Juan van der Hamen
Juan van der Hamen y (Gómez de) León was a Spanish painter, born in 1596 in Madrid. He is well-noted for his versatility throughout his painting career. He painted landscapes, allegories, portraits, and many large-scale religious works of art, and what he is most remembered for is his still life paintings. He is considered a master at still life painting and he had greatly influenced the changing developments in still life painting in Madrid at that time.
Van der Hamen was born to a Flemish courtier, Jehan van der Hamen, who was said to have come to Spain as an archer to the court of Philip II. It is rumored that he himself was a painter. He settled down in Spain and married a noble, Dorotea Whitman Gómez de León. They had three boys, Juan and his two brothers; his brothers grew up to become influential Spanish writers. Juan eventually took over his father’s position in the court and also became a painter for the king. Being in a noble family household and having many connections, he received his first royal commission to paint at the king’s estate, El Pardo, in 1619.
Still life paintings at the time were considered a lesser genre when compared to portraits, so van der Hamen worked to become very successful as a portrait artist. He created a portrait of Philip IV and was also assigned to paint a series of portraits of the great writers of his time. He produced all of his works in the first decade of the reign of Philip IV, and painted the most still lifes in 1622 than any other year of his life. In 1626 he had painted cardinal Francesco Barberini, after Barberini was unsatisfied by the portrait Diego Velázquez had painted of him. Barberini was so impressed with van der Hamen's portrait that he requested three further paintings from him.
Van der Hamen had gained an interest in flower painting and religious painting in the later years of his life. He created several biblical pieces after joining the religious institutions of Madrid and Toledo, and he was commissioned to create several altarpieces for the churches and convents in those cities. Unfortunately, very few of his religious paintings have survived, but a great example of his painting style still exists in the Royal Convent of La Encarnación in Madrid, which had been painted in 1625. He also spent his time practicing the painting of flowers, and soon become a leader in floral paintings after being inspired by Flemish painters, such as Jan Brueghel the Elder. His most well-known painting of flowers is Offering to Flora; a visual poem that illustrates the goddess of flowers, with a cornucopia of spring flowers next to her side.
Juan van der Hamen died at the young age of thirty-five, in the year 1631. His paintings are currently shown in some of the leading museums in both Europe and America. He caused a minor genre, still life, to become popularized in the seventeenth and eighteenth century in Spain, and he is currently believed to be the greatest still life painter of the seventeenth century in Spain.