National Gallery of Ireland Turning Heads

Early this year, the National Gallery of Ireland will be staging an entire exhibition dedicated to ‘the tronie’ – an old Dutch word for ‘face’ that represented creative experimenting with facial expressions and particular heads – featuring some of the most iconic examples of the genre by Dutch and Flemish artists, including Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt and Johannes Vermeer.

All eyes will be on Dublin, when Turning Heads: Rubens, Rembrandt and Vermeer opens on Saturday, 24th February and runs until Sunday, 26th May. First seen at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp in 2023, this version of the exhibition will include several additional works by the likes of Jan Lievens, Michael Sweerts and Frans Floris.

Circle of Rembrandt, The Man with the Golden Helmet, c.1650: Gemäldegalerie

Focusing on the fascination that Dutch Golden Age and Flemish Baroque painters had for the ‘tronie’, which were intriguing and innovative character studies rather than portraits, the exhibition will include over 70 works by artists of the 16th and 17th-century.

At the forefront of the exhibition will be one of Vermeer’s most exquisitely detailed tronies, Girl with the Red Hat (c. 1665-1667), which has rarely been seen outside the United States in the last century. The painting depicts a female sitter turning back, with two major colour themes present through the titular red hat and cascading blue robe. As well as being one of the smallest works he ever produced, the picture is also notable as being painted on panel and not the artist’s usual canvas.

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Laughing Man c. 1629-1630, Credit Line: Mauritshuis, The Hague


Another Dutch master will also be included with Rembrandt’s The Laughing Man (1629-1630), depicting a man baring crooked teeth as he jovially laughs. This expression was common for a tronie, and Rembrandt portrayed himself laughing in several depictions of himself around the same time. This work also shows the beginning of Rembrandt’s loose brushwork that would come to define much of his later output.

The tronie was also of interest to the great Flemish artist, Peter Paul Rubens, and Head Study of an Old Woman Seen from the Front (c. 1617) will be on display. Rubens often returned to women in their old age as subjects of his tronies, from various different angles, sometimes smiling, and other times downcast.

Johannes Vermeer, Girl with the Red Hat, c.1665-1667, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Including other sublime examples of the tronie, such as by Michael Sweerts, Jacob Jordaens, and Anthony van Dyck, the National Gallery of Ireland will bring visitors face-to-face with captivating characters from centuries past, captured by the Dutch and Flemish master painters of the 16th- and 17th-centuries. As well as revealing hidden historical contexts through a broad collection of pictures, the exhibition will detail how the artists of their day used the form to showcase their drawing and painting skills through expert handling and engaging expressions.

The exhibition is a collaboration between the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp and the National Gallery of Ireland. Ticketed, admission from €5.

The Gallery would like to thank the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media for its ongoing support.

Turning Heads: Rubens, Rembrandt and Vermeer
Beit Wing (Rooms 6 – 10) | Tickets on sale now from €5
24 February – 26 May 2024
Curator: Dr Lizzie Marx and Dr Brendan Rooney

See also: Anne von Freyburg’s Rococo Reimagined at HOFA

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