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The painting of "The Club Footed Boy" by Jusepe de Rubera's and that of "Young Flute Player" by Judith Leyster's occurred during the same period of time. The paintings suggest that the two artists may have had a similar subject. However, their work showed some contrast because of the styles used each of the individual artists and the fact that the two originated from different areas. The two boys portrayed in the artists’ work seem to have grown from different circumstances. The Club Footed Boy seems to hail from a more disadvantaged area compared to the Young Flute Player. The difference in the two societies is well reflected in the way the paintings are designed. It is also clear from the paintings that two artists though existed during the same period, used different styles in their art works.
Jusepe de Rubera’s The Club Footed Boy
This painting is explicitly a charity picture. The boy is portrayed holding a piece of paper on which is written “Da mihi elimo sinam propter amorem dei.” These inscriptions can be translated to mean –“give me alms for the love of God.” One interpretation of the inscription can be that the paper was a license to allow the boy to beg. Another possible interpretation could have been that the boy was suffering from speech problem and was unable to verbally ask for help. The first look at the painting makes one want to think of acting charitably. The boy has been portrayed in a manner demanding an attention. Ribera’s painting glorifies this beggar by making it similar to other kinds of attention-seeking images.
Ironically, a deeper analysis of Ribera’s work readily reveals that the purpose of this piece of art may not have been to communicate the miserable state of the boy. The begging words of the inscription seem to directly contradict with the dignity she attributed to the figure. It is interesting the way Ribera has portrayed the beggar. Contrary to depicting him as a needy and miserable child, she instead portrayed him as a youngster who stands upright happy with himself. He carries his scratch in a manner which makes him look like he is boldly proud. The slanting crutch he carries extends exactly from one side of the frame to the other making it a strong pictorial gesture. It gives the figure a full domination of the scene. It is as if the boy utilizes the crutch to enhance his visibility.
The figure seems to have empowered the subject into some sort of a giant. The boy is shown close up above his viewers who are looking at him from a low view point. This seems to have built the self esteem of the subject as seen by his broad smile. These characteristics are normally expected only of a noble person. The Club Footed Boy looks at the spectators directly downwards with a relaxed gaze of experience and superiority. Overly, the limping beggar boy suggests instead to a modern viewer. The appaently miserable, valueless individual stands like a monument reminding us to remember that all creatures are equal before God. This boy, depicted by Ribera is not begging his viewers for mercy. He is claiming his right to have it.
Judith Leyster's, Young Flute Player
The Young Flute player (1635) is a painting by Judith Leyster who was a Dutch Golden Age painter. She lived between the years 1609-1660. She was one of the three significant women artists in Dutch Golden Age Painting. In this work, Leyster put much concentration on the face of the young boy to enable her achieve her goal. The other aspects she gives attention are the shadowing of the wall and the strategically placed violin and recorder instruments. The scene of the painting reveals that the society was just entering into its modern age. The painting clearly reflects the state of the Dutch Golden day as characterized by a growing merchant class. It reveals that this society was characterized by life pleasures.
The Dutch golden Age was a time of much prosperity and was equally characterized by social solidarity of the merchant class. The period was marked by an increasing growth in both the local and international trade leading to an improved standard of living among the Dutch citizens. As a result, there was an emergence and growth of a strong middle class. The middle class market equally expanded with people embracing lifestyles full of leisure activities. The citizens enjoyed good times in general abundance of products which originated from all over the world. Being predominantly protestant, there were no church commitments. The major investments and support came from the successful middle class who provided ready market for art products.
The boy is shown in natural light and his face reveals that he is concentrating and disciplined in what he is doing. Leyster used the painting to highlight the joyous mood of the boy which also worked to enhance the properties of his music. The facial expression in this work makes it a lovely painting that really shows the emotions and dedication of the young musician in playing his instrument. This work shows that art was a highly respected profession, and artists could afford to own and use expensive musical instruments. One of the appealing aspects of this painting is Leyster’s use of natural light to illuminate the flute player and that saves the painting from being very dull. Leyster’s use of natural light added a touch of practicality to the painting. It also allowed her to demonstrate her skills with contrasting shadows and brightness. The boy’s shadow in the wall is especially masterful.
At the background is also a brown plaster wall whose texture is brought out by the light. His coat is a greenish brown that harmonizes with the subdued tones around him. Apart from the boy’s figure, Leyster also uses the violin and the recorder hanging prominently on the wall beside the boy too achieve balance and harmony. The violin in the background suggests that the boy may be auditioning for membership of the orchestra at such a tender age. The difference between light and darkness is distinct, as the sunlight hits the boy’s face and one of his hands. The painting shows that at such a young age, the artist had mastered the Baroque technique of music.
It is also interesting to note that the back of the boy’s chair is broken. This also adds to realism and makes the image even more interesting as it reveals more insight about the boy’s social class. However, the boy is very significant in his generation as he acts as a sign of hope for the young generation. This society is in its modern age, just escaping poverty. Its children too have fitted well in the changing system. They not only listen to music, but can also compose it. The violin and a recorder hanging on the wall behind the boy reveal that he has a high level of experience in music. Like all children of this period, he is well dressed with the sobriety and modesty of a young adult. He is putting on a velvet coat, linen collar and a deep red hat all which point to a comfortable living.
Even though the paintings seem to give the boy in Young Flute Player an upper hand, it is clear that he has equally experienced hard times. He is still in between poverty and comfortable life. He has a home with a violin hanging on the wall but lacks music master in the room to train him. The chair on which he sits is broken at the back and the wall on which his instrument hangs is equally very rough. However, while it seems that the young musician is still trying to change his standard of living, he is still having an advantage over the Club Footed Boy. He is healthy, having escaped the challenges of his times. His society is equally a notch higher compared to that of the Club Footed Boy.
However, the two paintings revealed some similarities on the artists’ styles of painting. Both the artists use nature to communicate meaning. Rubera for example, makes the view point of her work as low as the ankle level. This allows the Club Footed Boy to appear like he is touring above the narrow strip of the earth. He seems to have occupied the spreading sky. His dark clothes cut a bold shadow against the light. The rising pockets of the cloud and blue make his upward position even more visible. Just like in the case with Ribera, Leyster’s also used the natural light to liven up her subjects within their environments.
Though Leyster’s work had a strong sense of the society at that time, the irony of posed by the painting of the Club Footed Boy from the lower social class in Rubera’s work provides for a more dynamic scene. Rubera’s painting creates in the viewers mind a disparity that may exist in a society and the need to eliminate such vices.