Honthorst's Women: Art, Gender, and the Virtuosi

Winters, Thomas, History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Goedde, Lawrence, Department of Art, University of Virginia

For a period spanning around three decades during the first half of the seventeenth century, the Utrecht painter Gerard van Honthorst was arguably the most successful Dutch artist of his era. Working in a Caravaggesque manner during his artistic nascency before moving to a brighter, more classicizing style, while simultaneously executing paintings across diverse categories of subject matter, Honthorst’s career was characterized by an artistic adaptability that purposefully catered to the predilections, and won the patronage, of elite European virtuosi, powerful and wealthy citizens with sophisticated artistic tastes. What remained most constant in his art was that it always privileged the depiction of the human figure, and his talent for rendering human form in paint, in various and highly appealing styles and scenarios, saw him lauded as one of the leading figure painters of his generation. As a figure painter ‘par excellence’ who worked across all categories of human representation in art, Honthorst’s career provides an ideal opportunity for a detailed examination of the varied ways in which the human figure was represented in Dutch Golden Age art, and moreover within paintings created to appeal to patrons of a virtuosic bent. As such, the dissertation elucidates the distinctive characteristics of Honthorst’s figural representation, but also employs his art in service of a broader examination of the ways that the human figure functioned as a bearer of meaning within the elite culture of the artist’s patrons. More specifically, the dissertation focuses upon the manner in which gender roles and identities are represented and differentiated within Honthorst’s work. Operating under the assumption that the ways in which gender was represented in the artist’s paintings would have resonated with the cultural dispositions and mentality of his patrons, his work reveals the complex of idealistic notions that were attached to conceptions of ‘male’ and female’ by Honthorst’s virtuosic clients. In order to retrieve a historically-grounded understanding of these notions of gender, Honthorst’s work is primarily analyzed using the iconological method, but also employs formalism as well as concepts borrowed from critical methods often employed in gender studies, such as gaze theory and social dominance theory. The dissertation recovers the various significations of gender evident in the different subjects categories tackled by the artist, while also revealing the manner in which Honthorst modified his gendered representations for specific audiences.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Honthorst, Dutch Art, Seventeenth-Century Art, Painting, Gender
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