Tag Archives: Petrus van Schendel

Petrus van Schendel – Reading by Candlelight

9 Dec

Petrus van Schendel, Reading by Candlelight, date unknown, c. 1840s-50s

I recently rediscovered the wonderful paintings of a Dutch-Belgian painter Petrus van Schendel. I say rediscovered because I remember seeing some of them before, and forgetting about them, but now my eye was truly ready to take in all their beauty and magic. Van Schendel specialised in nocturnal scenes lit by candles or lamps. A daylight scene wouldn’t provide him with an opportunity to paint such mesmerising effect of the candlelight, and in Van Schendel’s paintings the beauty of light is truly mesmerising. I really love his painting “Reading by Candlelight” painted c. 1840s or 1850s. The clear date isn’t given, by the lady’s hairstyle gives the time period away. The painting is a simple genre scene of a young girl reading a book at nighttime. The light of a single candle lightens the room and illuminates the space around her while the rest of the chamber descends into darkness. You can just feel the warmth and the coziness of that room.

The girl is seen from the profile and her face shows calmness, she doesn’t even know she is being watched. The way her head is painted and her clothes remind me of the girls from Vermeer’s, or even better Geritt ter Borch’s paintings, who are shown reading or writing a letter. But in those paintings the cold light of a grey day is falling on the girls, while here we have the light of a candle which colours this simple genre scene in warmth, dreaminess and mystery. Night is always more mysterious than day, and in the light of the flickering candle, which may extinguish at any moment, the contours of things fade away and things may seem different than they are, more enchanting or eerie. The vase full of vibrant flowers on the girl’s table is very pretty in shape and I love the detail of its shadow falling behind.

And another interesting thing is the faint, barely noticeable portrait of a bearded man on the wall above. Who is he? Her father, or perhaps old ancestor who had died. Regardless, his ghostly face is keeping an eye on the girl like a stern, yet protective father-figure. The whole scene oozes intimacy and warmth, as if we are watching into a private world of this girl without her even knowing it. The beauty of the candlelight as the main focus of the scene naturally brings to mind the French Baroque painter Georges de La Tour who is very famous for his chiaroscuro scenes where the candle is the only source of light. We are spoiled for light today and it is easy to forget just how precious the light was in the past ages when you couldn’t just press a light switch; when a candle burns out, the darkness rules again until the dawn’s faint light comes again.

Rilke: Your dear words have poured a holy magic into my soul

4 Dec

German poet and writer Rainer Maria Rilke was born on 4th December 1875 in Prague, and these days I was in a more reflective mood and I felt really drawn to his poetry and his letters which are all so beautiful and infinitely wise. Reading letters so beautiful can feel like reading letters from an old friend whom in fact you have never met and never will, unless you meet them in a ghostly form which would be eerie and fascinating both at once. I was reading certain letters that Rilke wrote to his friends and acquaintances from 1894 to 1910 and this letter written on the eve of his nineteenth birthday in 1894 to Valery David-Rhonfeld, his love-interest at the time, was particularly beautiful to me and it being Rilke’s birthday today, I thought, why no share it with you? So, that’s what I am doing, accompanied by this lovely painting by Petrus van Schendel where a girl is reading a letter in the warm light of the lantern. I imagine her as Valery reading the letter than Rilke had written to her. It’s a rather long letter so I moved some parts which weren’t particularly interesting.

Petrus van Schendel, The Love Letter, 1869

Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke (1894-1910); Letter to To Valery David-Rhonfeld, December 4, 1894 before midnight

Vally mine, mine, mine! Over there in the dining room my aunt is sitting at her evening meal; I renounced my share of supper, withdrew from the to me dismal atmosphere into my room and there, not from need, rather to have a certain taste— frankly, from a mortal craving for sweets ate three pieces of the cake in question. My heart was oppressed and out of sorts without my knowing the reason at first. Then, as I sat across from Tante G. in the dining room for a few minutes, it became evident to me that the abrupt exchange of the lightflooded sphere of your presence for the dreary, humdrum atmosphere of my so infinitely remote relatives was the weighty cause of that bad mood. But that has vanished now. My heart is light and my mind is clear. Your letter, your dear letter, has banished the clouds. It is bright. The heaven of our love shines out of the quiet flooding of my soul. Sweet sensations murmur softly like strong reeds, and longing like a rustling tree in blossom spreads out its arms within me. I don’t know how often I have read your lines. I don’t know what so overwhelms me. Is it alone the consciousness that they come from you, or is it rather the aroma of a deep, warm feeling that is wafting toward me, that intoxicates me. Vally, your dear words have poured a holy magic into my soul, yes, in it glimmers that worshipful, trembling earnestness that must have pervaded the hearts of the oracle-questioning Greeks when they awaited at the temple gate, half in hope, half in trepidation, the answer of the mysterious god. For to me too it is as though my eyes were seeing farther than usual—as though the dimming walls of the cramped little room were betaking themselves away—, as though today I were permitted to take a look into the future! But before I look out into that colorful rolling sea of mists, let me first of all gaze within myself. In this night, about half past eleven, it will be exactly nineteen years that I have been alive. You know the lack-luster story of my frustrated childhood and you know those persons who are to blame for my being able to note nothing or little that is joyous in those days of growth. (….)

Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller, The Love Letter, 1849

You often call me idealistic. Dearest Vally, if I am still that now, think what pure feeling must have shone in that little soul which, always lost in itself, was averse even to the simple, gay, innocent games of rowdy boys in the Primary School, and consider further, my love, how frightfully the onslaught of such wild, undeserved crudities must have echoed in the undefiled sanctuary of that childish spirit. (…) Yet I shall never be ashamed that my heart was empty before I found you, Vally, and leave the shame to those who had scorned to earn a place in it. Then came the time that you know (Linz Commercial School), whose bitter disillusionments and errors are buried in your forgiveness. Then came the fourth big division of my existence: the period of study. I was already prepared to renounce my scholastic future, weary of the everlasting, unsuccessful and aimless work, when I met you, beloved, dearest Vally, when you strengthened, healed, comforted me and gave me life, existence, hope, and future. On December 4th of the year in which I entered upon my high-school career in Schönfeld, I renounced this plan and, exhausted with work, wanted to fling myself into the arms of destiny’s stream, to go under or to land somewhere or other. But that today I am not straying through the world a purposeless wanderer, but rather as a confident fighter—my breast full of love, gratitude, and hope—am striding toward our happiness, our union, could I thank anyone but you for that, my divine Vally?

My whole previous life seems to me a road to you, like a long unlighted journey at the end of which my reward is to strive toward you and to know you will be all mine in the near future. (…) Then let us create, industrious in the practice of our arts, helping each other, taking counsel like two sturdy, blissful human beings—who over their love and their work forget the world and pity or despise people.—Then in six years, in the first year of the twentieth century, probably in the first or second of our official engagement, you will get, my much beloved panička, another letter like this which will contain a little backward glance over the worse times surmounted and a prophecy for better ones! Eleven o’clock at night it has already struck out there, and before I complete and read over this letter, nineteen years will certainly be full.— When I look briefly over them once more, the brightest point is that you stepped into my orbit and for life, as long as it beats, have given my poor heart, a stranger to love, the most worthy object of adoring, grateful devotion—in yourself!

René