Cuyp seems to have made most of his pictures for members of the aristocracy
and upper middle class of Dordrecht, such as the wealthy Pompe van
Meerdervoort family, whose sons he depicted in a large-scale portrait.
On horseback, with a tutor and a coachman at their side, Michiel
and Cornelis Pompe van Meerdervoort are shown departing for the
hunt, a popular aristocratic pastime illustrative of the family's
Aelbert Cuyp, Michiel and Cornelis
Pompe van Meerdervoort with Their Tutor, c. 1652-1653, 43
1/4 x 61 1/2 in., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,
The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam
Interestingly, the men in this painting wear a combination
of Hungarian outfits, fanciful headgear, and contemporary Dutch
boots. These costumes seem to have been studio props, for they appear
in several of Cuyp's paintings and were probably seen as a dignified
mode of dress. Since Hungarians were known for their proficiency
in hunting, Cuyp and his patrons may have associated their garb
with that skill. They may also have felt an affinity with Hungarians
because of their shared Protestant faith (like Cuyp, the Pompe van
Meerdervoorts belonged to the Calvinist or Reformed Church).
Aelbert Cuyp, The Baptism of the Eunuch, c.
1642-1643, 42 1/2 x 59 1/2 in., The Menil Collection, Houston
Dordrecht was an important center of the Reformed
Church in the seventeenth century: a number of theological disputes
were decided in the Synod of Dordrecht of 1616-1618, and the standard
Dutch translation of the Bible was completed in the city. Significantly,
Cuyp repeatedly depicted a biblical subject that was of particular
importance to Calvinists: The Baptism
of the Eunuch. The story (Acts, 8.26:40) concerns a eunuch,
the Ethiopian queen's treasurer, who on his way back from a pilgrimage
to Jerusalem met Saint Philip. The eunuch, after inviting Philip
to ride with him, asked the saint questions about the Bible, which
Philip carefully explained. As they passed by a river, the eunuch
asked to be baptized. Philip agreed only after the eunuch confirmed
that he believed with all his heart.
This biblical story appealed to Calvinists because,
contrary to Catholics, they believed that one should be baptized
only after one had consciously decided to follow Christian beliefs.
Cuyp's painting of the story would have been intended for a private
setting. After the violent destruction of church images during the
iconoclasm at the end of the sixteenth century, the Reformed Church
did not allow religious images in church.