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

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 social standing.

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.




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