Important Art by Carel Fabritius
Though he would soon produce artworks very much in his own style, Rembrandt's influence is pronounced in the Raising of Lazarus, one of Fabritius's earliest known canvases. Indeed, Fabritius renders this well-known scene from the Bible, in which Lazarus rises from the dead, in his mentor's distinctive "dark and light" manner. Rembrandt was a master of shading which he used to create intricated reflections of light but Fabritius took his master's technique a step further giving the scene a realistic shadowy depth of field.
Here, Fabritius's palette uses black (predominantly) blended with other colors to convey an all-pervasive sense of dusk. The sparse application of light emanates from the resurrected Lazarus, seen seated in his tomb at the lower central portion of the image. Jesus stands above him with his right arm outstretched, his latest miracle providing evidence of his piety. Fabritius proves adept at conveying the majesty of the event in the faces of the astonished onlookers who have gathered to behold Christ's miracle.
This painting, which at first appears to be a pastoral genre scene, with two relaxing male figures and a group of cows and sheep, in fact presents a mythical story. In the story, the God Jupiter falls in love with a woman named Io, and he turns her into a cow to hide her from his jealous wife, Juno. When Juno learns of this deceit, she asks the shepherd Argus to guard the cow from Jupiter. Jupiter finds out, and sends Mercury to steal back the cow. Following Juno's orders, Argus gives Mercury wine until he falls asleep (the moment depicted by Fabritius), and proceeds to cut off his head with a sword (seen here laying to the left of Argus).
This painting marks Fabritius's evolution in style, away from Rembrandt, towards greater picture illumination. For centuries the painting was however catalogued as a Rembrandt (in 1764, believing it to be a genuine Rembrandt, the work was copied by Fragonard). Sotheby's changed the attribution to Fabritius as late as 1985 after discovering Fabritius's signature. His moniker, which appeared to have been obscured by paint at some point, was likely to have been concealed by someone hoping to sell the painting as a Rembrandt thereby increasing the work's value. Philip Conisbee, senior curator of European painting and sculpture at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, notes that "The rich texturing is [indeed] like Rembrandt, but Fabritius used a subtle coloring and blond tonalities that should never [have been] mistaken for Rembrandt's work".
Fabritius was active as a portraitist from the late 1640s until his death. Portrait of Abraham de Potter was amongst his first. On first glance, his portrait of the silk merchant (Abraham de Potter) appears rather conventional. The sitter is dressed in sober black attire, and a stiff pleated ruff that was the height of fashion in mid-seventeenth century Holland. However, closer scrutiny of the painting reveals the artist's self-conscious departure from the stylistic preferences of his mentor.
While Rembrandt generally executed his portraits with bleak, opaque, backdrops and dramatically spot-lit subjects, Fabritius placed his sitter against a non-descript stained plaster wall, the goal being to bring heightened illumination to his subject who he captures with a deftness of delicately and touch. Indeed, Fabritius's most famous genre pieces, The Sentry and The Goldfinch, feature similarly weathered, light gray backgrounds. Fabritius's more animated approach would influence his Delft School colleagues Pieter de Hooch and Johannes Vermeer (the latter believed by some to have been a pupil of Fabritius's although this cannot be corroborated) both of whom employed blank backgrounds to the same effect.
However, a more remarkable feature of this painting is an astonishing trompe l'oeil which appears in the shape of a "protruding" nail, complete with shadow, that sits between the inscriptions of the sitter and painters' names. This feature attests to Fabritius's early interest in illusionist effects and his first professional attempts to use optical illusions to bring about a perception of three-dimensional realism. His was an interest shared by his friend (and fellow pupil under Rembrandt), Samuel van Hoogstraten. Both artists experimented with tromp l'oeil and intricate perspectives for paintings destined to be displayed in cylindrical perspective boxes. These served the duel function of shielding important paintings from dust damage and/or to surprise the viewer when the hinged portal or peephole was opened or exposed to reveal the three-dimensional picture housed within.