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Hamen y León, Juan van der

Madrid, 1596 - Madrid, 1631

Despite his early death, considerable documentation of his life still exists today. We know he was born to a Flemish family and, like his father, he was a member of the Guardia de Arqueros, a corps dedicated to the protection of the king of Spain whose members were all from the Netherlands. In 1615, he married Eugenia Herrera, whose family was known for its sculptors and painters. By then, he was already quite successful as an artist, and four years later, in 1619, he began receiving commission from the court. Following the death in 1627 of the king’s painter, Bartolomé González, he competed against twelve other artists for that post, which he failed to receive.
Appreciated and recognized in courtly circles and among nobility, Van der Hamen was active in Madrid’s cultural life, and even wrote verses on the relation between painting and poetry. He is mentioned by writers Lope de Vega, Góngora and Juan Pérez de Montalbán, who praised his quality and skills as an excellent painter.
His religious works are practically unknown today, as are his portraits, which include Portrait of a Dwarf (P7065). And, in fact, he owes his fame to his still lifes and flower paintings, which were so much in demand that he opened a workshop on the Calle de los Tintoreros. This may well explain the irregular quality of his surviving works, including some that bear his signature but appear to have been at least partially painted by his disciples and assistants. While his training in art was not of Flemish origin, his early still lifes do share certain compositional aspects with works of that genre from the Netherlands. They do not, however, have the same levels of technical precision , nor do they share the diaphanous compositions or use of light that characterize the northern school. Van der Hamen’s models are more rotund, as is his interest in the inner structure of the objects he presents, and their tactile qualities. He organizes his objects symmetrically, with a focused and powerfully contrasted light that generates deep shadows. The result is a dramatic appearance that distances his works from their precisely lit Flemish counterparts.
Van der Hamen’s most characteristic paintings reveal his admiration for the work of Sánchez Cotán (1560-1627). His choice of motives reflects the desires of his wealthy clientele, including vases and other vessels adorned with bronze elements and, quite frequently, ceramic and porcelain pieces, some of which were imported. Venetian glass was highly valued by members of Madrid’s upper class during his century, and Van der Hamen drew heavily on this material to demonstrate his skill at depicting its qualities and reflections. Also frequent in his paintings are images of exquisite sweets, from the sugary surface of pastries and candied fruits to the fragility of wafers. During the 1620s, he excelled at flower painting, a genre at which he was unequalled in Madrid. These included compositions (An Offering to Flora) as well as the customary vases of flowers that generally mark the axis of symmetry in his still lifes. He also painted garlands of attractive, vividly colored flowers, which were very carefully drawn and painted. These generally framed landscapes of the sort that also appear in the backgrounds of some of his works from other genres (Luna, J. J.: El bodegón español en el Prado. De Van der Hamen a Goya, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2008, p. 166).

Artworks (9)

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