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Disguised Symbolism and Dutch Genre Painting

            Dutch genre painting excelled in the seventeenth century, with artists turning their attentions away from more noble or celestial scenes to ones relating to every day life. Indeed, the works produced serve as an important historical documentation of life at the time, but in addition to this, artists often sought to imbue their realistic scenes with a deeper meaning or a moral message. By creating genre scenes with the didactic and edifying quality often contained within religious or mythological scenes, artists were able to elevate what was, prior to the 17th century, regarded as a lowly subject matter. The scenes were of such popularity at the time; many contemporary viewers would have become accustomed to the vocabulary of symbolism that artists continued to employ within their genre scenes. Viewers were aided by the emblematic literature, allowing them to familiarize themselves with these symbols. For the modern viewer, the understanding of these disguised symbols may be obscure, thus requiring more searching. But ambiguity was not something feared by the artists of the seventeenth century, as it is has allowed for the study of the paintings to continue being the subject of speculation throughout the centuries. .
             Gabriel Metsu's The Hunter's Gift (c. 1650) exemplifies the erotic overtones that can be uncovered through disguised symbolism. It is the presentation of male-female interaction within a domestic setting that Metsu famed known for during his artistic career. The interior is fairly simple, decorated only by a juxtaposition of the red and green fabrics (as seen on the woman's dress, the table cloth and the curtain), a cupboard behind the woman, which serves as a backdrop for her, topped with a statue that stands in front of a hung landscape painting. The light that streams in from the left window, which also leaves half the woman's face in darkness, concealing her identity, spotlights the figures.

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