I.S. (vanya796515) wrote in kunstgeschichte,

I used to have a girlfriend known as Elsje...

Rembrandt Van Rijn, Elsje Christiaens on the Gallows, 1664.
Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash.

The frontal view is at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

So what happened to Elsje? Why is there an ax hanging at her side? Elsje came to Amsterdam to Denmark in the search of employment as a servant; somehow she got into a fight with one of her landladies; the landlady wanted to beat her with a broomstick, so Elsje responded by grabbing the ax... the landlady flew down the stairs and never got up again.

Elsje's sentence was extremely harsh even by the 17th-century standards; in fact she was the first woman to be executed in Amsterdam in more than 20 years at that time; she was strangled and her body was left to rot exposed to the public as a warning against attacking your landlords and employers with axes I guess. Hence the ax hanging by her side is the weapon of her crime that defines her perpetration to the public.

Why did Rembrandt decide to depict her? Perhaps because the case received so much attention and it was quite a rarity to see a dead woman's body hanging from a stick in such a civilized city as Amsterdam in the 17th century. Perhaps it is not about Elsje and her story at all, but rather a study of a body in an unusual position and setting. Morbid, I know.
Tags: 17th century, dutch, rembrandt, works on paper
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded