Carel Fabritius Biography

Carel Fabritius, a prolific Dutch painter, is best known for his iconic paintings ‘The Goldfinch’ and ‘The Sentry.’ Born and raised in Middenbeemster, the Dutch Republic, Carel inherited his passion for fine arts from his father, a painter and schoolteacher. Following his early career as a carpenter, he discovered his true calling in the arts and honed his skills at Rembrandt’s studio in Amsterdam. Moving to Delft, Carel joined the local painters’ guild and developed his own unique style, characterized by luminous paintings and innovative use of lighting. His masterpiece, ‘The Goldfinch,’ gained recognition centuries after his death, inspiring a novel and a film adaptation.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Carel Pietersz. Fabritius
  • Died At Age: 32
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Agatha van Pruyssen
    • Father: Pieter Carelsz
    • Mother: Barbertje van der Maes
  • Born Country: Netherlands
  • Realist Painters
  • Baroque Painters
  • Died on: October 12, 1654
  • Place of Death: Delft, Dutch Republic: Explosion
  • Cause of Death: House Fire

Childhood & Early Life

Carel Fabritius was born Carel Pietersz Fabritius, on February 27, 1622, in Middenbeemster, the Dutch Republic, to Pieter Carelsz. His father was a part-time painter and a school teacher. Carel’s first inspiration to become a painter came from his father, who trained all his sons in the basics of painting. Carel was the eldest of the three brothers, and both his younger brothers, too, later became painters. Many years later, Carel had a younger sister.

However, despite his father being a painter, Carel’s family’s main profession was carpentry. Carel chose “Fabritius” as his last name, as it means “carpenter” in Latin. Although he might have received an early training in colors from his father, he and his younger brothers, Barent and Johannes, initially became dedicated to their family profession, carpentry. However, Carel could not commit to carpentry for a long time. He heard about a painter called Rembrandt from Amsterdam, who taught painting. Thus, Carel moved to Amsterdam in 1641. His brother Barent accompanied him, along with one of his childhood friends, Samuel van Hoogstraten. Carel had a lifelong friendship with Samuel. It is also assumed that Samuel became Carel’s full-time assistant during Carel’s peak years, but this has not been confirmed.

Career

Carel turned out to be a fast learner. Historians claim that it took Carel only 20 months to learn the basics of painting, such as lighting and the skills to effectively inject emotions into a painting.

He was one of the many students of Rembrandt, and art historians believe that he was probably the only one of his pupils who went on to develop his own style of painting. While Rembrandt’s paintings had a dark background, with the subject sitting under spotlight, Carel experimented a lot with lighting. Carel drew delicately lit subjects that were painted in front of light-colored backgrounds.

Carel was more interested in the technical aspects of his work, a style that was obvious since his first painting. He created luminous paintings using cool colors to bring more character to his works.

It is said that the 1640-released ‘The Beheading of John the Baptist’ was his first painting. It is currently placed at the ‘Rijksmuseum’ in Amsterdam. However, the more widely accepted claim is that the 1643 painting ‘The Raising of Lazarus’ was his first painting. The painting is currently placed at the ‘National Museum’ in Warsaw.

However, it is still not known where exactly he had created his first few paintings. His wife died in 1643, and it is said that he moved to his hometown for financial reasons. However, his wife hailed from a wealthy family and left a huge fortune for Carel. Hence, money could not have been the reason behind Carel moving back to his hometown.

Despite the fact that his early paintings were unique, they still carried Rembrandt’s influence. His paintings after 1646 were diverted from Rembrandt’s influence. This period had Carel working completely in his original style. The paintings called ‘Mercury and Argus’ and ‘Mercury and Aglauros’ are great testimonies of that style.

Delft was a small town, and it did not give him enough opportunities to draw portraits for money. Amsterdam had a thriving art scene, and there were a lot of rich people there, interested in getting their portraits painted. Thus, Carel arguably kept moving back and forth between Amsterdam and Delft.

In 1649, he painted many portraits. Some of his most popular paintings from the era were the portraits of Abraham de Potter and Balthasar Deutz. He also painted several well-known paintings such as ‘A Girl with a Broom’ and ‘A View of Delft.’ Sometime in the late 1640s or the early 1650s, he stopped moving between Amsterdam and Delft. He permanently settled in Delft and opened his own art studio. Many historians also claim that he had a pupil named Mattias Spoors.

Back then, Carel painted some of his most well-known paintings, such as ‘The Goldfinch,’ ‘The Sentry,’ and ‘Young Man in a Fur Cap.’ He also joined the Delft painters’ guild, known as the ‘Guild of Saint Luke.’ It is also assumed that while he was a member of the guild, he came in touch with fellow painters such as Johannes Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch. However, he could not paint for too long, as he passed away soon.

Family, Personal Life & Death

Carel Fabritius married Aeltge Velthuys, the sister of the local pastor of Delft, in 1641. However, the marriage did not last long, as she passed away 2 years later, during childbirth. Carel then married a widow named Agatha van Pruyssen in 1650.

On October 12, 1654, an unfortunate accident took place in Delft, involving the Delft gunpowder magazine. The blast was so intense that it destroyed half the town, along with Carel’s studio. Carel passed away in the blast. Several of his unfinished paintings were also destroyed.

Legacy

Carel Fabritius is still known as one of the most daring and original painters of his time. He inspired painters such as Johannes Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch. Many art historians claim that if Carel had not died an unfortunate death, he would have easily surpassed his master, Rembrandt, as the best painter from the Dutch Golden Age. His painting ‘The Goldfinch’ has inspired a book and a film, both with the same title.

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