The painter's studio in the Golden Age

How were painters trained in the Golden Age? The painters were usually trained in the studio of a (master) painter. What do we know about the painting studios in that period? There are painters who have made a self-portrait in their studio. This way we can take a look at their studios. However, it is not always a realistic representation of the painter's studio. Often the painter also wanted to show his views on the importance of painting.

The training to be a painter

How did the training of painters go in the seventeenth century? They received artisan training in the studio of a (master) painter. There was usually a close relationship between the (master) painter and his students. A student started, at the age of 12 to 14 years, as a 'curly boy'. He learned all kinds of technical skills, such as preparing paint and preparing canvases. He also received drawing and painting lessons. For drawing lessons plaster heads and (sometimes) a (nude) model were used (see the drawing of Rembrandt's students in his studio). Painting was practiced by making copies of the work of the (master) painter. Advanced students were allowed to assist the painter. Part of the painting was painted by the advanced student. If necessary, his work was corrected by the (master) painter. A student who had almost completed his education produced paintings based on his own design, in the style of the (master) painter. If he found the work perfect, he often signed the painting with his own signature, so that the painting yielded more on sale. The training was completed by taking a master test at the Sint-Lucas Guild, a kind of professional association for painters.
Drawing students in Rembrandt's studio / Source: Rembrandt, Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

In apprenticeship with Rembrandt

Rembrandt van Rijn has had more than fifty students. When he was still living in Leiden, he already took on students. In his large house in Amsterdam, his students had their own office, with room for five students. The Saint Luke Guild allowed only three apprentices in the studio, but that rule was ignored by some painters. Teaching was a lucrative additional income. Rembrandt asked, as a well-known and respected teacher, 100 guilders per student per year, a hefty sum for that time.
Rembrandt had different types of students. Young pupils, from 12 to 14 years old, started out as a 'curly boy' and were trained by him as an (accomplished) painter. Older students had often completed their apprenticeship elsewhere. They wanted to learn to paint in his studio in his style. One of those students was Govert Flinck (1616-1660), who, after completing his three-year education in Leeuwarden, decided to master his painting style in Rembrandt's studio. He managed to imitate that style so well that his work was sold as paintings by Rembrandt. In addition to the two aforementioned groups of 'real' students, there were also a number of students who came from well-off families. These students visited his studio for some time for their pleasure and their artistic education. They generally did not have the ambition to become a painter.

The painter in his studio

In the Golden Age, paintings were made of the painter in his studio. Not all paintings were made to show (exclusively) how a painter worked at the time. The painter often portrayed himself in his own studio to show his vision of painting.

Adriaen van Ostade's studio and his brother Isaack van Ostade

Painter's studio (1663) by Adriaen van Ostade is probably a realistic representation of a painting studio in the seventeenth century. He shared a studio in Haarlem with his brother, the landscape painter Isaack van Ostade.
In a rather messy studio we see Isaack van Ostade, sitting on a stool behind a donkey, painting a landscape in the scarce light that shines through a window on the left. A small sketch that serves as an example hangs above the panel. The painter's hand is supported by a palette stick. This support is needed to be able to paint the small details in the landscape. On the right of the painting we see an apprentice preparing the paint. With a so-called runner he moves over a stone plate to rub the colorant into powder. A pigment such as vermilion, a bright red dye, must be rubbed very finely, while other pigments, such as smalt (finely ground cobalt glass), lose color if rubbed too finely. By using oil as a binder, oil paint is created. The third person in the schliderij, sitting in the background, is the painter Adriaen van Ostade. He is working on his palette.
Source: Rembrandt, Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
Rembrandt's studio
The painting Self-portrait in studio (1629) by Rembrandt van Rijn shows a completely different studio. In this painting we see a (young) Rembrandt, in a very empty studio. Even a painter's stool is missing. The painter, with a palette, a cane and some brushes in his hand, looks at his painting on the easel from a distance. The image of the painter is small compared to the easel. Perhaps Rembrandt wanted to emphasize that the work of the artist is larger (more important) than the (void) maker. The viewer is not allowed to see what is depicted in the painting.
Rembrandt probably painted his ideal studio here, where he can fully concentrate on his work, not disturbed by plaster casts, prints, weapons, helmets, exotic objects, and so on. (Rembrandt later became an avid collector).
Source: Johannes Vermeer, Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
Johannes Vermeer's studio
The painting The art of painting (around 1673) by Johannes Vermeer is no doubt a realistic representation of a painter's studio. The painter is painting in a much too fancy, antique costume. The brightly lit room with its heavy curtains, chandelier, chic furniture and beautiful tiled floor is reminiscent of a showroom rather than a studio. With this chic entourage, Vermeer apparently wanted to emphasize the importance of painting.
The model with the laurel wreath on her head symbolizes Clio. the muse of historiography and the epic. The book in her hand is the book of history. In this book the fame of painting is perpetuated. According to art historians, the sketchbook on the oak table refers to architecture, while the plaster cast of the face refers to sculpture. These two objects have been set aside, a sign that painting is more important than architecture and sculpture.
The painting The art of painting can also be seen as a plea by Vermeer to no longer include painting as crafts, but to place it among the more highly regarded liberal arts. The painter therefore had to have scientific knowledge. The pictured painter without face is the prototype of the learned artist.
Source: Albert Henry Payne, Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
Gerard Dou's workshop
It Self-portrait of an artist in his studio (1647) by Gerard Dou does not depict an artist who is painting in his studio. Gerard Dou is here an artist who delves into a study book. The attributes depicted in the painting, such as a classical image, a globe, a violin, and sheet music also point to the painter's learning. The painter was expected to apply the learning in his work as well. This painting, too, can be seen as a plea to no longer regard painting as a craft, but to place painting with the more highly regarded liberal arts.

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