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LEONAERT BRAMER: DRAWINGS FROM THE SPANISH UNDERWORLD

 

By Culturekiosque Staff

MUNICH, 8 JANUARY 2014 — Dutch Golden Age artist Leonaert Bramer (1596 –1674) was one of the most gifted and prolific draughtsmen of his time. Originally bound, his briskly sketched sequence illustrations of the escapades of beggars, adulterers and rogues are regarded as the first examples of the graphic novel in Europe. These include cycles from the Old and the New Testaments, texts from classical Antiquity and more contemporary literature.

The Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich, is home to two extensive sets of illustrations for Spanish novels which are now on display for the first time.


Leonaert Bramer (1596-1674): A landlord’s daughter and her lover,
disturbed in their love play by pouring water

Illustration 43 from the picaresque novel Lazarillo de Tormes, 1646

© Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München

As a draughtsman, some1300 sheets are attributed to Bramer today. The high number can be explained by the fact that his highly specialised work had no competitors, and nothing similar was produced at the time: his series of illustrations on mostly literary subjects were sold as one-off originals to connoisseurs and aficionados of draughtsmanship. Bramer completed a series of illustrations to accompany the Old and New Testaments, Ovid’s Metamorphosis and other ancient writings. He repeatedly also worked on lesser-known material largely neglected by other artists.


Leonaert Bramer: The Trials of Job, 1630s
Brush and black ink, dray wash on brownish gray paper
 400 x 310 mm
Courtauld Institute Galleries, London

In 1646, Bramer created 72 drawings for Lazarillo de Tormes, the first pícaro or picaresque novel ever written. These drawings are now on display in the exhibition. The book was first published in Spain in 1554, and was rapidly translated into different languages and distributed across Europe . The main character is the narrator Lazarillo, who struggles to get by in the milieu of beggars and rogues. In a series of loosely connected episodes, the drawings illustrate the real hardships suffered by the poor at the time. It begins with the merciless training of the protagonist, while still only a child, as a guide for the blind. Lazarillo only manages to survive by using his wits and resorting to petty crime. Lazarillo is still considered in Spain today to be the most important book of folk tales of all times; its unabated popularity is comparable to the significance of Grimms’ Fairy Tales on the German soul. The extremely anti-clerical novel was banned immediately, which hindered the publication of illustrated versions for a long time.

Quevedo’s Los Sueños (Dreams), published in 1627, is regarded as one of Spain ’s first great literary novels. Francisco Gomez de Quevedo (1580–1645) came from a family that belonged to the Spanish gentry. Alongside his political career, he created a literary work punctuated by gloomy pessimism and harshly critical of Spanish society. His Sueños consists of cynical prose that aims to uncover ‘abuses, vices and deceptions in all the professions and stations of the world.’ In a series of dream sequences, the narrator lands in the ‘madhouse of lovers’ where he meets famous personalities from the past in various burlesque scenes. Bramer was the first to illustrate the work. The 60 drawings presented in the exhibition were made in 1659.


Leonaert Bramer: The Judgement Seat of Death
Illustration 9 from Sueños by Francisco de Quevedo, 1659
Grey brush, grey wash, on blue paper; 196 x 153 mm
© Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München

Bramer was an attentive reader who carefully and with obvious pleasure selected the most important passages to maintain the flow of narrative.

Today’s viewers may see the humorous interjections in the recurring comic scenes as slapstick. In the large series, the drawings follow on from one another in rapid succession. As a result, Bramer’s approach has often been described as ‘cinematographic’, something which was first attributed to him as early as 1920. No contemporary illustrations from that time can compare with his work. After one thorough reading of the novel, the scenes would have been familiar to its readers, who could then appreciate the book of illustrations in its own right.

The decision to make an entire series of drawings and not reproduce them in print was peculiar. It opened up certain possibilities for a private audience, which would most definitely not have been acceptable for the general public. The artist plays with traditional motifs, provocations, and erotica which are interspersed throughout the work along with several blasphemous allusions. In a strict, Calvinistic society, it would have been inconceivable to create this work for general publication and distribution. Bramer had a circle of clients who gave him carte blanche, and also expected to be delivered with something special in return.


Leonaert Bramer: The police questions Lazarillo
Illustration 22 from the picaresque novel Lazarillo de Tormes, 1646
Black-grey brush, grey wash, highlighted in white
on grey paper; 144 x 113 mm
© Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München

Leonaert Bramer was born on New Year’s Eve in 1596 in Delft , where he died in 1674 at the age of 78. Bramer set off on a grand tour in 1615 which took him to Italy. He lived there, mostly in Rome , until 1628. In this environment, he was particularly influenced by Adam Elsheimer (1578–1610) and the paintings of the Caravaggisti. Back in his hometown of Delft , Bramer was able to establish himself as a reputable painter. Approximately 350 paintings have survived to this day.

Beggars, Thieves, Underworld: Leonaert Bramer Illustrates Spanish Novels 
Through 9 March 2014
Pinakothek der Moderne
Barer Straße 40
80333 München
Germany
Tel: (49 (0) 89 23 805 360
www.pinakothek.de

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