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Dummy Boards: the Enjoyable Figures of the 1600s

Dummy Boards: the Enjoyable Figures of the 1600s

2023-04-20 23:51:00

Do you need to see probably the most luxurious model of a cut-out determine ever made? It’s referred to as a dummy board, and it was a fad of the Netherlands within the mid-1600s and early 1700s. A far cry from the shiny cardboard movie star stand-ups we see at present, dummy boards have been hand-painted in oils by artists expert in trompe l’oeil.

You may suppose you’d by no means be fooled by one, however think about rounding a nook to discover a shadowy determine peering at you thru the darkness, its face illuminated solely by the flickering of distant candles. Your coronary heart would most likely cease for a second, till you realized what you took for an individual was actually a portray.

Then once more, there are tales of individuals being extra utterly fooled: anecdotes of friends taking a cutout of a servant for an actual one, even making an attempt to slide a tip into its painted fingers. Extra dramatically, Sally Wister, a younger lady dwelling via the early American Revolution recorded a prank she and her family played using a dummy figure. When their visitor, Captain Tilly, arrived:

The primary object that struck his view was a British soldier. In a second his ears have been saluted, “Is there a insurgent officer right here?” in a thundering voice. Not ready for a second phrase, he darted like lightning out of the entrance door, via the yard, bolted o’er the fence. Swamps, fences, thorn-hedges and plough’d fields no means impeded his retreat. He was quickly out of listening to. The woods echoed with, “Which means did he go? Cease him! Encompass the home!” … We females ran down to hitch the final chortle… Determine to your self this, Tilly, of a snowy night, no hat, sneakers down at heel, hair unty’d, flying throughout meadows, creeks, and mud-holes. Flying from what? Why, a little bit of painted wooden.

There’s so much we don’t find out about dummy figures. We don’t know the names of the artists who painted most of them, and the main points of their use stay considerably mysterious. Nonetheless, the principle goal of those figures appears to have been, fairly merely, to amuse—though artwork historian Clive Edwards means that dummies in shapes of the soldiers were sometimes used as faux-guards in little-visited reaches of grand homes.

Chien à la jatte by Jean-Baptiste Oudry, 1751
Chien à la jatte by Jean-Baptiste Oudry, 1751 by way of Wikimedia Commons

Along with troopers, the extra widespread figures have been youngsters and maids. (Rembrandt supposedly pranked individuals passing by his home by setting a life-sized portrait of his maid within the window.) A number of figures could have been portraits of members of the family by which they have been propped up. Though we are able to’t know for certain, it’s straightforward to think about somebody commissioning a illustration of a departed cherished one or a venerable ancestor to observe over the house. Some artists even employed a number of layers of playful deception within the design of their dummy boards: one widespread kind seems to be a maid on first look, however on nearer inspection is adorned with the garments and jewellery of a high-society girl.

As Edwards observes, this obsession with trickery and phantasm resonated all through the visible tradition of an period that abounded in playful inventive deceptions: cupboards filled with secret compartments, serving dishes that disguised themselves as meals, peep-boxes enclosing miniature rooms, and astonishingly hyper-realistic trompe l’oeil portray.

The Reverse of a Framed Painting by Cornelis Norbertus Gijsbrechts, circa 1668
The Reverse of a Framed Portray by Cornelis Norbertus Gijsbrechts, circa 1668 by way of Wikimedia Commons 

Think about the well-known work of Cornelis Norbertus Gijsbrechts: Back of a Framed Painting. This portray appears, at first look, to have been hung going through the improper means–till you notice that the picket body, the cockeyed nails, and the peeling label are all a part of the portray, meticulously replicated by the artist’s hand. One other of his work, which depicts an artist’s easel holding a nonetheless life and a palette, utterly baffled me—I couldn’t fairly consider it was actually a flat picture, till I zoomed in sufficient to see the cracks that had shaped within the paint over the 4 intervening centuries.

Boy Sleeping in a High Chair by Johannes Verspronck, 1654
Boy Sleeping in a Excessive Chair by Johannes Verspronck, 1654 by way of Wikimedia Commons

The artist Samuel van Hoogstraten took it even additional, peppering his entire studio with deceptively painted cutouts. Edwards shares an outline of Hoogstraten’s work, penned the Dutch painter Arnold Houbraken:

Right here an apple, pear or a lemon in a dish rack, there a slipper or sneakers painted on a cut-out panel and positioned within the nook of the room or below a chair. There have been additionally dried, salted fish on a nail behind the door, and these have been so deceptively painted that one might simply mistake them for precise dried fish.

It’s as if, sooner or later, the illusions escaped the canvas, spilling over the body to invade the actual world.

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In his now basic essay Ways of Seeing, the Marxist artwork historian John Berger argues that the rise of oil portray on this period mirrored the rise of capitalism, writing:

Oil work usually depict issues. Issues which in actuality are buyable. To have a factor painted and placed on a canvas will not be not like shopping for it and placing it in your own home. If you happen to purchase a portray you purchase additionally the look of the factor it represents… A patron can’t be surrounded by music or poems in the identical means as he’s surrounded by his footage. It’s as if the collector lives in a home constructed of work. What’s their benefit over partitions of stone or wooden? They present him sights: sights of what he could possess.

In some unspecified time in the future, although, these playful trompe l’oeil photographs appear to reverse the development. You grasp on the painted picture of a shoe, and it turns again right into a flat canvas—a possession recedes into an phantasm.

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