Lines and Colors art blog

Carel Fabritius
Carel Fabritius was a Dutch painter whose adopted name comes from the latin for carpenter, or if more broadly used, craftsman.

Fabritius studied in the the studio of Rembrandt, and is generally considered to be Rembrandt’s most talented pupil, and the only one to really break free of the master’s influence and develop his own style. This is notable in particular in the contrast of his color and texture filled portrait backgrounds with Rembrandt’s deep pools of darkness. His use of cool color harmonies is also distinctly different from the color choices of his master.

On leaving Rembrandt’s studio, he established himself for a time as an independent artist in his hometown of Beemster, and then moved to Delft, and is generally thought of as a Delft painter.

Fabritius was one of the most influential Dutch painters of his time, despite the fact that his career, and life, were tragically cut short in the “Delft Thunderclap“, an event in 1654 in which the Delft armory, and its large store of gunpowder, exploded, devastating a large part of the town.

It is presumed that much of Fabritius’ work was also lost in the explosion, as only about 12-15 of his paintings (depending on questions of attribution) are known to remain. Among those, however, is considerable variety, and Fabritius is also credited as one of starting points of trompe l’oeil painting.

I had the pleasure of seeing The Goldfinch (images above, top two; zoomable version here) in a Vermeer show in New York some years ago that included work by some of Vermeer’s contemporaries. It was the only non-Vermeer painting in the show to which I repeatedly returned. From a few feet away it is effectively trompe l’oeil illusionistic, close up, it’s a marvel of painterly loaded-brush painting.

Fabritius is generally acknowledged to have been an influence on Vermeer as well as De Hooch, who were also working in Delft at that time; though he was likely not, as you will sometimes see suggested, Vermeer’s teacher.

Like Vermeer, Fabritius is presumed to have made use of the camera obscura, and was fascinated with optical effects and linear perspective. Only one of his perspective experiments survives, but it’s a fascinating painting,

View of Delft (images above, bottom three; larger version here) has a fascinating curved perspective and oddly positioned and cut-off rendering of the violin in the left foreground. Taking clues from similar works by other artists, it was probably meant to be displayed on a curved surface inside a “peep-box“. These, viewed through a peephole, provide only one fixed-point view of the painting, giving the artist more control over what the viewer sees, and would have provided a realistic illusion of space and sense of place that must have been mesmerizing.

The painting, along with one of Fabritius’s presumed self-portraits, is in the collection of the National Gallery , London, which provides a wonderful full-screen and zoomable high resolution view of the painting (use controls at right of the image).


3 responses to “Carel Fabritius”

  1. i wish i was in london in the near past..
    the paintings look really interresting and stunning.

    i like dutch painters in general, especially during that period of time. they were real “masters”.

  2. Thank you for today’s lesson, especially about the “perspective box”. I like how the artist signed his name as if it were graffiti. Maybe he thought Rembrandt’s colors would have been rather limiting for creating the spacial effects of depth and perspective.

  3. That peep-box info is fascinating, through which the last painting here makes a lot more sense. Would love to see it that way.