HALS, Frans
(b. 1580, Antwerpen, d. 1666, Haarlem)

Banquet of the Officers of the St George Civic Guard Company

c. 1627
Oil on canvas, 179 x 257,5 cm
Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem

This painting and the Banquet of the Officers of the St Hadrian Civic Guard Company of Haarlem (Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem) are outstanding examples of how carefully Hals calculated his candid effects. He heightened the momentary quality of both pictures by interlacing the figures on the surface of the canvas and in depth. The impression is of casual irregularity, but, as in his technique, a hidden order underlies his large composition.

In both banquet pieces he links up two principal groups by long diagonals, and each single group shows a central seated figure, around which the other men are arranged, some seated and some standing. The crossing of the main diagonals coincides with the head of a seated figure in the second plane, which gains through this scheme and added interest and becomes a kind of of occult centre. Ingenious variety of of position and movement relates the figures to each other or to the spectator. The final result is an unprecedented illusion of an animated gathering.

The impression that these guardsmen could consume gargantuan quantities of of food and liquor is confirmed by an ordinance laid down by the municipal authorities of Haarlem in 1621. Town official took cognizance of the fact that some of the banquets of the militia lasted a whole week. Considering that the municipality had to pay the costs, and that the times were troubled (the ordinance was written after hostilities with Spain had been resumed), it was decreed that the celebrations 'were not to last longer than three, or at the most four days...'

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 2 minutes):
Franz Schubert: Drinking song from the 16th century D 847, quartet