LUDOLF DE JONGH
(Overschie 1616 – 1679 Hillegersberg)
An Interior with a Woman Holding a Jug
Signed and dated center right, above the door: L.D. Jongh/Ao.1668
Oil on panel, 32 7/8 x 27 ½ in.
Sale, Christie’s, New York, June 5, 2013, lot 68.
From Christie’s catalogue:
After studying with Cornelis Saftleven in Rotterdam, Anthonie Palamedesz. in Delft, and Jan van Bijlert in Utrecht, Ludolf de Jongh spend seven years in France, where, as colorfully recounted by his biographer Arnold Houbraken, he adapted to French life so completely that his parents were forced to hire a translator upon his return to the Netherlands around 1642 (A. Houbraken, De groote schouburgh, 1718-21/1976, II, pp. 33-34). Once back in his native Rotterdam, De Jongh produced a diverse body of work that included portraits, landscapes, and historical subjects as well as genre and guardroom scenes that would strongly influence younger artists Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684) and Jacob van Ochtervelt (1634/5-1682-1710). The dearth of signed works by De Jongh, compounded by close similarities of his pictures with those of De Hooch, has led to the entangling of the oeuvres. An interior with a maid holding a jug and three men beside a fire, however, bears a prominent signature and date of 1664 above the doorway at right, making this painting key to understanding De Jongh's oeuvre and artistic evolution.
Brighter than his earlier guardroom scenes of the 1640s, the setting of the present work is perhaps an inn or tavern, a neatly appointed interior with carved woodwork and carefully arranged furniture. The perspective created by the diagonals of the floor tiles, window panes and ceiling beams recalls De Hooch's interiors of around the same time, as do the vibrant terra-cotta color of the floor and bright light streaming through the window with trees beyond. Yet the somewhat coarse, bawdy figures in De Jongh's scene are quite different from the more decorous inhabitants of many of De Hooch's interiors. At the center of the room stands a voluptuous maidservant in a seductive pose, which, like the vessel in her hand, emphasizes her hourglass figure. Lascivious or otherwise immoral maids were frequent figures in 17th-century literature, and appear regularly in Dutch art of the period. Gerrit Dou made a specialty of maidservants surrounded by erotically-charged household objects such as Girl chopping onions of 1646 in the Royal Colelction (inv. 406358), in which the onions symbolize lust, while Nicolaes Maes made an overt example of a lazy maid in The Idle Servant of 1655 now in the National Gallery, London (inv. NG207).
Adding to the dissolute atmosphere of the scene are the men drinking and smoking nearby. Beside the maid, a seated man with a red-tipped nose, circles under his eyes and a drooping sock has clearly been enjoying himself, as has the broadly smiling man stoking the fire. In the room beyond, a man stands accompanied by a dog, of which only the hind-quarters are visible, adding a note of raffish, off-color humor. The man seated at center directs his glance at the viewer, as if inviting us into the scene as participants. Such figures recur often in De Jongh's pictures, such as Paying the Hostess, sold in these rooms on 30 January 2012, lot 5. While we are thus invited to join the merrymaking, a moralizing message is nonetheless implied by the pile of turnips at lower left. The Dutch word for turnip ('raap') is a pun with the verb scrounge ('rapen'), and in prints and literature of the period turnips were associated with distasteful, greedy behavior (W. Gibson, Figures of speech: picturing proverbs in renaissance Netherlands, Berkely, 2012, pp. 74-77). In De Jogh's world, even the vegetables are up to no good.