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The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company in 1616
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This painting was of the sort that helped Frans Hals make a name for himself.

Later, he would go on to do other portraits in a notably jolly and loose style, like Gypsy Girl, but these were his bread and butter.

As stated in the title, this is a painting of the St. George Civic Guard. They were a voluntary paramilitary force that both policed and protected the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands. Though voluntary, the Haarlem schutterij, as they were otherwise known, ended up being the primary fighting force for the city for most of the Dutch Golden Age. Of course, there is a good reason why you haven’t heard of this spectacular fighting force and that is because they weren’t really all that intimidating. While they thought very highly of themselves, they were still just weaponized boys clubs, and, as a German spy once put it, “If it ever came to a siege…the resistance would be less strong than the citizenry itself imagines.”

Frans Hals was a member of one of the Haarlem schutterij and did some fighting for Dutch independence, which was not particularly rare. Volunteering to do your part was highly encouraged, and there was lots of poems and other propaganda encouraging service. With time, however, this has created a rather humorous linguistic situation. See, one of the words used to describe the average citizen in Haarlem in the 1600s was “burgher.” So if you look into patriotic 17th century Dutch literature, you will find a bunch of passionate calls for the rise of Haarlem’s “burgher-soldiers.” 

Sources

Sources

  1. Web Contributor “Banquet of the Officers of the St George Civic Guard” Artible veiwed on 12/18/2019 https://www.artble.com/artists/frans_hals/paintings/banquet_of_the_offic...
  2. Arthur W Wheelock, Arthur K. Wheelock (Jr.), Adele F. Seeff “The Public and Private in Dutch Culture of the Golden Age” Newark: University of Delaware Press, London: Associated University Presses 2000 https://books.google.com/books?id=578bSNyoxzIC&pg=PA99
  3. Web Contributor “BIOGRAPHY OF FRANS HALS” Frans Halls the Complete Works viewed on 12/18/2019 http://www.frans-hals.org/biography.html

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Here is what Wikipedia says about The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company in 1616

The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company in 1616 refers to the first of several large schutterstukken painted by Frans Hals for the St. George (or St. Joris) civic guard of Haarlem, and today is considered one of the main attractions of the Frans Hals Museum there.

Influenced by Cornelis van Haarlem

Hals was in his thirties when he painted this piece, and was far from established as a portrait painter. To be safe, he based most of his design on the painting of his predecessor, Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem, who painted the same militia company in 1599.

Given a nearly impossible task, namely to complete his assignment but to add theatrical elements at the same time, Hals must have spent much time judging the politics of the group. He knew these men well as he served in the St. Joris militia himself from 1612–1615. In his painting, he indicates the political position of each man in the group as well as managing to give each a characteristic portrait. In Cornelis van Haarlem's piece the figures seem crammed into a tight space, and each face seems to have a similar expression. In Hals' group, an illusion of space and relaxed conversation is given.

Officers were selected by the council of Haarlem to serve for three years, and this group had just finished their tenure and celebrated their end of service with a portrait. The man with the orange sash heads the table and the second in command is on his right. The three ensigns stand and the servant is carrying a plate.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company in 1616.