Thursday, 5 May 2011

Flemish Baroque Guinea Pigs!

For my UWA I needed to look at some northern baroque art. Off I went on a sunny day to Kelvingrove which has a large collection of Dutch art.
I wandered around trying to pick a painting to look at in detail. There are wonderful pieces from Rembrandt, Ruysch and de Lairesse to name a few. However it was a collaboration piece by Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel that caught my eye.
Rubens and Brueghel - Nature adorned by the three Graces, 1615
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow

A classical inspired statue of a multi-breasted mother nature, surrounded by mythical characters and a huge garland of fruit and vegetables. Standing in front of the painting I noted the variety of produce - pumpkins, peaches, plums, artichokes, cabbages, carrots, turnips, wheat, apples, pears, lemons, oranges, cherries etc. Also painted are a monkey, a squirrel, a parrot and in the bottom right hand corner two guinea pigs! Firstly I wasn't too sure of it was guinea pigs, but there are definitely no tails, and the body shape is right, and they are sitting eating podded peas.
The painting is from 1615, at this time Amsterdam was a wealthy port. Guinea pigs were first brought to Europe by traders after the discovery of the Americas. They were popular exotic pets for the upper classes, a sign of fruitfulness and apparently even Elizabeth I had a pet guinea pig. I should point out that Brueghel would have painted the guinea pigs (rather than Rubens - who painted the figures), and apparently Brueghel has painted pairs of guinea pigs in other paintings too!
Currently we are without guinea pigs, as poor Oscar had a seizure and passed away. But it seems even when I go to the gallery I am automatically drawn to them!

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