These Dutch Newlyweds Had Their Portraits Painted Nearly 400 Years Ago. But Who Were They?

A curator has finally figured out the identity of the couple painted by Frans Hals around 1637

Two portraits hanging side by side on a wall
The artworks are the only pendant marital portraits of an Amsterdam couple that Hals ever created. Rijksmuseum

In 1885, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam received two Frans Hals paintings as part of a bequest. The 17th-century pendant marital portraits depicted a man and a woman, but no one was quite sure who they were. For decades, the prevailing theory—put forth by then-director Frederik Obreen—was that the works depicted an Amsterdam brewer, Nicolaes Hasselaer, and his second wife, Sara Wolphaerts van Diemen.

However, the museum’s curators were never totally convinced. Now, after some clever sleuthing, they say they’ve discovered the true identities of the sitters in the nearly 400-year-old paintings: seven-time Amsterdam mayor Jan van de Poll and his bride, Duifje van Gerwen.

Van de Poll would reach the rank of colonel in Amsterdam’s city militia in 1650, while Van Gerwen, who was about 20 years younger, was the daughter of an Amsterdam wine dealer. Not long after marrying in 1637, they apparently commemorated the occasion by having Hals paint their portraits together.

Born in Antwerp in 1582, Hals moved to Haarlem with his parents when he was a child. He grew up to become a “celebrated portraitist and genre painter” who has been “placed second only to Rembrandt and, during the past hundred years, to Vermeer in the pantheon of great Dutch painters of the Golden Age,” according to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Jonathan Bikker, the Rijksmuseum’s curator of 17th-century Dutch paintings, recently revisited the mystery while organizing a Hals exhibition. He started by investigating the wills of Van Diemen’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, which “revealed it is impossible that the portraits were part of the line of inheritance,” per a statement from the museum.

Bikker also looked into the man who had donated the paintings to the museum in the first place, Jonkheer Jan Stanislaus Robert van de Poll. He realized that Jan van de Poll and his wife were the man’s ancestors, reports the Collector’s Emily Snow.

He then compared the Hals portrait to two other paintings of Van de Poll—a 1650 portrait by Johann Spilberg and a 1653 piece by Bartholomeus van der Helst—and noted the strong resemblance between the works.

Bikker also learned how the duo may have linked up with Hals. In 1633, the artist started working on a large portrait of Amsterdam’s militia. However, the painting stalled because of Hals’ schedule. The artist was too busy to travel, and many militia members did not want to take a three-hour barge ride to sit for the portrait in Haarlem, where Hals was based, per the Art Newspaper’s Senay Boztas.

A few years later, the Amsterdam militia hired another painter, Pieter Codde, to finish the piece that Hals had started, called The Meagre Company. As such, Hals had a rare window of availability, and Van de Poll and Van Gerwen swooped in and hired him.

They may have heard about the “gap in Hals’ calendar” from Van Gerwen’s uncle, Willem Warmond, who lived in Haarlem and had sat for Hals for an earlier portrait of the Haarlem militia, according to the museum.

The works are the “only pendant paintings of an Amsterdam couple” Hals ever created. They were recently on display at the Rijksmuseum as part of its “Frans Hals” exhibition, which closed earlier this month. They’re now traveling to Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie for its upcoming “Frans Hals: Master of the Fleeting Moment” show, which is on view from July 12 to November 3.

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