What is happiness…?
Blessedness is not the reward of virtue, but is virtue itself; and we do not delight in it because we conquer our passions, but because we delight in it, we are able to conquer our passions.” – Spinoza’s Ethics…..
There are different interpretations of this sentence because some will say that under blessedness, Spinoza meant happiness. It’s really risky to get into such deliberations because you never know what today’s man would call happiness or call just a temporary and limited elation and joy.
Probably happiness is the right way to live?!
If we categorize happiness as something else entirely, that is security, the result is that life will seem as boring as life in Switzerland. But what it is that a man really aspires to except good health, paying monthly bills, and affording food and other necessities. In addition, there are ambitions related to profession, education, and years of learning, work, and study. These were the aspirations we have seen in Spinoza, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and many other philosophers, writers, painters, musicians. Happiness wasn’t something that always followed them just because they remained independent. In fact, they were at odds with the majority stance that reigned.
But shall we chat now about Rijsk museum… actually just about some paintings from the Gallery of Honour, which I visited this past September. This trip came a long time since I wrote my book about Peter Greenaway, director and conceptual artist. I was so excited that I just did not sleep all night before the visit. Amsterdam was a real discovery and it made me happy.
We cannot control external forces, but learn to accept life’s ups and downs with self – control and a serene mind.
The Rijsk Museum has multiple departments and requires maybe a few days to see all the collections properly. What I was most interested in was the so-called “collections” of the Dutch Golden Age. After a few hours in that hall where pictures of the greats are displayed, I came to a weird conclusion. Over the years I’ve seen reproductions or through different apps I’ve virtually looked at these masters — fascinated by portraits, time, the spirit of the jolly atmosphere from some genre scenes. I was magically fascinated by the smell of flowers spilling out of lavish lifestyles. For the first time I saw scenes from Rembrandt’s Night’s Watch. I had read everything about that painting. Recognizing the symbolism of the paintings and what it means when a woman is unconventional or when she pours milk or why white is a sign of mourning rather than black, brocade black and lace from Portugal. You’re looking at all these nobles, members of the upper classes who could afford expensive clothes, lavish homes, servants, trapped, remounted in portraits, stopped forever at that time. The concussions are almost realistic, every detail is painted faithfully, strikingly, as a testament to the fashion and spirit of a time. But I paused and asked if they were happy, satisfied or calm at heart? At that moment, I began to realize the transience of life in all those scenes, the captured moment or some dead nature.In the Gallery “Gallery of Honour” one painting caught my eye depicting a nobleman approached by a woman who had fallen into misery and she asked a well-to-do man for a little help.
Legs wide apart and his right arm akimbo, Croeser sits on the stoop of his house on the Oude Delft canal in Delft. His thirteen-year-old daughter Catharina looks straight out at us. Jan Steen included a narrative element in this portrait: a poor woman and a child escape for alms from the rich grain merchant. In 1657, just two years after this portrait was made, Croeser stood certainty for Steen, who was seriously in debt.
“Human power is very limited and infinitely surpassed by the power of the external causes.” – Spinoza.
This painting shows one phenomenal image from that time when we are talking about
Golden Age, it’s by any measure not a masterpiece of what’s more in this museum department. What more is made modelled on the image of Rembrandt a Blind Hurdy – Gurdy player and Family Receiving Alms, 1648. Etching, Rijskmuseum.
Then this picture would be the perfect allegory in which society was deeply divided. That a large part of the population lived very poorly and we see a certain shame for a rich man approaching a beggar. Those who were born poor stayed in the same social position and self-determination. Extreme wealth and terrifying poverty evident in the eyes of a beggar, the indifference of a rich daughter and a boy standing next to a mother begging for help.
Behind the story is another story that in 1657, just two years after this portrait was made, Croeser stood sure for Steen, who was seriously in debt. Regardless of Steen’s talent and the incredible ease of painting, he too had fallen into debt, just as Rembrandt had fallen into debt. Happiness or blessedness is relative no matter how talented, ambitious, learned or successful in life, happiness is a changing /relative category.
In the gallery of the Honors one of most remarkable paintings are the two portraits…Rembrandt painted the portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit in Amsterdam in 1634 when he was twenty-eight. The meticulous rendering of the opulent costumes, the vitality of the figures and the subtle use of light in these paintings place them among his greatest masterpieces. The portraits are also a milestone in Dutch history, marking the rise of the ambitious young Dutch Republic in the Golden Age.
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) painted the double portrait of Maerten Soolmans and his wife Oopjen Coppit in 1634. At the age of 28, the artist was in the prime of his career, as shown by his two Self-Portraits in Rijks museum collections from the very period.
The paintings are an exception in Rembrandt’s oeuvre, the only full-length pendant portraits known by the artist. This type of work, usually reserved to more southern European courts, and Flanders in particular, was very rare for its time in Holland. By choosing this type of portrait, the couple most likely wanted to showcase their social status. Indeed, they belonged to the highest class of the Amsterdam bourgeois. In June of 1633, Maerten Soolmans (1613-1641), son of a refugee from Antwerp, married Oopjen Coppit (1611-1689), whose hand in marriage was one of the most sought-after in the city.
For this prestigious commission, Rembrandt creates a dialogue between the two portraits by introducing a movement: Maerten Soolmans holds out his glove, a sign of fidelity, to his wife who descends a stair toward him. And the large curtain in the background unifies the two paintings, just like the light that falls harshly on Maerten’s right shoulder and more softly on Oopjen’s large lace collar. During this period, all the genius of the Amsterdam master lay in his skillful handling of a concentrated palette centered around black, white, and gray, to brilliant effect. The sumptuous black clothing, the most expensive fashion of the time, offers the artist the chance to render materials in a brilliant show of bravura: Maerten’s satin-edged, starched garment contrasts with the featherweight silk and quilted satin and tulle of Oopjen’s dress, whose swelling waistline hints at pregnancy. The elaborate bows on the couple’s belts create a sort of garland that unites the cones. The precision and painstaking attention to detail is evident in the patterns on the husband’s breeches, the extravagant decoration of his shoes, and Oopjen’s fan.
The two sitters wear very different expressions—Maerten’s is more generic, while Oopjen appears more melancholy and genteel. Maerten’s flesh tones, dominated by pink tones, are on the harsh side, while Oopjen’s palette is more transparent and subdued.
The wedding portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit (1611-1689) are considered to be Rembrandt’s most spectacular portraits.
These two conclussions are about themselves, and this time we’re not talking about the genius of Rembrandt, but the proud and vain citizens of the young republic. Every detail in the picture, from brocade silk, to silver buckles on the groom’s shoes to beads and luxury jewellery of the bride and her veil, slowly covers her head from the most expensive lace to the glove provided by her husband. Everything is drawn and painted in filigree as one status symbol from that era is displayed in detail. The marriage didn’t last long because the groom, a lawyer from Leiden, died soon after; as someone said, everything is fleeting, and every being is so fragile. There remains only one question as to whether during their brief marriage (in which they gave birth to three children) they were happy? They already were rich and that means all material goods provided them with security. We can assume that they probably had a house in Amsterdam with big windows and lived somewhere on the Herengraht Canal (Gentleman’s Canal), where only the wealthiest citizens lived. Imagination allows us to imagine what the inside of a house lined with marble tiles looked like and that they probably had a large servant sleeping in the attic. That leaves you with a question about happiness?
Spinoza reminds us that happiness, at least as it commonly conceived, can be unpredict table and fleeting achievement in a world that does not cater to our desires.
Suddenly after several hours in the museum looking all these portraits from Golden Age, I became aware about all this captured glory of one time is just gone. However, the faces are still in the frames saying something about their time on the earth, their emotions, their pride and glory. Certainly, freedom exists in spirit of Dutch people. Point to that commission of the two portrait of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit, which cost about 150 million euros, shows the power of state as well as respect for the cultural inheritance of the Dutch Young Republic. Rijks museum and his own library is also something exceptional, which has on display 8,000 objects of art and history, from their total collection of 1 million objects from the years 1200 – 2000, among which are some masterpieces by Rembrandt, Franc Hals, and Johannes Vermeer. Such a museum should be like honourable place for each Amsterdam visitor and needs more days to be seen and reasonably appreciate. Humanity should know that most of the artefacts in museum are witnessing about the history of humankind and its achievements. I hope to someday again visit the museum. Books about Rembrandt, Amsterdam, Spinoza are now on my working desk as beautiful memories and material for further research. Life according to reasonable meaning has essence in intellectual work, especially in times when world is tumbling upside down.