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Gerrit van Honthorst - The Dentist

by Alexandra Tuschka

It is not for nothing that the Dutchman Gerrit van Honthorst received the name "Caravaggio of Utrecht". The light and shadows of the painting are reminiscent of the famous master. Nevertheless, the picture shows a "typical" Dutch motif: a man is sitting in the middle of a chair. Around him, several other people have gathered with interest. The dentist smilingly pulls the man's head back and tries to pull a tooth from him rabidly with a pair of pliers. The patient is in pain. His defensive hand is held by another man so that he cannot interrupt the procedure. A small boy in blue clothing illuminates the scene with a candle. He shields the candlelight from the viewer with his hand, however, so that the centered scene is illuminated from "within," so to speak.

With these "Night Pictures" van Honthorst clearly places himself in the succession of Caravaggio, whose art he became acquainted with in Italy, where he spent some time. Van Honthorst, however, preferred milder light than his teacher.

It is not only today that we smile about the subject - the "dentist" is a pictorial motif that van Honhorst's contemporaries must have smiled about as well. A dentist was by no means a respected profession in the Netherlands in the 17th century. Rather, among the real healers there were many "quacks" who treated their patients with strange methods. We meet someone like that here - the medical education of the dentist in this picture seems to be highly doubtful.

Gerrit van Honthorst - The Dentist

Oil on canvas, 1622, 147 x 219 cm, Old Masters Picture Gallery in Dresden


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