Title   Costeliche salve (Search for the image)
Translated title Costly Salves
Intro Text by dr D. Barnes, accompanying Bramer’s drawing of a quack (`kwakzalver’)

Code of occupational group 07990
Description On a town square where an actor, wearing a plumed hat, performs on a raised wooden platform for a crowd of bystanders, a quack offers expensive salves, ointments, medicines, and potions. He wears a broad-brimmed hat, a short jacket with slashed sleeves, wide pants that are close gathered at the knees, and bows tied at the top of his hose. He carries a wicker basket, filled with bottles and jars, strapped across his chest. He holds a large jar in the palm of his right hand and elevates it up above his head. His left hand touches the tops of articles in his display case. His mouth is open as he cries out the wonder-curing potions he has for sale. He is standing some distance away from the draped actor's stage, with his back to the crowd. His bodily position suggests that he could easily turn to the left and watch the actor whose arm is extended dramatically towards the crowd. In the background at the right, there is a large building, with columns on the first two stories. The building is topped by a decorative stone ball, above the clock gable roof trim.

Wandering troops of actors, or individual actors, were fairly common at street fairs and kermisses. They dressed in gaudy clothes and declaimed their parts on hastily erected platform stages. They depended upon the generosity of the audience to show its appreciation with coins. Many Dutch cities also had local groups of townsmen who got together to read poetry and plays aloud, primarily for their own amusement, but sometimes for other members of the community. The poetry of Vondel and plays of Bredero were favorites. These "rederijkers", or rhetoricians, met in private quarters or taverns. The groups were known as "rederijkerskamers".

Quacks promising cures for any number of illnesses also "played" the crowds at fairs and markets. Local medical doctors and apothecaries took a dim view of these itinerant healers, but were not capable of stamping out their appeal to gullible people. Often quacks set up umbrella- covered stalls and platforms from which they sold their medicines.

The wandering performer appears in a number of Dutch paintings and prints, as does the quack.
See Constantijn Adriaen Renesse's etching of a village fair with a theatrical performance and Barent Gerritsz. Cuyp's painting on the same theme (Rijksmuseum Twenthe). Subject to elaborately argued interpretations, the most famous depiction of the quack is Gerrit Dou's 1652 (Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen) with the crowd gathered around in a village market place, while the quack "sells" them from his umbrella-covered stand. Jan Steen explored the theme of
"rederijkerskamers" in his paintings. See his 1662 "Rhetoricians at a Window" (Philadelphia Museum of Art). Caspar Luyken's street peddler drawings, done after Bramer's death, also has someone selling medicines: (Amsterdam Historical Museum). Bramer's drawing wittily suggests that both actor and quack were "deceivers", or "dissemblers". And Bramer carries the fun further with his suggestion that the medicines are costly.

Source Donna R. Barnes, Ed D, Street scenes, Leonard Bramer's drawings of seventeenth-century daily life (Hofstra Museum exhibition 1991). Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York.

Click here for the introductory essay on Bramer's drawings.

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