The Rich Man and the Poor Lazarus by Hendrick ter Brugghen

Hendrick ter Brugghen

The Rich Man and the Poor Lazarus, 1625, Oil on canvas, 160 x 207.5 cm (with frame) , Centraal Museum, Utrecht, 11241, © Collection Centraal Museum, Utrecht

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A Textured Story

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The scene is set like a stage. At the back, the Rich Man is entertaining a guest. He is dressed in a silk tunic, dyed with expensive purple in accordance with the story, and his table is covered in fine linen, bearing a still life consisting of a large fish on a metal dish, a plate with juicy green olives, a bread roll, a small carafe, and two more pewter plates. The Rich Man holds a wine-filled flute glass while instructing an approaching maid.

In the spotlight in the foreground, we see the bony, nearly naked figure of Lazarus resting on a stone in a languid pose, barely holding himself upright with a rough stick. Again according to the story, two dogs have come to lick the dark sores that mar Lazarus’s bare legs. They are hunting dogs, as would befit a wealthy man, and the painter appears to have taken delight in rendering the cute animals’ well-brushed, spotted fur.

A richly dressed man-servant in a feathered cap is trying to shoo away the ungainly beggar from his master’s doorstep; the servant is not mentioned in the parable, but is often included in visual representations to accentuate the Rich Man’s derogatory attitude toward the poor.

Although the subject is biblical, this large painting was not made for a church, but for a private household. And while the represented scene purportedly offers religious instruction, exhorting the viewer to Christian charity, it is also a rich catalogue of the artist’s skills in depicting a wide range of textures, from the crisp table linen and the shiny pewter of the plates to the soft flesh of the fish and the moist olives; from Lazarus’s rough, scabbed skin to the strokeable fur of the dogs and the glitteringly gold scarf wrapped around the servant’s waist.

Ironically, this demonstration of artistry must have been in itself a pricey work that a seventeenth-century Rich Man would have proudly displayed on his wall as a manifestation of his wealth.

 

References

Domela Nieuwenhuis, E. 2007. ‘De rijke man en de arme Lazarus door Hendrick ter Brugghen 1625’, in Stichting Victor: restauratie en natuurwetenschappelijk onderzoek in the Centraal Museum, Liesbeth Helmus et al. (Utrecht: Centraal Museum) 78–95


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