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Collections and Critiques

Fogg Museum Receives An Unusual Portrait Bust of Descartes of Flemish School


Some three years ago Harvard University received as a memorial gift a portrait bust of Descartes. But on comparison with the portrait in the Louvre, painted by Frans Hals, this attribution proved uncertain. It now is exhibited in the Fogg Museum for its intrinsic merit as sculpture.

It is a Van Dyck type of head, with high forhead, strong chin and a glance of intense alertness. What is most remarkable is the vivid sense of life. This is created largely by an emphasis on the personal incidentals, the pupil of the eye, the crowsfeet and wrinkles, the wart on the cheek.

After many inquiries, and a search during two summers in the most likely museums of Europe, the man still remains unknown. But the work proves to be of the Flemish or Dutch school of the middle of the seventeenth century. This was a time when Flemish sculptors were in demand all over Europe from Italy to Scandinavia. In their vitality, realism and skill in execution, they were peculiarly fitted to express the temper of that epoch.

In its realistic treatment of the flesh and its peculiar manner of suggesting the long waving hair its closest parallel is found in the work of Jerome DuQuesnoy the younger, the most eminent among the many Flemish sculptors of that time. Very few examples of this school are to be seen in this country; perhaps no other so close to its ablest practitioner.

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