A Companhia do Capitão Reinier Reael

Cedida pelo Rijksmuseum ao Museu do Prado (3 de Dezembro de 2009 a 28 de Fevereiro de 2010), a obra-prima Companhia do Capitão Reinier Reael de Franz Hals e Pieter Codde, datada de 1637, é representativa dos retratos de milícias, género característico da pintura holandesa do século XVII.
Jan van Dijk alcunhou-a de Companhia Magra, devido à elegância dos militares.

Franz Hal y Pieter Codde - a compañía del capitán Reael, 1637

‘Just to see that painting would make the journey to Amsterdam worthwhile.’ wrote Vincent van Gogh in 1885, after having seen this work in the Rijksmuseum. He particularly liked the ‘orange banner in the left corner,’ he had ‘seldom seen a more divinely beautiful figure’. The painting that caused such a sensation was the group portrait of the crossbowmen’s militia under Captain Reinier Reael, painted by Frans Hals and Pieter Codde in 1637. The painting has been known for centuries as the ‘Meagre Company’, because the figures portrayed all appear remarkably thin.
In 1633 Frans Hals was commissioned to paint the portraits of Captain Reynier Reael and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz. Blaeuw with their militia unit. He had to paint the picture in Amsterdam, where the militiamen lived. Hals himself lived in Haarlem; which meant that he had to travel back and forth regularly.
The Amsterdam civic guard had asked Frans Hals because of his reputation for lively civic guard portraits, and because he avoided staid, formally posed group portraits. But the militiamen could not have taken into account that Hals might start to find commuter travel tedious.
When, after three years, only half the painting was ready, the militiamen demanded that Hals complete the painting in ten days, otherwise he wouldn’t receive a cent. Despite the excellent fee – 1,025 guilders – he refused. Let the militiamen come to Haarlem, was Hals’s his reply. He had already spent
far too much time and money in Amsterdam, without receiving any travel or accommodation expenses. He had ‘wasted much in Aemstelredamme in the tavern’, as he explained to the crossbowmen in a letter.
Pieter Codde
Hals’s clients refused to go to Haarlem. They looked for another painter to complete the work and found the Amsterdammer Pieter Codde. Finishing a canvas of this magnitude was no easy task for Codde, who usually worked in small formats with great precision.
The left side, up to the figure in light clothes in the centre, is by Frans Hals. He also painted most of the hands and faces. The rest is by Pieter Codde.
Rough and smooth
Although he tried to adapt to Hals’s style, Codde’s half is clearly less powerful, it is smoother and more precise and therefore less profound. The rendering of the various textures provides an excellent illustration.
While Hals’s brushstrokes are clearly defined, Codde’s brushwork is hardly visible. This is clear from a comparison of the black in the clothes of two officers, one by Codde and one by Hals.
Captain Reael’s men are wearing all the various fashions of the mid-seventeenth century, from conservative black broadcloth garments to bright, light-yellow costumes. Two figures are elegantly portrayed in light, glistening fabrics with a profusion of lace: the ensign on the left and the lieutenant in the centre. They are wearing sashes in the ‘club colours’ of their company: orange. The crossbowmen are also wearing different models of collar: millstone ruffs, simple surreptitious collars and large flat collars. They were made of delicate lace and never lasted very long. They only surviving example of a seventeenth-century collar is in the Rijksmuseum collection.

A real seventeenth-century collar

A real seventeenth-century collar
This collar is made of particularly fine batiste or cambric. As the name suggests, the material originally came from the Flemish town of Kamerijk or Cambrai. It was introduced to the Northern Netherlands by the Flemish refugees who arrived in the late sixteenth century. Haarlem weavers specialised in the fabric. Because of its shape, this kind of collar was known as a millstone ruff. These became fashionable in the second half of the sixteenth century under the influence of the Spanish rulers. Early millstone ruffs were starched with regular pleats. This example, however, is looser and less tidy. It is of a type that was popular with young, fashionable men around 1615 to 1635. This is the only surviving pleated ruff in the world. Via.
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