Rijksmuseum acquires unique sculpture of ‘Screaming child’ by Hendrick de Keyser

August 2 2012 - 9:00 AM

Recently, the Rijksmuseum acquired a sculpture of a screaming child created by Hendrick de Keyser (1565-1621), who is considered one of the foremost 17th-century Dutch sculptors.

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The sculpture, which adds a key new dimension to the oeuvre of this versatile artist, was gifted to the Rijksmuseum by an anonymous donor. The small head, which is carved in wood, is a particularly expressive depiction of a screaming child being stung by a bee on his forehead and alludes to a well-known story from the ancient classics in which Cupid, the god of love, is chased and stung by a bee after stealing honey from a beehive. The goddess of love and his mother, Venus, consoles him, but confronts him with his own contradiction: if being stung by a such small creature hurts so much, how painful must it be when Cupid’s arrows pierce someone’s heart? The moral of the story is that while love is as sweet as honey, the pangs of love can be agonizing.

The sculpture is also an early example of the sculptor’s fondness for extreme facial expressions and the depiction of emotions. According to Frits Scholten, curator of sculpture, ‘It’s the most expressive sculpture I know of from the Golden Age’ and ‘It’s the best testament to the vitality and innovative spirit of Dutch sculptors, scarcely fifty years after the iconoclasm.’

The whereabouts of 'Screaming child’, which dates back to around 1615, had been unknown ever since an 1897 auction. A label on the back of the artwork, dating back to the 18th century, suggests that it was once attributed to Michelangelo.

After the Rijksmuseum reopens in spring 2013, ‘Screaming child’ will be part of the permanent collection on display in the new Rijksmuseum.