has also shown that Janssens was very well acquainted with the world of early modern dance and music. Without doubt Janssens knew the elite dancing styles the Antwerp elite learned (such as the Moretus family). The ideal bodily posture that was being taught through dance and the etiquette of civilité as represented in the paintings (and in the entire genre of elegant company paintings) were not abstract elements that simply belonged to the typology of the genre, but were (also) aspects of a reality Janssens knew well.
In the second chapter of this dissertation the market for elegant company paintings is central. Janssens’ larger paintings were considered of greater value than general elegant company paintings, although his rsquo; sized paintings were rather cheap, as one of his paintings was valued at 18 guilders. This price tag/monetary value for an elegant company painting is not unique, and fits within the general value of such elegant company genre scenes. Paintings of the elegant company scene genre were bought by members of different social groups (members of the middle classes, the intellectual elite, the mercantile elite, and the aristocracy). These genre paintings were traded by art-dealers as is evidenced by the information on the Forchondt firm – they also sold paintings by Janssens, and Guilliam Forchondt knew Janssens in person. As such elegant company paintings were sold on the open market, the paintings were produced rapidly in order to meet the demand. Therefore, similar to the Northern Netherlands, the painters, including Janssens, often reused certain motifs and compositions. Janssens’ paintings nevertheless belonged to the highest group of such rapidly produced paintings (better quality paintings than those produced by third rank painters). Janssens was known for his capacity of painting figures, and he often collaborated with colleagues, such as architectural painters.
The reception of the paintings undoubtedly differed from buyer to buyer (figures are representatives of the own aspired aristocratic lifestyle, or the unattainable ideal lifestyle of members of a higher social group).
The third chapter focuses in on Janssens’ use of the visual tradition and his dependence on the inventions and compositions of his fellow painters (predecessors);nbsp;Janssens was not a very innovative painter- he used old iconographical conventions (this confirms the idea that in the Southern Netherlands genre painting was much more traditional than in the Northern Netherlands). Janssens’ paintings illustrate the immediate interchange between French and Southern Netherlandish compositions and conventions. Janssens used French prints as immediate sources of inspiration for his paintings. In addition, his paintings also evidence how he was inspired by the works of painters such as Christoffel Jacobsz Van der Lamen, Louis de Caullery, Frans Francken the Younger and Cornelis de Baeilleur. Janssens frequently used older visual conventions, confirming the idea of scholars who described his oeuvre as rsquo; (he used motifs from the first half of the seventeenth century). The most important element in Janssens’ oeuvre is his ever present need to update the dresses of his figures in his compositions (the costumes but also the hairstyles are up to date or agrave; larsquo;). Despite (or because of) this traditional character, Janssens’ paintings were also popular far beyond the boundaries of the Southern Netherlands. By using old, well-known and popular conventions, his paintings were recognisable and universally attractive.
The fourth chapter of this dissertation provides a (cultural-historical) introduction to the importance and function of dance in seventeenth-century Southern Netherlandish high society. It also adds a short overview of the different associations that were connected to dance in the early modern period. The analysis of the postures and positions (feet, arms, body movements) of the figures on display, indicate that Janssens (as did his colleagues) chose to add the typical characteristics of fashionable, baroque dance into his dancing scenes. A typological discussion of Janssensnbsp;dancing scenes has shown that his paintings are not very innovative, but that he chose to depict a dancing company according to the visual conventions known in the Netherlands and in France (cf. chapter 3) and also in England. The international audience must have immediately recognised the dancing scenes as fashionable gatherings of the elite dancing. Moreover, Janssensnbsp;knowledge of dance itself may have inspired him to add a dancing scene in the background of his painted art galleries.
This dissertation has shown that Janssens’ paintings are mostly important as – although the depiction of fashionable dress was part of the typological conventions of the genre – his paintings are rare depictions of the rapid changing fashion styles in the second half of the seventeenth century in the Southern Netherlands (influenced by French fashion styles). From the viewpoint of the history of costume,rsquo; paintings appear to be very important sources of research. This is confirmed by my analysis of the costumes and hairstyles in Janssens’ paintings in the fifth chapter, which also includes a general introduction into the history of costume in the Southern Netherlands – a research area that is still largely terra incognita.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Art History, Leuven

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