Jan van Bijlert, Dutch, 1598 - 1671
Medium: Oil on canvas
Painting: 25 3/4 x 19 7/8 in. (65.4 x 50.5 cm)
Frame: 26 1/8 x 28 1/4 x 2 1/4 in. (66.4 x 71.8 x 5.7 cm)
Credit Line: Memphis Brooks Museum of Art purchase; Morrie A. Moss Acquisition Fund
Object Number: 96.1
From his home in Utrecht, a cultural center in the Northern Netherlands, Jan van Bijlert made his way to Rome. Like several of his Utrecht colleagues, he returned home bringing with him the influence of Caravaggio whose startling realism had created a whole new mode in painting. Best known for his sensitive portraits, Van Bijlert also produced works with religious, historical and pastoral themes.
Genre painting, that which depicts ordinary scenes from everyday life, was very popular with the burgeoning middle class of seventeenth-century Holland. This Dutch tradition is reflected in Van Bijlert's crisp rendering of a young woman celebrating Mardi Gras, the final day before the beginning of Lent. Shown in left profile, the striking figure plays a musical instrument referred to as a rommelpot or folkepot. Literally a "rumbling-pot," this instrument is a type of friction drum which produces a growling sound. It is usually found in paintings showing country scenes or beggars, though Van Bijlert's figure in an elegant turban with jeweled feather is more distinguished. Only her unkempt fingernails suggest otherwise. An air of revelry is suggested by her garment which exposes a sensual shoulder and back, by the tasseled end of the subject's turban and the obvious zest with which she plays the musical instrument.