Monday, 14 March 2011

Gossaert’s “Merchant” at the National Gallery – how we might portray ourselves on a LinkedIn profile or 27th March 2011?

I suspect few of us will write the word “Merchant” in the forthcoming UK national census household questionnaire to describe our job on 27th March 2011 .
( The Office of National Statistics ONS questions include Q.34 What is (was) your full and specific job title?.Q35 Briefly describe what you do (did) in your main job. Q37 At your workplace, what is (was) the main activity of your employer or business?)Likewise when we set up our profile on a blog site or social media sites such as Linked In - 'merchant' is unlikely to be the word we would use to describe ourselves

Yet a merchant is simply a businessperson who trades in commodities that were produced by others, in order to earn a profit. I guess that is what most salespeople do.

The word merchant is still used in financial services world e.g. on line credit systems.

We may notice it in a restaurant when after we have inputted our payment and gratuity into the hand held machine we read the instruction “HAND BACK TO MERCHANT” to give back the device to the waiter or waitress.
We also are aware of the high net worth scapegoats called merchant bankers who are currently being villified by the envious media.

In London at the moment there are posters on the sides of the city's red buses and in the tube (underground) train stations depicting a merchant. The posters are promoting an exhibition at the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square of the work of the Flemish artist Jan Gossaert.

The poster selling the show to the public ( ticket entry £10 ) is of the portrait on loan from the National Gallery of Art collection Washington DC.

The souvenir postcards you can buy of the picture state “Portrait of a merchant”.

The audio commentary £4 hire at the show refers to him as a” nobleman”.

Some scholars think this may one Jan Jacobsz Snoek. The original portrait is thought to have been painted in around 1530.

This oil painting is to be found in one of the rooms in the show concentrating on portraits that Gossaert painted.

Clearly the subject is a man of business.

This is not the typical portrait of an aristocrat or a 'new rich' showing off their huge house, their beautiful wife at their side or the view of their vast estate in the background .

Nor is it like a photograph portrait on a autobiography cover( dust jacket) of a successful man of business in a suit – like Lord Sugar with a purple tie on the cover of his bestselling book WYSIWYG -( other business biogs. are also available as the BBC might say) .

Nor is it a portrait of a business man supporting a charity like 'Dragon' Theo Paphitis, endorsing the Red Nose Charity day on posters in office stationers Ryman's.

We all display portraits of ourselves nowadays in one form or another. Usually we depict our face and shoulders perhaps on our linked In page or Facebook entry but seldom is the photograph surrounded by the tools of our trade - such as our laptop, IPad and smart phone.

However perhaps this portrait by Gossaert would be of today in one respect.

Our new passport photos in the UK stipulate the kind of facial expression the merchant has.

This merchant is not smiling.

He has a cool and rather quizzical expression.

We see this 16th century business celebrity surrounded by the tools of his trade.

Objects of his office include

A sand blotter to dry ink ,


weight scales


pen holders,

a notebook

pens ,paper and ink .

There is even a stick of red sealing wax – to deter people from ‘hacking’ into communication. Security as now was an issue even then.

We even see the forerunner of an “in and out tray” or filing system.

Two sets of papers are hung above his head.

On the left are marked miscellaneous letters and to the right miscellaneous memos or minutes. (Rather better organised than my Outlook files!)

One other portrait in this section section of this exhibition caught my eye.

It is from the National Gallery’s own collection .

It is of an elderly couple painted around 1520 and was bought on our behalf in 1900.

The ‘blurb’ to the right of the picture on the gallery wall explained that the badge on the man’s hat was depicts mercury and fortuna -the gods of trade and prosperity and suggest the man was or had been a merchant.

It is clearly worn as a badge of honour.

He is proud to be or to have been a salesperson.

There is much else to wonder at in the exhibition. The amazing skills of Gossaert's detailed depictions with a paintbrush are a wonder.

I was relieved to hear from the audio guide that despite Gossaert’s remarkable attention to detail in his painting- his own very human life was described by someone at the time as:-

“ …disorderly and disorganized…”

perhaps that is why the merchant is looking so cool and quizzical.

Click for what’s on at the National Gallery, London
The show runs to 30th May 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment