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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck/Andries Stilte as a Standard Bearer/1640,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed May 18, 2024).

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Apr 24, 2014 Version

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With great bravura, this fashionably clad member of the Haarlem civic guard stands with one arm akimbo, staring out at the viewer. His proud bearing, accented by the panache of his shimmering pink satin costume and plumed hat, attests to the great sense of confidence felt by the Dutch at the height of their "golden age."

Andries Stilte, whose family coat of arms decorates the upper corner of this painting, is presented as a standard bearer, or ensign, of the Kloveniers, one of Haarlem’s militia companies. During the Dutch revolt against Spanish rule in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, militia companies served as a civic guard. By 1640, when Verspronck made this portrait, civic guard companies had lost most of their military function. Officers were chosen from Haarlem’s wealthy burghers, who vied for these prestigious appointments. The blue standard and sash serve to identify Stilte’s company and rank, but the rest of his outfit displays his personal taste, his family’s wealth, and his status as a bachelor (Haarlem’s militia regulations stipulated that only unmarried men could serve as ensigns). Stilte commissioned Verspronck to paint him wearing his sumptuous pink costume right before he resigned his rank to marry. As a married militia officer, Stilte would have worn an elegant black outfit.

Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck was one of the foremost portraitists in Haarlem during the mid-seventeenth century. Little is known about his artistic background, although he probably studied first with his artist-father, Cornelis Engelsz (c. 1575–1650). Verspronck may also have trained with Frans Hals (c. 1582/1583–1666). While many seventeenth-century Dutch artists, including Hals, portrayed Dutch militia companies, a life-size portrait of an individual ensign—such as Verspronck's striking likeness of Stilte—is exceedingly rare.


With great bravura, this fashionably clad member of one of the Haarlem civic guards stands with one arm akimbo, staring out at the viewer.[1] His proud character, reinforced by the panache of his brilliant pink, silver-lace-trimmed satin costume and jauntily placed hat with its brightly colored feathers, conveys the outward confidence prized by the Dutch during the formative years of the republic.

This remarkable life-sized, half-length portrait depicts Andries Stilte, a wealthy burgher in Haarlem whose identity is confirmed by the family coat of arms in the upper left.[2] Verspronck portrayed Stilte in his role as standard bearer, or ensign, of Haarlem’s Kloveniers (or Saint Hadrian) militia company, which had been formed in 1519.[3] Civic guard companies in the Netherlands had played an important military role in the early phases of the Dutch Revolt, but by the mid-seventeenth century their martial significance had waned as the fight against Spanish forces shifted, toward the end of the revolt, to the southern part of the United Provinces.[4] Indeed, by 1640, when Verspronck painted this work, the Haarlem civic guards had become more like social clubs, serving only the occasional ceremonial or symbolic function.[5]

Officers of the Haarlem militia companies were chosen from wealthy regent families and their positions held great social status. Andries Stilte proudly bears the blue sash and standard of his company (the blue company) that was part of the Kloveniers. He wears a sword hanging from his bandolier, which, like the rest of the ensign’s wardrobe, was traditionally determined by the individual’s family background, taste, and wealth.[6] His bright pink outfit is exceptional in its elegance and refinement, and was probably worn only to a banquet or other ceremonial gathering. The idea that an ensign’s outfit should be colorful goes back to the prestigious but also dangerous historical function of a standard bearer within the civic guard. Along with the captain and the lieutenant, the ensign traditionally stood at the front of the infantry, where he held aloft the company’s standard. His brightly colored clothing was meant to bring attention to his person, making the commanders less of a target. Because the position involved a high risk of being shot, standard bearers were required to be bachelors.[7]

Although Stilte was probably elected ensign in 1639, he served in this position only until 1640, when he became engaged to his first wife, Eva Reyniers, and therefore had to resign as ensign.[8] After his marriage, Stilte would no longer be allowed to wear his elegant and brightly colored finery, so he must have commissioned this portrait to commemorate his status, and his wardrobe, before he assumed another position in the company that required a more sedate attire.[9] Although life-sized portraits of individual standard bearers are rare in Dutch art, the pose—a standing figure holding the flag over one shoulder with the other arm akimbo—is one traditionally found in group portraits of militia companies.[10]

In commissioning this portrait Stilte probably chose Verspronck over his more famous contemporary Frans Hals (Dutch, c. 1582/1583 - 1666) for two essential reasons. Verspronck already had portrayed Andries’ brother Mattheus in 1636, and Stilte would have known that Verspronck was able to create an accurate and engaging likeness of his sitters.[11] He also would have appreciated the artist’s mastery at rendering fabrics with his smooth and modulated manner of painting. Stilte had clearly spared no expense when ordering his wardrobe, and he must have been determined to have it shown to best effect. He would have wanted the artist to show off the sheen of his satin jacket as well as the various types of expensive lace that helped give his outfit such glitz: the Flemish bobbin lace tied with a lime-green bow around his neck and the silver lace edging on his split-sleeve jacket. No less significant were the gold trim on his blue sash and the brightly colored ostrich-feather plumes decorating his beaver-skin hat. Indeed, if one is to judge from Pentimenti in the painting, the hat and feathers were even larger in reality than they now appear.[12]

This depiction of Stilte is exceptional because during Verspronck’s long and successful artistic career he generally painted half-length portraits of middle-class burghers in relatively subdued attire.[13] Stilte’s animated pose, whereby he looks out at the viewer over his shoulder, however, does relate to a small-scale, full-length portrait of an unknown gentleman standing in an architectural setting that Verspronck painted in 1639 (private collection).[14] The character of this latter work seems to have appealed to Stilte, for he commissioned Verspronck to make a small-scale variant of his half-length portrait in the same format as that painting [fig. 1] .[15] In this variant Stilte wears an elegant but far more subdued outfit, appropriate for a wealthy Dutch burgher.

Verspronck’s painting has been trimmed slightly at the left: the end of the flagstaff is slightly cut at the edge of the painting.[16] The artist’s signature, which was originally to the left of the date, 1640, in the lower left corner of the painting, is no longer evident.[17]

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014


lower left: :1640:



(Jacques Goudstikker, Amsterdam), before 1917. Dr. Walter von Pannwitz [1856-1920], Berlin, by 1917;[1] by inheritance to his wife, Catalina von Pannwitz [1876-1959, née Roth], Heemstede; by descent in the Pannwitz family; (Otto Nauman, Ltd., New York); purchased 1988 by Mr. and Mrs. Michal Hornstein, Montreal; (sale, Sotheby's, New York, 30 January 1998, no. 69); purchased through (Bob P. Haboldt & Co., New York) by NGA.

Exhibition History

Loan to display with permanent collection, Mauritshuis, The Hague, 1917-1923.
Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000-2001, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
Face to Face in the Mauritshuis, Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen Mauritshuis, The Hague, 2000, no cat.
Dutch Portraits: The Age of Rembrandt and Frans Hals, The National Gallery, London; Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague, 2007-2008, no. 64, repro.

Technical Summary

The support is a coarse, plain-weave fabric, which has been lined. The tacking margins have been removed and the X-radiographs reveal strong cusping on the right side, fainter cusping on the left, and very faint cusping along the top and bottom edges. The cusping is often stronger in one direction due to the warp and weft of the fabric, which could explain the shallower cusping on the top and bottom, but the faint cusping on the left side indicates that this edge was cut down slightly. This theory is supported by the fact that the handle of the standard is cut off on this edge and the painting bears a date, but no signature. It stands to reason that the artist’s signature would have preceded the date, as it often does in his paintings.

Verspronck used a thin, white or buff-colored ground to prepare the support. Infrared reflectography at 2.0-2.5 microns[1] revealed thin lines of underdrawing, which are most noticeable in the face, hair, hat, and flagpole. The thin paint was applied mostly using a wet-into-wet technique. Verspronck used some glazes, mostly in the red areas. He employed the butt end of his brush to scrape away the paint to create the details in the sitter’s lace and gloves. Numerous pentimenti are visible in normal light and with infrared reflectography, most notably: Stilte’s hat was moved up and to the right but the feathers were moved down and to the left; his face was moved to the left; and the angle of the standard was originally more vertical.

The painting is in good condition. The paint exhibits a heavy craquelure pattern, which has tented slightly, and minute losses are found at the intersections of the cracks. The paint is somewhat abraded in the shadows of the sitter’s hair and his hat, as well as his proper left thumb. Inpainting occurs in the sitter’s hair, in the curtain along the sitter’s proper left shoulder, and along the edges. The painting has not been treated since its acquisition.


[1] Infrared reflectography was performed using a Santa Barbara Focalplane InSb camera fitted with a K astronomy filter.



Martin, Wilhelm. Kurzgefasster Katalog der Gemälde- und Skulpturensammlung, Königliche Gemälde Galerie Mauritshuis. The Hague, 1920: 84, no. 753.
Martin, Wilhelm. Alt-holländische Bilder: Sammeln, Bestimmen, Konservieren. Berlin, 1921: 172-173.
Friedländer, Max J. Die Kunstsammlung von Pannwitz. 2 vols. Munich, 1926: 1:11-12, no. 54, pl. 43.
Yapou, Yonna. "Portraiture and Genre in a Painting Restored to Jan Verspronck." Israel Museum News 11 (1976): 41-46, fig. 7.
Ekkart, Rudolf E. O. Johannes Cornelisz. Verspronck: leven en werken van een Haarlems portretschilder uit de 17de eeuw. Exh. cat. Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem, 1979: 40, 78, no. 19, repro. 150.
Sutton, Peter C. "Recent Patterns of Public and Private Collecting of Dutch Art." In Great Dutch Paintings from America. Edited by Ben P. J. Broos. Exh. cat. Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Zwolle, 1990: 118, fig. 23.
Otto Naumann Ltd. Inaugural exhibition of old master paintings. Exh. cat. Otto Naumann Ltd., New York, 1995: 140, color repro.
National Gallery of Art. Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2000: 34-35, color repro.
Weller, Dennis P. Like Father, Like Son? Portraits by Frans Hals and Jan Hals. Exh. cat. North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, 2000: fig. 6, color repro.
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 212-213, no. 170, color repro.
Ekkart, Rudolf E.O., and Quentin Buvelot. Dutch portraits: the age of Rembrandt and Frans Hals. Translated by Beverly Jackson. Exh. cat. National Gallery, London; Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague. London, 2007: 220-221, no. 64, repro.
Buvelot, Quentin. "El retrato holandés." Numen 2 (2008): 14, 25, repro.
Ekkart, Rudolf E.O.. Johannes Verspronck and the Girl in Blue. Amsterdam, 2009: 20, 22, 58, color fig. 14.
Tummers, Anna. The Eye of the Connoisseur: Authenticating Paintings by Rembrandt and His Contemporaries. Amsterdam, 2012: 244, 245, color fig. 154.
Wheelock, Arthur K, Jr. "The Evolution of the Dutch Painting Collection." National Gallery of Art Bulletin no. 50 (Spring 2014): 2-19, repro.

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Related Terms

arm akimbo
looking over the shoulder
fashion and clothing +nobility and patriciate
standard bearer
revolution +Dutch Revolt
military service
nobility and patriciate
artist +Frans Hals + influence of
portrait +Andries Stilte
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