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Carel Fabritius

Dutch Painter

Carel Fabritius Photo
Born: February 27, 1622
Middenbeemster, Dutch Republic
Died: October 12, 1654
Delft, Dutch Republic
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His sudden, early death (at the age of 32) and the probable loss of paintings in his demolished studio made Fabritius into a local legend and an historical enigma
Art Historian Walter A. Liedtke

Summary of Carel Fabritius

Though less well known than his Dutch Golden Age contemporaries due to his tragic and untimely death, Fabritius was a bone-fide free spirit working within the Baroque tradition. He left only a small number of portraits and genre paintings - just 13 confirmed artworks - but these reveal him to be an artist of no little historical significance. Indeed, he is considered Rembrandt's most gifted and important student and, having left the great Dutch Master's charge, he went on to become a key figure within the mid-17th century School of Delft; a group known predominantly for its views of the city and its daily life, coupled with quieter, more considered, interior compositions. At Delft, his work typically employed delicate shading with dark figures set against a light background. His interest in the laws (and limits) of perspective and pictorial spatial relations, meanwhile, saw him share an affinity with his fellow Delft artist, Johannes Vermeer.

Accomplishments

Biography of Carel Fabritius

The fine and delicate details of <i>The Goldfinch</i> (1654)

Carel Fabritus’s best-known work is undoubtedly The Goldfinch, which he painted at the age of 32. That same year Fabritus perished in the "Delft Thunderclap”; when 40 tons of army gunpowder was accidentally ignited, killing an estimated 100 people.

Important Art by Carel Fabritius

The Raising of Lazarus (1642)

The Raising of Lazarus (1642)

Though he would soon produce artworks very much in his own style, Rembrandt's influence is pronounced in the Raising of Lazarus, one of Fabritius's earliest known canvases. Indeed, Fabritius renders this well-known scene from the Bible, in which Lazarus rises from the dead, in his mentor's distinctive "dark and light" manner. Rembrandt was a master of shading which he used to create intricated reflections of light but Fabritius took his master's technique a step further giving the scene a realistic shadowy depth of field.

Here, Fabritius's palette uses black (predominantly) blended with other colors to convey an all-pervasive sense of dusk. The sparse application of light emanates from the resurrected Lazarus, seen seated in his tomb at the lower central portion of the image. Jesus stands above him with his right arm outstretched, his latest miracle providing evidence of his piety. Fabritius proves adept at conveying the majesty of the event in the faces of the astonished onlookers who have gathered to behold Christ's miracle.

Mercury and Argus (1646)

Mercury and Argus (1646)

This painting, which at first appears to be a pastoral genre scene, with two relaxing male figures and a group of cows and sheep, in fact presents a mythical story. In the story, the God Jupiter falls in love with a woman named Io, and he turns her into a cow to hide her from his jealous wife, Juno. When Juno learns of this deceit, she asks the shepherd Argus to guard the cow from Jupiter. Jupiter finds out, and sends Mercury to steal back the cow. Following Juno's orders, Argus gives Mercury wine until he falls asleep (the moment depicted by Fabritius), and proceeds to cut off his head with a sword (seen here laying to the left of Argus).

This painting marks Fabritius's evolution in style, away from Rembrandt, towards greater picture illumination. For centuries the painting was however catalogued as a Rembrandt (in 1764, believing it to be a genuine Rembrandt, the work was copied by Fragonard). Sotheby's changed the attribution to Fabritius as late as 1985 after discovering Fabritius's signature. His moniker, which appeared to have been obscured by paint at some point, was likely to have been concealed by someone hoping to sell the painting as a Rembrandt thereby increasing the work's value. Philip Conisbee, senior curator of European painting and sculpture at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, notes that "The rich texturing is [indeed] like Rembrandt, but Fabritius used a subtle coloring and blond tonalities that should never [have been] mistaken for Rembrandt's work".

Portrait of Abraham de Potter (1649)

Portrait of Abraham de Potter (1649)

Fabritius was active as a portraitist from the late 1640s until his death. Portrait of Abraham de Potter was amongst his first. On first glance, his portrait of the silk merchant (Abraham de Potter) appears rather conventional. The sitter is dressed in sober black attire, and a stiff pleated ruff that was the height of fashion in mid-seventeenth century Holland. However, closer scrutiny of the painting reveals the artist's self-conscious departure from the stylistic preferences of his mentor.

While Rembrandt generally executed his portraits with bleak, opaque, backdrops and dramatically spot-lit subjects, Fabritius placed his sitter against a non-descript stained plaster wall, the goal being to bring heightened illumination to his subject who he captures with a deftness of delicately and touch. Indeed, Fabritius's most famous genre pieces, The Sentry and The Goldfinch, feature similarly weathered, light gray backgrounds. Fabritius's more animated approach would influence his Delft School colleagues Pieter de Hooch and Johannes Vermeer (the latter believed by some to have been a pupil of Fabritius's although this cannot be corroborated) both of whom employed blank backgrounds to the same effect.

However, a more remarkable feature of this painting is an astonishing trompe l'oeil which appears in the shape of a "protruding" nail, complete with shadow, that sits between the inscriptions of the sitter and painters' names. This feature attests to Fabritius's early interest in illusionist effects and his first professional attempts to use optical illusions to bring about a perception of three-dimensional realism. His was an interest shared by his friend (and fellow pupil under Rembrandt), Samuel van Hoogstraten. Both artists experimented with tromp l'oeil and intricate perspectives for paintings destined to be displayed in cylindrical perspective boxes. These served the duel function of shielding important paintings from dust damage and/or to surprise the viewer when the hinged portal or peephole was opened or exposed to reveal the three-dimensional picture housed within.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Carel Fabritius
Influenced by Artist
Open Influences
Carel Fabritius
Influences on Artist
Friends
Movements
Carel Fabritius
Influenced by Artist
Artists
Friends
Movements
Close Influences

Useful Resources on Carel Fabritius

Books

Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Carel Fabritius Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 03 Dec 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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