19. Karel du Jardin

Amsterdam 1626 – 1678 Venice

Boy Playing a Violin with Dogs (The Savoyard), 1658

Sun-drenched southern landscapes became the trademark of a great many seventeenth-century artists from the Low Countries, Karel du Jardin among them. Enchanted by this warm light, he – and others such as Pieter van Laer (1599-after 1642) and Nicolaes Berchem (1620-1683) – endeavoured to capture this sunshine in etchings. The pastoral mood, with rolling hills and cattle, predominates in the fifty-two prints we know of by him. Grey Dutch skies are nowhere to be seen, even though the prints were probably all created between 1652 and 1660 when the artist was living in The Hague and in Amsterdam.1 It is conceivable that Du Jardin had not even been to Italy at that time.2 However, it is also possible that he visited Italy twice; we only know for certain that he lived in Rome in 1675,3 when he was given the nickname Bokkebaard (Goat-Beard) by the Bentvueghels.

In this etching, for a change, the landscape does not take centre stage. All that can be seen in the background are the façades of two houses. The work focusses on a boy playing a violin and three dogs. The atmosphere is Mediterranean, and Du Jardin was clearly concerned with suggesting light and space. By leaving some parts of his etching plate unworked, it is as if the warm sunlight is shining brightly there. Even the shadows are not uniform, but diffuse areas, that also give the impression of being affected by the sun’s blaze. All in all, the etching lines can be described as ‘thready’, as if the artist was looking for a way not only to depict the (visible) strong light, but also to give an idea of the (perceptible) warmth: the air which vibrates in the heat.

In the reference works by Bartsch and Dutuit this little violin-player is titled Savoyard. The origin of the title probably lies in eighteenth-century France, when men and boys from the Savoy region – where the cold winter months largely brought work to a standstill – went to Paris and other large towns. There they could work as chimney sweeps, or earn a living by performing in the streets.4 The sound of a violin and a dancing dog would certainly have attracted passers-by, who would have tossed them some small change. The meaning Du Jardin had given the print almost a century earlier was clearly no longer recognized. The artist himself was only partly concerned with the entertainment value of the scene; by using the well-trained dog he wanted above all to emphasize its leersucht (desire to learn). The dog served as a metaphor, which Du Jardin further clarified by including the two badly behaved animals that were still untrained.5


1Not all of his fifty-two prints are dated.

2According to Arnold Houbraken, Du Jardin was in Lyon around 1650, but it cannot be established for certain whether he subsequently travelled further south; see Kilian 2005, p. 7.

3Houbraken mentions Du Jardin’s departure from Amsterdam in 1675 and says that the artist actually arrived in Rome in that year; this is confirmed by a signed and dated painting fecit Roma 1675, which is now in Antwerp; see Kilian 2005, cat. 126.

4We know that, among others, Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) and Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805) used these Savoyards as their subjects.

5De Jongh and Luijten 1997, p. 327; the authors also refer to a painting by Du Jardin (whereabouts unknown) in which the same boy and dog appear.