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January 2008

Juan Van der Hamen y Leoén’s Still Life with Sweets and Pottery

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Arch Facial Plast Surg. 2008;10(1):72-73. doi:10.1001/archfacial.2007.3

Although his name is often unfamiliar to those outside the field of Spanish painting, Juan Van der Hamen y Leoén was one of the greatest still-life painters of the Golden Age. Van der Hamen was born into a noble Flemish family in Madrid, Spain, where he was baptized in 1596. His father was appointed to the post of royal archer at the court of King Philip III; he served as a member of the king's ceremonial royal guard, a position he later passed on to his younger son, Juan. The elder son, Lorenzo, became a priest and was renowned as a theologian and intimate friend of some of the greatest literary figures of the 17th century. Doubtless these well-placed connections played a role in bringing the works of the young Van der Hamen to the notice of the court; in 1619 he received the first of many royal commissions for a still-life painting to decorate the king's country estate, El Pardo. Van der Hamen's early still lifes demonstrate his assimilation of Spanish, Italian, and Flemish still-life traditions, examples of which he could have seen in the royal collections in Madrid. One of his earliest known paintings, Still Life with Cardoon and Basket of Apples (private collection, Mexico), dated 1622, depicts a cardoon and a basket of apples arranged along a shallow ledge, while above them a citron and 3 oranges hang from strings. This unusual compositional arrangement of objects along a casement ledge with bizarrely suspended orbs is heavily indebted to the work of the artist Juan Saénchez Cotaén of Toledo, Spain. Although scholars have sought a mystical interpretation of Saénchez Cotaén's austere and artificial arrangements of suspended objects, in fact, they represent his faithful observation of nature and the unique properties of each individual object, often at the expense of compositional unity.

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