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Monconys’ Visit: Six Degrees of Separation for Spinoza

 

The Distance from Spinoza’s Tydeman home, just 5 minutes walk from the Huygens Estate, and The Hague is just over 2 miles. The distance from the Huygens Estate and Vermeer’s House, just about 4 miles.

Veermer, Van Leeuwenhoek, Huygens, Hudde, Monconys, Oldenburg

A selection from Philp Steadman’s Vermeer’s Camera, which works to establish a fine net of painterly and optical relations to which Spinoza was connected in 1664-5. :

Six years previously, in 1663, Vermeer had received another distinguished visitor, the French diplomat and traveller Balthasar de Monconys. Monconys records in the Journal of his travels how he went to Delft briefly on August 3 where he admired the tombs of Admiral Tromp, Piet Hein, and William of Orange. Eight days later, on the 11th, he was back again with the sole purpose of visiting Vermeer. The meeting was not, by Monconys’ account, a great success. He was disappointed in his hopes to buy a painting…

…Broos notes that how, before going to Delft,  Monconys had been to see the Huygens family in The Hague, and had passed by again after this meeting with Veermer. “One gains the strong impression,” says Broos, “that it was thanks to his contacts in The Hague that the French diplomat had been able to take note of the most famous Dutch artists of that era, such as van Mieris and Dou in Leiden, and Johannes Veermer in Delft…”

…[and then on Monconys’s optical concerns, in addition to his pursuit of high art] Indeed, while he was with the Huygens family in The Hague, Monconyswas comparing their designs of telescopes with his own, and admiring the clarity and sharpness of the images produced by their lenses. On this same trip he went on to call on the mathematician Johan Hudde in Amsterdam and on the scholar Vossius in The Hague to see their microscopes…Both men’s instruments had single lenses. Hudde demonstrated to Monconys his methods for melting glass bead lenses and polishing them with salt. He also described his techniques for illuminating specimens (55-56).

Steadman makes this chain of associations part of a story of the possible optical resources for Vermeer, concluding that Constantijn Huygens is a candidate [earlier in the text he strongly considers a van Leeuwenhoek influence], but it also works as a roadmap for the web of relations which characterize Spinoza’s own artisitic and lense oriented connections. Monconys’ visit to Delft and Voorburg occurred only a few months after Spinoza had moved to that quite village in the Spring. Spinoza’s Voorburg landlord was a “Master painter”, [as would be his next one] and If indeed Spinoza had some reputation for either lenses or instruments, as is possible, his coming to the neighborhood must have been noted with special interest by the Huygens Three. Spinoza may have meet mathmatician and lens-grinder Johannes Hudde several years before while living at Rijnsburg, through the Leiden Cartesian Circle, as suggested by Klever to Nadler, or he might have met him later through Christiaan Huygens himself (although F. J. Dijksterhuis attempts to minimize the connection between the two, Ruestow tells of how Huygens actually translated some of the Micrographia for Hudde); in any case Spinoza was in correspondence with him in early 1666, and took his optical theories largely to be right ones. This net of contacts and friendships both in the arts and optics circles rather tightly around Spinoza’s person. If we allow Philip Steadman’s groupings of influences, we can see that they indeed are more those for Spinoza, than for Vermeer. The Guild of Luke tensions between Delft and The Hague artists notwithstanding, if the Huygens House was a confluence of paintings and optical knowledge, we can assume to some degree Spinoza too was touched.

 As Steadman concludes, if it was not Van Leeuwenhoek who introduced Vermeer to lenses and cameras, it likely was Huygens senior, quoting Heinrich Schwartz,

…the evidence makes it rather possible that one of Monconys Dutch scientist friends may have called his attention to a painter in Delft who used with some amazing results an optical contrivance and that, therefore, his paint may have had a particular interest and appeal for him (58 )

Just as the conflation of paint and optics occurs in the figure of Vermeer, so too it does with Spinoza, who taught himself to draw (camera obscura? reflecting concave mirror?) and associated with painters of the Guild.

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2 responses to “Monconys’ Visit: Six Degrees of Separation for Spinoza

  1. rick May 1, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    was Spinoza a painter? If so what did he paint and is there anywhere to find pictures of his works? If he was a painter would he have titled his work J Spinoza? Thanks

    • kvond May 5, 2010 at 12:47 am

      Spinoza is reported to have been a rather skilled draughtsman, capturing likenessess of visitors to a sharp degree, and he lived in the house of two different master painters. It is probably likely that he painted, but neither his sketches or his possible paintings survive. It clearly was only a hobby.

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