For the fortunate, as ever, this ongoing festive season has been filled with culinary delights from every angle. Food is at the heart of so many cultures across the world; re-emphasising tradition and inspiring contemporary reinvention. Yummy! Considering the recipe structure of ingredients and method, we look at the work of one of the artists in the current ‘The Rijks’ group exhibition at Public House of Art.

Three portraits by Dutch Photographer, Jasper Abels show three different female ‘photo-busts’. With a direct collective comment on the work of Golden Age, Dutch Artist, Daniel Vertangen (currently at the Rijksmuseum), Abels prompts our minds to wander across to Vertangen’s portrait of Dina.

The first thing that strikes me about Vertangen’s portrait of Dina is the depth of field and her piercing left eye, observing intently. This woman stands with relative power and wealth - privileged, expectant, and ever so slightly disgruntled, as if standing for a portrait is taking up her time, not filling it. By contrast, Mila, Emma, and Fleur seem to welcome, even consume the viewer. Despite Dina being the epitome of her era, by most historic accounts - reaping all her contemporary benefits of life, publicly, there is not much to gain now from viewing her, other than the inspirational anti-thesis to Abels’ work. Luckily this immortalises the portrait not as hers, but as a masterful example of Vertangen’s work. Abels shares his art with his subjects, just as they share with or withhold themselves from him and us.

Daniel Vertangen. Portrait of Dina Lems, Wife of Jan Valckenburgh. 1660. Oil on Canvas. 128.3x102 cm.

Dina Lems was the wife of Jan Valckenburgh. In the mid seventeenth century she sat or likely was painted from likeness by Vertangen. The idea of women posing for art was relatively new. Such was the pioneering Dutch art historical ingredient of the secular, domestic/everyday genre. In so many examples of great works, it was often younger men with certain body types who sat for the portraits of women, though there were often exceptions for the portraits of wealthy men and women across the board. These were instructive as well as ‘artistic’. But through painting as a medium, it is sometimes hard to tell the truth behind the varnish. Photography in our twenty-first century modern world could be construed as a lot more ‘transparent’, but already Abels plays with our view by using bubble wrap as a material to obscure the gaze and control the dynamics of the photograph.

Abels has dissected the portrait of Dina to feed his three portraits - Mila, Emma, and Fleur. Contrasting Abels’ own studio farm in Holland, Dina’s associations included the Valckenburgh business, farming on the West Coast of Africa - growing pepper and selling humans. Abels has focused on Dina’s piercing eye, as it is accentuated by the tear in the bubble wrap to draw our gaze.

It is not explicit perhaps just how much Abels’ images are a comment on the slavery connection in visual representation, the question is left open. But by their nature his portraits of the three modern ladies attempt to balance strength and reclaim the female, human gaze, whilst playing with a new challenge - the confines and liberations of the photographic depth of field. They are the representative, normal twenty-first century woman, not only her likeness - her past, her present, and a little bit her future. Abels’ modern photographic portrait series balances the peppery aftertaste of Daniel Vertangen’s portrait.


Local, National, and International inspiration
Subject (not necessarily figurative)
Season to taste

Mix all ingredients together thoroughly using whatever tools you have to hand. Slow cook for 350 years, stirring continually.
Now that’s a recipe to whet your appetite!


Written by Manchester-based freelance writer, Imogen Phoebe Webb for The Public House of Art.

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