Thesis: Gerard Ter Borch Curiosity C. 1660 62 Accession Number 49 7 38

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The Dutch painters of the seventeenth century though renowned for their skill are not especially notable for their clarity.. That is, while they painted in exquisite details and a richness of color, they did not always make ti obvious what the meaning or indeed even the specific subject matter of a painting was. This might seem an odd thing to suggest about a group of painters or their work; obviously, whatever is contained within the frame or upon the canvas is the subject matter of any given painting. But this is only the subject matter in a general way -- one might recognize the figure of a man upon a horse, for instance, but often painters give other indicators that tell more of a complete story. A man riding home from the field and a man riding off to war would make for two very different paintings, and it is generally considered part of the skill of an artists to render that difference visible to the viewer, letting everyone share the story of the painting. This is the type of clarity that many of the Dutch painters working in the seventeenth century either lacked or deliberately avoided.

Gerard ter Borch was one such painter, and his work is emblematic of the obfuscation often practiced by this group. There is a distinct richness to his work, evidence of his life traveling in luxurious circles despite a few difficulties in his family and situation (62). He often included decorative work and many minute details in his paintings that seem almost meaningless at first glance, without providing any clear concept of what is truly going on in the painting (76). On the one hand, this makes examining a Ter Borch painting incredibly frustrating -- there are so many details to work with, yet so little in the way of concrete information that can be drawn from them. On the other hand, Ter Borch's sumptuous paintings provide ideal objects for rumination, and the freedom of interpretation they afford is a nice companion.

One painting of special interest in his regard is a scene of three women and a small spaniel gathered around a small writing desk, with what appears to be (by details of her dress and her face) the eldest of the group -- possibly a trio of sisters -- seated at the table and writing. This painting has come to be known as Curiosity, though the name was not attached to the 1660-2 painting until 1833 (76). Next to her on the table is what could be another letter, or even what was used as an envelope in the time of the painting -- another piece of paper folded and sealed over the actual letter. There is also what appears to be an open pocket watch, its chain draped over the edge of the table, a small glass inkwell on a silver tray, and above the group of women to their left an indistinguishable painting hangs above a large ornate fireplace.

There is something that appears strangely important about this fuzzyily rendered painting-within-a-painting. First, the fact that it exists within another work of art call attention to itself with a sort of irony, as if reminding the viewer that art can never really show truth -- even Curiosity (or whatever Ter Borch or the painting's original owners called it) is simply a representation of a scene, most likely completely imagined and certainly fictionally rendered by the artist. Several other details thrust this painting into prominence -- the perspective makes it look as though the back wall emanates from the painting, and the high space the painting occupies is nearly empty except for a spindly chandelier whose gold color is an echo of the painting's frame and the fireplace gilding, giving this out-of-reach painting a position of prominence.

The painting-within-the-painting's significance is not merely a curiosity itself, but rather can lead to interpretations of the works as a whole. The feeling… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Gerard Ter Borch Curiosity C. 1660 62 Accession Number 49 7 38.  (2009, April 4).  Retrieved August 23, 2019, from

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"Gerard Ter Borch Curiosity C. 1660 62 Accession Number 49 7 38."  4 April 2009.  Web.  23 August 2019. <>.

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"Gerard Ter Borch Curiosity C. 1660 62 Accession Number 49 7 38."  April 4, 2009.  Accessed August 23, 2019.