In this carefully rendered character study, also referred to as a tronie, Abraham Bloemaert masterfully captures the effects of aging. He sensitively articulates the taut muscles of the old man's attenuated neck, the wrinkles in his furrowed brow, and even the softening of his skin around his mouth and eyes—all the loss of youth's elasticity. Picturing the old man glancing upward, Bloemaert also emphasized the man's emotional state. With his head tilted to the side and gaze resting beyond the picture plane, he seems to possess an inner liveliness that imbues each crease and wrinkle with wisdom and experience.
Despite the old man's apparent dynamism, Bloemaert may have based this painting on an ancient Roman bust rather than a live model. Although no exact source has been identified, the man's countenance resembles that of Seneca, a classical Roman philosopher who was a popular literary figure in the Netherlands. The pictorial source for the Gallery's painting may also have been an engraving Maarten van Heemskerck executed in the mid-17th century on the theme of old age.
(Brian Sewell, London); purchased 16 November 1967 by Joseph F. McCrindle [1923-2008], New York; bequest to NGA.
- Grasselli, Margaret M., and Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., eds. The McCrindle Gift: A Distinguished Collection of Drawings and Watercolors. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2012: 19, repro. 184.