45. Adriaen van der Werff

Kralingen-Ambacht 1659 – 1722 Rotterdam

Rommelpot Player

It is easy to see what it was about this boy that appealed to the artist. With his roguish look he shares his pleasure with the viewer. The boy is delighted with his rommelpot, which he clutches firmly under his left arm so that he can dance to the sounds it produces, even though this does not require much musicality from him. The old folk instrument, which is also called a foekepot, was made of a pig’s bladder stretched over an earthenware pot, with a reed poked through it. The distinctive sawing or grinding sound was produced simply by turning the stick with a damp hand. On St Martin’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Twelfth Night or Shrove Tuesday, boys and girls went through the streets with their rommelpots to sing at doors for sweets and pocket money.1 That this happy boy was probably involved in such an activity can also be seen from the scarf which is knotted around his neck, and would not have been a luxury during a winter procession. The wooden spoon – a symbol of folly – might indicate that it was carnival time.

Frits Lugt thought that Adriaen van der Werff, court painter to the Elector Johann Wilhelm von der Pfalz (1658-1716) between 1697 and 1716, had drawn this little rommelpot player. This attribution (De ridder Van der Werff) seems to have been made as early as 1769. It is very likely that this is the same drawing that was described in the sale of J. G. Kramer’s collection as ‘A Boy dancing and playing a rommelpot, in a comical costume, with black chalk, and Indian ink wash.’2 Nonetheless, the drawing was also ascribed to Caspar Netscher (1635/1636-1684)3, an attribution probably linked to three drawings of children’s heads – also drawn with loose, grey brushstrokes – in the collection of the musée du Louvre.4 It is interesting to note that it was Lugt who attributed those to Netscher, and no longer considered them to be by Van der Werff. However, there are a number of drawings by Van der Werff of exuberant children with tambourines which are very like the rommelpot player.5 One of those drawings was used in a painting in Munich which shows a group of children playing music outside a door.6 The figure in the lower right certainly refers back to our drawing.

MvS

1See also Cornelis Saftleven, Rommel Pot Player and Children, 28.5 × 20 cm, Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett Museen zu Berlin, inv. no. 13 801, see Wolfgang Schulz, Cornelis Saftleven (1607-1681). Leben und Werke, Berlin and New York 1978, no. 217.

2‘Een Jongen danzende en speelende op de rommelpot, verders potzig toegetakelt, met zwart Kryt, en O.I. inkt gewassen’; see provenance.

3Exh. cat. Amsterdam 1973, no. 109; exh. cat. Amsterdam 1997, under no. 45 (fig. 6).

4See Frits Lugt, Inventaire général des dessins des écoles du Nord, école Hollandaise, Paris (Musée du Louvre), vol. II (1931), nos. 498-500; inv. nos. 23237. QUATER, Recto, 23237.BIS, Recto, 23237.TER, Recto.

5See Barbara Gaehtgens, Adriaen van der Werff 1659-1722, Munich (Deutscher Kunstverlag) 1987, nos. 9 A c and 11 c; Courtauld Gallery, London, inv. no. D.1952.RW.2872.

6Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen - Alte Pinakothek Munich, inv. no. 264, see Gaehtgens 1987, no. 9A, pp. 206-07.