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HEYDEN, Jan van der

1637 Gorichem - 1712 Amsterdam

Jan van der Heyden is arguably the greatest cityscape painter of the Dutch Golden Age. From early on Van der Heyden also found inspiration for his art outside the Netherlands. The large church in the hearth of the town in our panoramic view is the still existing St. Cecilia of Cologne, which Van der Heyden showed in several others of his paintings as well. Imaginary landscapes with fancy architecture, such as the present, were a novelty in the seventeenth century and Van der Heyden has been credited for inventing the genre of architectural capriccio. In this capacity he had paved the way for the architectural fantasies of the eighteenth-century Italian vedute painters such as Canaletto and Francesco Guardi. The figures are by Johannes Lingelbach (1622-74). Van der Heyden’s paintings are usually difficult to date but here it is the dress of the horseman, especially his hat and jabot, that gives away an approximate date between 1665 and 1670.
It was in these years that Van der Heyden painted ‘the majority and best of his works’, according to Van der Heyden’s biographer, Arnold Houbraken.


This extraordinary depiction of a young girl is undoubtedly one of Michael Sweerts’s most beautiful works. She is dressed simply in a brown bodice of rather coarse, stiff material with, beneath it, a white linen blouse with a collar edged with a thin strip of lace. Her brown curly hair is tied back and covered with a white cloth or cap, which peeks out in various places. Straight pins have been stuck into her bodice, indicating that she is a seamstress or maidservant. Her body faces left, but she looks over her shoulder to the right; despite this, there is almost no sense of movement. Her slightly inclined head, raised eyebrows and large dark eyes instead combine to give her a dreamy look, as if she is lost in thought.


In inventories of seventeenth-century collections one very often comes across descriptions such as ‘Portrait in oil of a sultan’, ‘A Turkish general’ or ‘A Turkish head by Rembrandt’.1 The popularity early in the seventeenth century of exotic figures and character studies in fanciful dress was largely the result of the visits by eastern emissaries to the Republic and contact with foreign cultures by Dutch merchants abroad. Rembrandt’s oeuvre, too, bears witness to a certain fascination with these types.2 This old man is one of the earliest examples: he is depicted in three-quarter view, his head turned towards the spectator and slightly bending forward.

He wears a turban, the end of which hangs over his left shoulder. The identity of the man, who often posed for Rembrandt and other artists of his circle, has remained a mystery. In 1935 Abraham Bredius claimed he was one of the artist’s relatives,3 but in light of what we know today this seems like a somewhat overly romantic interpretation.4 What we are dealing with here is a so-called tronie, a type of painting in which the artist’s primary aim was to capture a distinctive type, often dressed in fantastical or exotic costume.