CORNELIS VAN HAARLEM
(b. 1562, Haarlem, d. 1638, Haarlem)
The Wedding of Peleus and Thetis1593
Oil on canvas, 246 x 419 cm
Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem
The Haarlem government commissioned this painting to decorate a guesthouse for the Orange family and other dignitaries. The painting's reference to the beginnings of the Trojan War presented an impressive reminder that even trivial discord causes devastating wars. This was a topical message in Haarlem, which had suffered debilitating defeat in a Spanish siege of 1573. The work also showcased Haarlem's patronage of sophisticated international history painting.
In this painting, depicting events leading up to the Trojan War, Cornelis van Haarlem represented the assembled gods as naked muscle-men and soft-skinned women, in endlessly varied poses. Their idealized, heroic bodies befit their immortality and the ominous event they witness. These figures were clearly based on drawings after the nude which Cornelis could have made in the small academy in Haarlem. His grand style would have reminded knowledgeable viewers of the history painting of the Italian Renaissance, specifically of Michelangelo and his followers, and of the praise for idealized nudity and difficult poses in sophisticated art theory.