A “walking man” that has lost his “cello”.

Walking Man, Anonymous, bronze, 35 cm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. BK-16083

Here is a wonderful sculpture at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (inv. BK-16083): it represents a walking man with a raised left arm and the right protrunding outwards.

The description of the item in the museum’s website reads:

De man staat met het linkerbeen voor het rechter, met even naar buiten gedraaide voet. De rechterarm houdt hij iets vooruit, de gekromde linkerarm en hand zijn opgeheven. Het gebaarde hoofd met snor is even naar rechts gewend, de blik is schuin naar boven gericht. Hij draagt een bolhoed met slappe rand, een wambuis met ganzenbuik bezet met kleine ronde knopen en resten van pikkedillekens bij de armsgaten. De slap hangende mouwen eindigen in geplooide manchetten. Deze zijn van dezelfde vorm als de halskraag, die op de stijve, opstaande kraag van het wambuis rust. Aan de benen hozen, de voeten steken in lage schoenen, die achteraan een split vertonen en vooraan met een gesp zijn gesloten. Op zijn linkerheup hangt aan een riem een bandelier, waarvan de onderzijde weer wordt vastgehouden door een riem, welke aan de heupriem is bevestigd. Om de hals een in de nek geknoopt lint, waaraan een onbewerkte medaille. Op de bandelier gegraveerde ranken; op een deel van het wambuis een gestippelde versiering, die aan ornament op fluweel herinnert.

The man stands with the left leg in front of the right, with the foot turned outwards. He holds the right arm slightly forward, the curved left arm and hand are raised. The bearded head with mustache is turned to the right for a moment, the gaze is looking upwards. He wears a floppy-brimmed bowler hat, a goose-bellied jerkin set with small round buttons, and remnants of pecker quills at the armholes. The slack sleeves end in pleated cuffs. These are of the same shape as the neck collar, which rests on the stiff, upright collar of the gambeson. Boozing at the legs, putting the feet in low shoes, which have a split at the back and are closed with a buckle at the front. On his left hip hangs a belt from a belt, the underside of which is again held by a belt, which is attached to the hip belt. Around the neck a ribbon tied in the neck, with an unprocessed medal. Tendrils engraved on the bandstand; on part of the gambeson a dotted decoration, which is reminiscent of an ornament on velvet.

It is currently attributed to an unknown master, formerly was it belived to be by the hand of Hendrik de Keyser I (1565-1621).

Processional Cello (or bass violin).

I think this man was walking on the street carrying and playing a processional cello, or rather a bass violin, just like that portrayed by Leonaert Bramer (1596-1674) in a beautiful drawing at the Graphische Sammlung in München.

The grip of the bow described in this sculpture is magnificent. The right hand had to hold a large bow underhand – see the slope on the second finger. The fourth finger is bended towards the palm to hold the hair and help directing the strokes.

While pressing down the fingers on the fingerboard for the proper chord, the left hand also helped in keeping the instrument upright from its neck.

In a recent article William Braun discusses the type of instrument that this player must have been using:

[…] Some cellos were fitted with a strap so the instrument could be played while walking and standing. Jambe de Fer gave some a brief description in 1556: “It [the bass violin] was held up by means of a strap attached to a hook in a loop of iron – or some other material – which was fastened to the back of the instrument in such a way that it did not interfere with the playing.” Ludovico Zacconi stated that the cello was largely used in popular contexts in his 1592 Prattica di musica; this implies the cello was played at events such as weddings, dances, and processions, where the cello was likely held standing, supported by a strap. The strap was attached with holes drilled into the back of the instrument, known as procession holes. This practice eventually fell out of favor and procession holes were filled in. Jacqueline du Pré described a procession hole in her cello, the “Davidoff” Stradivarius in a 1964 article: “That this cello was used by monks in religious processions is proved by a hole which is now refilled, in its back. Through it the monk secured a
looped cord which he slung around his neck: he was then free to pace in slow procession playing the instrument suspended on his portly front.” Although du Pré’s quote seemingly adds a little fiction, (how was she to know the monk was portly?), the general message is true. Many surviving cellos show evidence of
procession holes, now filled in. […]

Braun, William, “The Evolution of the Cello Endpin and Its Effect on Technique and Repertoire” (2015). Student Research, Creative Activity, and Performance – School of Music. 90, pp. 11-15.

As Marc Vanscheeuwijck noted,

[…] No parts written specifically for bass violin survive, but from iconographical sources and written indications it is possible to reconstruct that the instrument was used exclusively in popular contexts (in
contrast to the more noble instruments of the viola da gamba family) such as processions and dance music for weddings, village parties, fairs, etc. Tuned in fifths (generally if-F-c-g), the instrument was played seated or standing and was held between the legs of the player on the floor or on a stool, or supported with a strap over the shoulder (in processions). Since the instrument needed to be partly supported by the left hand, the fingers were placed obliquely on the strings, and fingering was purely diatonic, as it was for the other violins as well. Bowing technique was rudimentary, and both underhand and overhand grips appear in iconographical sources. […]

Vanscheeuwijck, Marc (1996) “The Baroque Cello and Its Performance,” Performance Practice Review: Vol. 9: No. 1, p. 81.

More on the bass violin as a processional instrument with interesting pictures of surviving instruments in Gyongy Iren Erodi’s MA thesis: The sixteenth-century basse de violon: fact or fiction? Identification of the bass violin (1535-1635).

Now, de Keyser was a sculptor and architect. He may well not be the maker of this stunning sculpture, however the features of this bearded man are quite resemblant to de Keyser himself…

Literature concerning de Keyser’s bronze small sculptures is not that vast. The following quotation gives some insight on the possible subject matter and questions the attribution to de Keyser:

[…] the statuette of a nobleman dressed in the costume of the 1580’s and striding majestically along is one of the very rare small bronzes that depict a contemporary subject. The facial features strongly resemble those of William the Silent, Prince of Orange, and this may be a posthumous portrait related in some way to the project for his tomb. The realism and attention to detail are indeed characteristic of De Keyser and the statuette may well be by him. However a comparison with the statuettes since identified with certainty as his doeas little to condirm his authorship, owing to the wide differences imposed by contemporary costume and portraiture in the one hand and classical nudity and mythological subject matter on the other. […]

Avery, C. H. F. “Hendrick De Keyser as a Sculptor of Small Bronzes: His Orpheus and Cerberus Identified.” Bulletin Van Het Rijksmuseum, vol. 21, no. 1, 1973, pp. 3–24, p. 5.

The identification of the man, however, was dismissed in a more recent article focusing on very technical aspects related to the statuette:

[…] The statuette represents a man with beard and drooping moustache and is dressed in the full bag-like breeches known as trunk hose, with stockings, and a doublet with a lace ruff and cuffs, and he has a small round brimmed hat on his head. His clothing accurately reflects the fashion at the Spanish Court in about 1575. For a long time it was supposed that the statue could be a portrait of William of Orange, but there are unsatisfactory grounds for this identification—the face differs too greatly from the known portraits of the prince. […]

VV.AA “New insights into alloy compositions: studying Renaissance bronze statuettes by combined neutron imaging and neutron diffraction techniques.” J. Anal. At. Spectrom., 2011, 26, 949, p. 951.