The greatest painter of the Baroque in Bohemia, Petr Brandl (1668 Prague – 1735 Kutná Hora) was exhibited in Prague, in a comprehensive display organised by the National Gallery in the Riding School exhibition hall at Prague Castle in 1969. The exhibition catalogue written by Jaromír Neumann is still the only fairly comprehensive publication on this artist. This rather sad and alarming record stimulated the idea to organise a small-scale exhibition of Brandl’s works with genre themes. Out of his oeuvre, genre paintings take up only a smaller part within the range of his themes, but the more interesting it is to provide the interpretation of those themes, which should bring some new findings. This is also the way to remind us that genre themes in the Baroque art of Bohemia had been rather neglected by art historians. Brandl’s genre paintings are mainly of moralising nature and include a number of symbolical associations. In their contents, they can be linked to theatrical production (particularly to the commedia dell’arte), to literature (emblematic works in particular), or with the more general themes used in Baroque painting, such as the memento mori or vanitas themes that refer to man’s vain attachment to worldly objects and matters. Brandl’s works with genre themes do not only reflect their creator’s personality as a painter, but also that of a man living a bohemian life, himself experiencing many of the worldly vices and pleasures. Brandl thus appears before us in a new light – he used to be presented more as a painter in the service of the Church celebrating the saints in the heavenly sphere, whereas here we also want to show him as an artist depicting moments in the lives of ordinary mortals. Despite the fact that the number of surviving works with moralising themes is not great, it is obvious that Brandl approached the basic “vices” of the Baroque period – tobacco, alcohol and love for sale. This is evident in the two paintings of smokers – a theme very popular in 17th-century Dutch painting (for example, in Frans Hals). The scenes featuring fraudulent quacks examining samples of urine of girls pregnant out of wedlock, or that of a charlatan offering her clients various potions are conceived as lively compositions only seemingly reminiscent of pictures rendering everyday life. They are in fact ingeniously constructed works with many layers of symbols warning the viewers against vices they are to avoid. In the pendant paintings of the Man with a Pipe and Girl with a Glass, Brandl used an unconventional manner to depict smoking and drinking pleasures as allegories of Smell and Taste, moreover enriching the works by erotic symbols, which link the two paintings in concept.
The asset of this exhibition is not only in the fact that all Brandl’s works with genre themes will be exhibited together for the first time, but for some of them this is the first time ever to be exhibited and published. In view of Brandl’s genre paintings’ relations to some Dutch works, the visitors will surely appreciate the comparison and confrontation of the exhibits with the works of Dutch masters.
The presentation of the works of our most renowned Baroque painter, Petr Brandl, will doubtless become an event that will attract visitors. The exhibition will present the hitherto undiscovered thematic aspect of the Baroque painting in Bohemia and will broaden the views of the 17th and 18th centuries.