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-- by Melanie Heineman
As the product of a Dutch artist, Servatius Raeven's (n.d.) print "The Cavalier" can be characterized as a depiction of the status and social ranking of the military gentleman in Holland during the 17th century. Dutch Baroque art differs from Spanish and Italian art of this period in that it was based more on the life and promotion of Holland, rather than serving as a vehicle for the promotion of the Catholic faith. Holland had won its independence from Spain in 1609, which gave the nation a reason for pride and celebration in forging a culture based on economic and political independence. The East Indies Trading Company brought in large amounts of expendable revenue to Dutch merchants, who in turn deployed their extra income on the services of artists. The patrons of Dutch art, therefore, were predominately the middle and upper classes of Holland, which produced a significant thematic change in Dutch art.
The depiction of military figures was a popular theme in Dutch Baroque art, most likely as a means of commemorating the valiant capabilities of the Dutch army in defeating Spain's military forces in the War of Independence. The original definition of a cavalier was a chivalrous rider or cavalryman during the English Civil Wars (1642-1651). The cavalier is also associated with the militia and civic guard groups who had defended Dutch towns against attack since the Middle Ages, but who also played a prominent defensive role in the war against Spain. The advent of public portraiture in 17th century Holland elevated the status and importance of the individual figures of civic guards and other military groups. For example, Franz Hals' civic guard portrait groups frequently illustrate Dutch military companies that appear to be preparing themselves for battle, but they are actually dynamic and idealized depictions of social fraternities enjoying the benefits of their labor during the economic and political prosperity of peacetime.
The military nature of the cavalier is expressed in the regalia, arms, turn-out, hierarchy of rank and the way in which the men hold their weapons and other attributes. Raeven positions the cavalier in a dignified pose and the movements of the limbs are fluid, yet solid. His long staff creates a dramatic diagonal, which complements the twist in the soldier's body, creating a graceful sense of movement in the engraving. There is little or no background in Raeven's Cavalier, which could be a technique used in emphasizing the emblematic political significance of the figure. The artist uses a series of intersecting and slanted lines to create delicate passages of light and shadow. While the form of the figure is fairly naturalistic, the print image as a whole is treated in a stylized way as a piece of sculpture in two-dimensional form. The sculptural technique of handling the printed image stems from the formal character of Mannerist engraving, which was employed to demonstrate the human figure's "grace of gesture." Baroque engravers concentrated on intersecting patterns of crisp, clean lines to give the print a more polished, finished appearance.
The theme of the cavalier holds several different meanings, such as a mounted soldier or chivalrous gentleman. Both definitions can most likely be applied to the artist's print, because although Raeven presents the image of a military man, he also illustrates a refined dandified figure. The theme of the cavalier combined with the promotion of status and wealth is important in understanding the various meanings of Dutch Baroque art. On one level, Raeven's Cavalier pays homage to the mighty infantryman and on another level, it is a nostalgic and nationalistic glorification of the sensual and luxurious life of the Dutch patron, who owed his prosperity and prestige to Holland's illustrious military past.