Leonaert Bramer

The Judgment of Solomon

1640s
Oil on wood, 79.1 x 102.9 cm.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Leonaert Bramer, The Judgment of Solomon

BRAMER, Leonaert
Delft 1596 - Delft, 1674

Dutch genre and history painter, active mainly in his native Delft. He traveled widely in Italy and France, 1614-28, and drew on a variety of influences for his most characteristic paintings - small nocturnal scenes with vivid effects of light. Works such as the Scene of Sorcery (Bordeaux) have earned him the reputation an interesting independent who cannot easily be pigeonholed. Bramer was also one of the few Dutch artists to paint frescoes in Holland, but none of his work in the medium survived. He evidently knew well the greatest of his Delft contemporaries, Vermeer, for he came to the latter's defense when his future mother-in-law was trying to prevent him from marrying her daughter. In fact, it is likely that Bramer, rather than Carel Fabritius, was Vermeer's teacher.

Leonaert Bramer is one of the most intriguing personalities in seventeenth-century Dutch art. A predecessor of Vermeer in Delft-and perhaps his teacher-he lived there and in Rome, where he was involved in several street brawls. He had a wide-ranging interest in European literature and illustrated Virgil's Aeneid, Till Uilenspiegel, and various Spanish novels, always in a style as much Italian and French in origin as Dutch.

This large and beautifully preserved drawing exemplifies the Baroque not only in its subject but also in its penmanship. We see here the Old Testament heroine, Judith, with her revealing décolletage, confronting the Assyrian general Holofernes, just before cutting off his head to save her people; this is part of a long tradition in Dutch art showing the woman as victor, triumphant over cruel usurers or lecherous teachers or wayward husbands.

At the same time, the drawing embodies the Baroque in its fresh and open pen- and brushwork, the spontaneity of its touch, the melodrama of its light and shadow, its large size, and the very idea that such a work as this could be considered "finished" and ready to sell.