Amsterdam artist Thomas de Keyser created this appealing portrait in 1627, when he was at the height of his artistic powers. It is a commanding yet sympathetic image. The gentleman’s frank gaze and angular cheekbones endow him with a sense of strength, while his receding hairline and crow’s-feet, which reveal his age, lend him a certain softness. De Keyser rendered these features as well as the man’s facial hair and the magnificent collar with remarkable sensitivity. Carefully articulating the hair with delicate highlights and building up impastos around the lace-tipped ruff, he masterfully evokes their different textures. De Keyser pictures the unknown sitter in an understated brownish-red wool jacket with rows of beaded buttons down the front and sleeves.
As with many of his finest works, De Keyser chose a copper panel and an octagonal shape as a framing device. The copper’s smooth, rigid surface allowed De Keyser to paint with an extraordinarily controlled brush, and its inherent luminosity enabled him to use light to model and define the figure’s form.
The identity of the sitter is not certain, but the painter Pieter Lastman (1583–1633) is a likely possibility. A contemporary poem celebrates a portrait of Pieter Lastman by De Keyser, and an entry in Lastman’s inventory of 1632 lists a portrait of or by Lastman in an octagonal frame.
With his frank gaze, the gentleman in this compelling portrait has a commanding yet sympathetic presence, further enhanced by rosy cheeks and the hint of a smile in his eyes, and by the amazing light effects on the face and ruff that help bring energy and life to the portrait.
This entry relies heavily on the expertise of Ann Jensen Adams and her catalogue raisonné of De Keyser’s oeuvre. Ann Jensen Adams, “The Paintings of Thomas de Keyser (1596/7–1667): A Study of Portraiture in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 1985). Adams identified 94 works as made by De Keyser over the course of an active but intermittent career that spanned 42 years, from 1619 to at least 1661. In the first catalogue raisonné of De Keyser’s work, however, Rudolf Oldenbourg identified 144 paintings by the hand of the master. Rudolf Oldenbourg, Thomas de Keysers Tätigkeit als Maler: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des holländischen Porträts, Kunstwissenschaftliche Studien 7 (Leipzig, 1911).
De Keyser created this remarkable portrait in 1627, when he was at the height of his artistic powers. As with many of his finest works, he painted it on a small copper panel and likely chose an octagonal shape as a framing device to increase the visual strength of this bust-length portrait.
The painting’s 17th-century Dutch octagonal frame was a gift of Otto Naumann in 2012.
The second son of Hendrick de Keyser (1565–1621), famed Dutch architect and master stonemason to the city of Amsterdam, Thomas de Keyser grew up in a house that was part of the municipal stone yard. Thomas and his three brothers all became highly regarded master stonemasons and stone merchants in their own right. Only Thomas, however, branched out into painting as a young man and established himself as the most celebrated portraitist in Amsterdam in the 1620s and early 1630s. In addition to tightly focused traditional works such as Portrait of a Gentleman Wearing a Fancy Ruff and full-length group portraits, De Keyser gained lasting renown for two significant innovations in portraiture style: small-scale yet full-length formal portraits and depictions of sitters in their personal or professional environments that bridged the fields of portraiture and domestic genre scenes.
For biographical information, see A. W. Weissman, “Het geslacht De Keyser,” Oud Holland 22, no. 1 (1904): 65–91, especially 79–82; and Ann Jensen Adams, “The Paintings of Thomas de Keyser (1596/7–1667): A Study of Portraiture in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 1985), especially 1:18–44, 1:71–94, 2:416–420, 2:439–440.
The Gallery’s painting can be compared to several other early portraits executed in the traditional close-cropped, bust-length style, including De Keyser’s drawn portrait of his father, Hendrick, in 1621, the year of the latter’s death. While the drawing has not survived, Jonas Suyderhoff’s
Ann Jensen Adams, “The Paintings of Thomas de Keyser (1596/7–1667): A Study of Portraiture in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 1985), 1:69–70, 3:207–210, no. P-2.
Ann Jensen Adams, “The Paintings of Thomas de Keyser (1596/7–1667): A Study of Portraiture in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 1985), 3:16, no. 3, for the Hartford painting, and 1:69 for a description of De Keyser’s technique. Adams notes that De Keyser worked “in small and evenly applied brushstrokes whose freshness brings to mind the much larger canvases of Frans Hals. This technique creates a rich, warm surface.”
Among the items that Willem de Keyser tried to hide in 1658 was “een kontrefeytsel [a portrait] van Willem de Keyser.” Ann Jensen Adams, “The Paintings of Thomas de Keyser (1596/7–1667): A Study of Portraiture in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 1985), 2:525, appendix B (transcription by S. A. C. Dudok van Heel). Thomas’s sensitive and intimate portrayal of the adolescent boy does lend credence to the possibility that the young man in the Hartford painting is indeed his younger brother Willem, who was born in 1603. If so, the portrait should be dated no later than 1620.
By the mid-1620s, Thomas de Keyser’s reputation garnered him patrons among the elite in other towns as well. It is telling that Constantijn Huygens (1596–1687), the personal secretary of Frederick Hendrick, the Prince of Orange, selected De Keyser to paint his portrait in 1627 despite having already expressed his admiration for the work of two young artists in Leiden,
See, for example, Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Bearded Man in a Wide-Brimmed Hat (1633, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena). Following his move to Amsterdam in 1632, Rembrandt soon became the city’s most sought-after portraitist, and De Keyser increasingly turned his attention to the family business of international stone trade and stone masonry. Significant commissions in the 1650s and 1660s prove, however, that De Keyser never completely gave up painting professionally. In addition to portraits, he produced several history paintings and also became known, in the last decade of his life, for several finely executed small-scale equestrian portraits. Ann Jensen Adams, “The Paintings of Thomas de Keyser (1596/7–1667): A Study of Portraiture in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 1985), 1:421–477.
For a full description of Portrait of Constantijn Huygens and His (?) Clerk, see Ann Jensen Adams, “The Paintings of Thomas de Keyser (1596/7–1667): A Study of Portraiture in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 1985), 1:1, 1:16, 3:32–35, no. 13.
William Bürger, who published several versions of De Keyser’s monogram TdK, mistakenly called the artist Theodore rather than Thomas, but raved about his assured handling, original colors, and attention to details “without [the painter] ever losing a certain grandeur that stems from a straightforward and honest character.” Théophile E. J. Thoré (William Bürger), “Nouvelles Études sur la Galerie Suermondt à Aix-la-Chapelle,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts 21, no. 1 (1869): 30. One generation later, Émile Michel added further praise when he noted that Rembrandt’s early portraits were rivaled by the bravura of Frans Hals and “the firm and delicate modelling and exquisite refinement that mark [the] master-pieces of De Keyser.” Émile Michel, Rembrandt: His Life, His Work, and His Time, trans. Florence Simmonds (New York, 1894), 1:142.
De Keyser also received several commissions for group portraits of civic guard companies and board members of civic institutions, some of which he executed life-size, others in the same small scale as his genre portraits. In the group portraits, he varied the depiction of his sitters between three-quarter and full-length poses and showed them either seated or standing.
See, for example, Civic Guardsmen from the Company of Captain Jacob Symonszn de Vries and Lieutenant Dirck Jacobszn de Graeff (1633, Amsterdam Museum) (figures in three-quarter length) and The Burgomasters of Amsterdam Are Informed about the Arrival of Queen Marie de Medici (1638, Amsterdam Museum) (figures in full length).
For an extensive description of the 1632 militia portrait and its preliminary drawings, see the Thomas de Keyser entry in Ger Luijten, Peter Schatborn, and Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Drawings for Paintings in the Age of Rembrandt (Milan, 2016), 132–135, nos. 45, 46.
The identity of the sitter in the Gallery’s portrait is not certain, although it most likely depicts De Keyser’s fellow artist Pieter Lastman (1583–1633). A poem by Joost van den Vondel published in 1628, one year after De Keyser painted this work, celebrates a Portrait of Pieter Lastman by Thomas de Keyser.
Lastman’s portrait by Thomas de Keyser and Vondel’s poem are mentioned in Houbraken’s mid-18th-century review of Dutch artists. Houbraken conceded that he had not seen the actual portrait. Arnold Houbraken, De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen (The Hague, 1753; Amsterdam, 1976), 1:97–98. Citations refer to the 1976 edition. For the full text of Vondel’s poem “Op d’Afbeeldinge van Peter Lastman,” see Joost van den Vondel, De werken van Vondel, vol. 9, 1660–1663 (Amsterdam, 1936), 290, http://www.dbnl.org/tekst/vond001dewe09_01/vond001dewe09_01_0055.php (accessed March 26, 2018). Whereas Houbraken uses the first name Pieter, Vondel calls him Peter, perhaps because he compares the artist to Peter Paul Rubens.
The listing in question reads: “Een contrefeijtsel van Pieter Lastman met een achtkante ebbe lijst” (a portrait of [or by] Pieter Lastman with an octagonal ebony frame). Sebastien Abraham Corneille Dudok van Heel, De jonge Rembrandt onder tijdgenoten: Godsdienst en schilderkunst in Leiden en Amsterdam (Rotterdam, 2006), 52, 54–55, 101, fig. 25, as “Mogelijk Portret van Pieter Lastman” (possibly the portrait of Pieter Lastman). For the full inventory of Lastman’s estate, see pages 100–102. The list contains five portraits (contrefeijtsels) by other artists. In his catalogue raisonné of Lastman, Christian Seifert acknowledges Dudok van Heel’s identification, but does not include an image of the Gallery’s De Keyser portrait as the likeness of his study’s subject. Christian Tico Seifert, Pieter Lastman: Studien zu Leben und Werk (Petersberg, 2011), 57, 247 nn. 322 and 323. An invoice in the Gallery’s records states that Portrait of a Gentleman Wearing a Fancy Ruff is De Keyser’s self-portrait, yet there is no supporting evidence for this alternative identification. Handwritten invoice from Frederik Muller & Cie to G. J. E. d’Aquin, December 8, 1926, no. 1040, charge of 4,000 guilders for two paintings previously in the Collectie Bischoffsheim: “De Keyser. Zelfportret” and “Terborch. Portret van een Regent uit Deventer?” Thomas de Keyser file, NGA curatorial records, 2012. Unfortunately, no authenticated portrait of either Lastman or De Keyser exists that could shed a definitive light on this issue.
With its fine condition, bravura technique, and sitter’s engaging personality, Portrait of a Gentleman Wearing a Fancy Ruff embodies the best of De Keyser’s lauded technical and observational skills and underscores why he was one of Amsterdam’s leading portraitists in the earlier decades of the 17th century.
December 9, 2019
center left, in monogram: TDK. ANo 167
Henri Louis Bischoffsheim [1828-1908], Bute House, London; (his estate sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 7 May 1926, no. 48); Martin. (Frederik Muller & Co., Amsterdam); sold 8 December 1926 to Count Gerard Joseph Emile d'Aquin [born 1865], as a self-portrait by De Keyser; by descent in his family; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, New York, 25 January 2012, no. 13); purchased by NGA.
Clouds, Ice, and Bounty: The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund Collection of Seventeenth-Century Dutch and Flemish Paintings, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2021, no. 11, repro.
The primary support is a fairly thick octagonal copper panel that is slightly warped. The ground is gray-brown in color and of medium thickness. This layer was integrated into the final composition, used as shadows on the right side and bottom portion of the lace ruff. It is most easily visible at the intersection of the sitter’s ruff and clothing as well as with the background. The paint was thinly applied in small, tight brushstrokes. The background was built up in one to two very thin, semitransparent layers over the ground, while the face and collar were applied using a slightly thicker opaque paint. The flesh tones were built up by applying a buff tone on top of the ground, followed by warm peach-colored paint layers. Low impasto used in the face creates the effect of wrinkles, such as in the crow’s-feet around the eyes, as well as the texture of the lace-tipped ruff. Last, a warm, dark earth tone applied directly on top of the ground helped create the luminosity of the darkest shadows.
Through infrared reflectography two small pentimenti were identified: both the sitter’s collar and the proper right ear were originally painted a little larger.
Infrared reflectography was carried out using a Santa Barbara Focalplane InSb camera filtered to 1.1–1.4 microns (J filter).
Dina Anchin, based on the examination and treatment reports by Michael Swicklik
December 9, 2019
- Adams, Ann Jensen. "The Paintings of Thomas de Keyser (1596/7-1667): A Study of Portraiture in Seventeenth-century Amsterdam." 4 vols. in 2. Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1985: 1:68-69, 3:21, no. 6.
- Dudok van Heel, Sebastien Abraham Corneille. De jonge Rembrandt onder tijdgenoten: Godsdienst en schilderkunst in Leiden en Amsterdam. Rotterdam, 2006: 52, 54-55, 100, fig. 25, as Mogelijk Portret van Pieter Lastman.
- Melikian, Souren. "The Classics of Yore Are Back." Art + Auction 35, no. 8 (April 2012): 67-68, color repro.