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The Doctor’s Visit
( 1631 - 1664 )
Signed and dated lower right:
“C. bega A 1662”
Probably bought by Jérôme de Vigneux in The Netherlands for the Geneva collector François Tronchin1 Collection of the silversmith Martin Pierre Dubois, Paris His sale, Paris (Lebrun, Julliot), 20 December 1785, lot 50 (“Corneille Bega. L’intérieur d’un appartement, où l’on voit une femme malade, la tête penchée et appuyée sur son oreiller, et les mains croisées sur ses genoux, tandis qu’un Médecin observe une bouteille remplie d’urine: le reste est orné de différens accessoires. Peinture sur toile collée sur bois. Hauteur 12 pouces, largeur 10 pouces et demi”, sold for 71 livres 19). Sale, Chalon-sur-Saône (Hervé Bretaudière), 22 November 1998, lot no. unknown Sale, New York (Sotheby’s), 28 May 1999, lot 88, ill. With Jack Kilgore & Co., New York, 1999-2005 With Noortman Master Paintings, Maastricht Private collection, Belgium
Aachen, Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum; Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, Cornelis Bega. Eleganz und raue Sitten, (catalogue edited by P. van den Brink and B.W. Lindemann) 2012, cat. nr. 64, pp. 229-231, 281, ill.
M.A. Scott, Cornelis Bega (1631/32 – 1664) as Painter and Draughtsman, PhD thesis (University of Maryland), Ann Arbor 1984, cat. nr. 55b, p. 293 Gazette des Beaux-Arts 40 (1998), p. 139
In a dimly lit, soberly furnished interior a young woman lies in a chair while a doctor sits by her side. Weak daylight falls into the room through the window at the back. The pale face of the woman catches most of the light. With his right hand the doctor holds a bottle of urine. He is subtly silhouetted against the neutral background. A boxbed is on the left hand side and in the left foreground a modest still life of two flasks, a plate and a small earthenware pot sits on a stool. The subject of our painting, a doctor’s visit, is a quite popular theme in Dutch seventeenth-century painting. Invariably, the patients are young women and most often the exact nature of the illness can easily be deduced from details added by the painter as clues for the beholder. Roughly, one may distinguish two scenarios: lovesickness and pregnancy. The doctor in our scene is a so-called piskijker. Together with feeling the patient’s pulse the examination of urine was an ancient tool traceable to Greek writers such as Hippocrates and Galenus. In the Middle Ages it was still believed that uroscopy yielded significant information about the balance between the four humours in the blood. But medical science had progressed considerably by the sixteenth century and the idea that uroscopy in itself could serve as a sufficient method to arrive at a definite diagnosis was abandoned. That quacks nonetheless persisted in a liberal application of uroscopy is evident from various sources. The Alkmaar doctor Petrus Forestus (1521 – 1597) fulminated against the abuse of the uroscopic practice in his Het onzeker ende bedrieghlick oordeel der wateren.4 Forestus was not alone in his concerns. Much later, in 1642, the famous Dordrecht doctor Johannes van Beverwijck (1594 - 1647) expressed similar warnings in his influential Schat der Ongesontheyt.5 The continued abuse of urine examination is reflected in painting. Quite a few seventeenthcentury doctor’s visits, among which are famous treatments by Jan Steen, Gerard Dou and Frans van Mieris the Elder, show quacksalver doctors depending on uroscopy as their main diagnostic tool.6 The doctor in our painting has just assessed his diagnosis by inspecting the bottle’s content and appears to be explaining his patient the result of his examination. The beholder is kept in the dark about the nature of the patient’s physical problem. This open narrative approach is typical for Bega’s mature genre scenes. Instead of spelling out the nature and outcome of the confrontation between the protagonists, Bega in these paintings left room for multiple interpretations and preferred the stillness of an isolated moment. This dramaturgical strategy was developed by Gerard ter Borch in the 1650’s and then adopted and successfully applied by, among other genre painters, Bega. Most of the seventeenth-century doctor’s visits strike a satirical tone and the doctors are nearly always quacks and represented with a strong caricaturist flavour. These scenes are part of a rich satirical tradition initiated in the early sixteenth century by Hieronymus Bosch and Lucas van Leyden. Bega also painted a number of satirical scenes of quack doctors.7 In the present scene the satirical element has become implicit but as a “piskijker” and wearing old-fashioned, even humble dress our doctor is certainly a quack. However, Bega has transformed him from a mere theatrical character into a real person. Bega began his career depicting scenes in this comical vein; boorish taverns, furnished with nursing mothers, prostitutes, gamblers and alchemists. However, from about 1658 onwards, his genre scenes became less densely populated. He started to paint tranquil and finely balanced compositions such as the present. The predilection for scenes with Kennemerstraatweg 174 – 1815 LE Alkmaar – Nederland – Mob.: +31 6 5342 5432 – Tel.: +31 72 5120080 Site: www. Bijlvanurk.com - E-mail: email@example.com – KvK Noordwest- Holland 37093206 BTW nr. NL 8136.63.489.B01 – Bank: ING Alkmaar 67.06.00.512 fewer figures allowed the artist to scrutinize the psychological depth of his figures: the face of Bega’s doctor shows a worried expression and he seems genuinely concerned with the woman’s wellbeing. It also invited the artist to increasingly focus on the accurate rendition of object textures, which is evident in our painting as well. The artist continued to recruit his characters from the lower ranks of society, but they now have become individuals, behaving civilized so that the viewer can relate with them.