Bernhardt Keil

Danish, 1626-1687

SN 729, oil on canvas

From: "The Pages"

Bernard Keil, a Danish painter, was born in Helsingor in 1624. He was active in Italy, where he was known as Monsú Bernardo. He apprenticed to Copenhagen Court Painter Maarten Van Steenwinckel, and as a Master continued his training with Rembrandt in Amsterdam. He opened his own studio and taught young artists until 1651. In Italy he received commissions for portraits and decorated palaces, churches and religious orders. In Rome in 1656 he converted to Catholicism. He died in Rome in 1687, at the age of 63.

The scene is typical of the travelling theatrical companies at this time. A laughing girl on the left carries a hat and hides her face behind the mask she has brought from the Commedia dell’arte, trying to inject some merriment into the group. The serious older couple pays no attention, while the youth puts up a hand to ward her off, showing his reluctance to join the fun. The old man looks out at us, common in Baroque painting, showing the viewer's invited involvement.

Juxtaposition of old and young people of both sexes is typical of this artist. Contrast the girl on the left with the old woman who pours out wine for the older magician on the right. This is a genre piece, that is, a scene from daily life. Like others by Keil, it has an allegorical or moralizing meaning as a subtext to what we see. It can also be interpreted as an allegory of the sense of hearing.

Monsú Bernardo never signed his works. However, his work is representative of Flemish Baroque painting. He uses a broad brush technique, with lively brushstrokes; he characterizes his subjects with animated gestures and facial expressions. Keil always showed a gentle affection for the common folk. The general moral tone contrasts with two erotic visual puns: the open barrel the youth leans on, and the musical instrument between his legs.

Keil’s canvas is filled with large, close-up figures against a simple background that doesn’t distract your attention from the action. He uses brilliant color. There is a grouping of most of these same characters in a painting, similarly titled, in the Seattle Art Museum.

During the 17th century there was a new emphasis on visual realism, related to the secularization of knowledge. Baroque genre paintings were simple transcriptions of everyday life. Peasants formed a large segment of the population. Rembrandt's impact on Keil is obvious in this painting, with its naturalism and chiaroscuro. Rembrandt exhibited a Dutch fondness for such images of peasants, poverty, and a sincere sympathy for the poor. When Filippo Baldinucci wrote his biographies, Keil supplied much of the information on Rembrandt.