Potraits and Tronies in Dutch Art from the Golden Age

Box with Axe (1645). Kunst Museum Winterthur, Reinhart am Stadtgarten.
The Dutch art theorist and painter Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-1687) described in his book ‘Inleyding tot de Hooge Schoole der Schilderkonst’  (1678) the human face as a “mirror of the mind”. He even thought he could read a person’s character from his or her features.
Faces also play an important role in painting. Thus, the faces painted in the Netherlands in the 17th century reflect many facets of human physiognomy in individual portraits. Just as they individually strive to reflect the reality of the life of a portrayed personality, they can, in combination, reflect the history of an entire society.

The human face became a theme in Dutch Baroque painting independently of the representative task of portrait art. As distinctive character heads with pronounced facial features, a new type of figure painting established itself.

Old and young people in plain clothes or extravagant costumes up to the self-representation of an artist were the preferred subjects, without the depicted being fixed to a certain role and identity.

In contrast to status portraits, which were commissioned works staging the status and rank of the models, faces sound out the spectrum of human expression.

Jacob Backer’s (1608-1651) recently acquired portrait of a boy with an axe(1645) is shown for the first time in the bilingual exhibition (Geschichten in Geschichtern. Porträt und Tronie in der niederländischen Kunst). Paintings by artists such as Ferdinand Bol, Samuel van Hoogstraten, and Jan Lievens are grouped around it, presented in an exquisite selection of historical, genre, and self-portraits by Rembrandt.

Illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages

Poster of the Exhibition

Calligrapher and illuminator craftsmen of the Middle Ages copied, illustrated and safeguarded crucial texts from antiquity to their times. Covering topics ranging from science to canonical law, music or world history, they allow us access to knowledge that would have otherwise escaped us.

The efforts of these men reach far beyond content: the precise, meticulous illustrations, drawn with quill or brush, applying colours based on natural pigments or gold leaf, are treasures beautiful beyond description.

Today, celebrating the 15th birthday of the e-codices project, the Martin Bodmer Foundation and the Abbey Library of St. Gall pay homage to these artists, custodians of this indispensable and rich heritage.

Digital operators preserve and continue their work by selecting the most impressive illuminated manuscripts from its vaults and fifteen Swiss libraries.

The exposition ‘illuminated manuscripts kept in Switzerland’ (Trésors enluminés de Suisse) gives an overview of the extensive collection in Switzerland.

The Swiss Constitution 1848-2023

The Constitution of Switzerland is 175 years old and dates from 1848. Switzerland was the only nation in Europe with a liberal constitution in 1848. The Federal Constitution resulted from only 51 days of negotiation between February and April 1848. After the votes and referendums in the cantons, the Tagsatzung (the assembly of the representatives of the cantons)  put the Consitution into force on 12 September 1848; although not all cantons agreed, the majority had decided.

The National Council or First Chamber (Nationalrat) and the Council of States, Second Chamber or Senate (Ständerat) were elected, and the first government  (Bundesrat) was chosen. Switzerland became a democratic republican island amidst monarchies.

Facsimile of the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation, Bern, 12.9.1848. The original is in the Federal Archives in Bern.

In the autumn of 1847, Switzerland was still a loose republic in a civil war. What followed was no miracle but the result of pragmatism, realism, a willingness to compromise, centuries of federal cooperation, confrontation, conflict and solutions. International orientation was also important: the Declaration of Human Rights of the French Revolution (1789) and the American Constitution (1786). Moreover, Europe was in turmoil in 1848, and the interventionist monarchies of Prussia and Austria were preoccupied with themselves.

Bettina Eichin (1942). The human rights, 1998 – 2000. The Bronze Virginia Bill of Rights of 1776, the Franse Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen of 1789 and the Déclaration des Droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne of 1791, written by Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793) © Schweizerisches Landesmuseum. Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft, Bundesamt für Kultur.  Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft, Bundesamt für Kultur

At the same time, the Federal Constitution was constantly being developed by the citizens and the cantons after 1848. They are the sovereigns of the country. Social change and political conflicts led to several constitutional revisions.

While the federal state was still a representative democracy in 1848, it became a direct democracy with the introduction of the optional referendum in 1874 and the right of initiative in 1891. In 1971, women were also granted full civil rights.

Since 1974, the European Convention on Human Rights has significantly influenced Swiss law. More recent fundamental rights, such as the protection of privacy or the right to a fair trial, found their way into the Federal Constitution with the total revision of 1999.

The exhibition ‘Happy you have rights day. 175 Years of the Federal Constitution’ (Zum Geburtstag viel Recht. 175 Jahre Bundesverfassung) takes visitors on a tour of 175 years of the Federal Constitution, focusing on fundamental and civil rights.

In four interactive parts, visitors can explore the path to citizenship, the limits of freedom of expression, the protection of privacy or the right to a fair trial. The Federal Constitution is more than a document: it is part of the Swiss way of life.

The exhibition starts with the bronze sculpture ‘Menschenrechte’ (Human Rights) by Bettina Eichin and the animated film ‘Constituzia’ (Constitution) about the time before 1848, followed by the founding period 1848-1891, fundamental rights in the present and contemporary history 1971-1999.

(Source: Landesmuseum Zurich and the publication 175 Jahre Bundesverfassung. Zum Geburtstag viel Recht. This publication is also available in French, Italian and Romansh (Landesmuseum Zürich, Sandstein Verlag, 2023).

PS: See also The Landsgemeinde and the exhibition in the Nidwalder Museum: Ja, Nein, Weiss nicht. Musterdemokratie Schweiz ?

National Celebration Day after 1848. Collection: Landesmuseum Zurich