Een sjouwer

Adriaen Brouwer

Painting, 31 x 19 x 0.8 cm, 54.4 x 42.4 x 7.5 cm.
Materials: oil on wood

Collection: Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerpen.

The upright headgear of this workman suggests that he is a porter. His brown-grey, sleeveless jacket is tied up under his beer belly with a rope. He looks at us somewhat hazily and asks himself why the painter necessarily wants him to adopt a ballet pose. With this pocket-sized state portrait of a worker who pretends to be a nobleman, the painter may want to put a smile on the face of his audience. Perhaps the artist saw his model as a Flemish version of Pulcinella, the famous figure of the Commedia dell'Arte, the comic theatre that was uncommonly popular in Europe from the middle of the sixteenth century.

The brush of the artist, however, creates a great monumentality that is rather unusual in these kinds of tableaux. This has to do with the simplicity of the composition, the omission of anecdotal elements and the subtle mixing of shades of grey with a little ochre, blue and red. The shadow cast by the legs on the floor creates drama. It is not clear who realized this beautiful painting. The painting used to be attributed to Adriaen Brouwer, although in terms of subject matter it differs from the drinking, smoking and card-playing pub guests we usually associate with this master – or the pain-riddled grimaces during the disinfection of a wound or the operation of a foot. Perhaps the work is from the hand of Gonzales Coques, who painted genre-like scenes that thematised the five senses and also small society portraits.

Text: Nico Van Hout, 2018

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