This exquisite portrait, one of three known works that Frans Hals painted on copper, depicts the Haarlem clergyman, poet, and historian Samuel Ampzing (1590–1632) holding what must be the book for which he is best known: Beschryvinge ende lof der stad Haerlem in Holland (Description and Praise of the City of Haarlem in Holland), published in Haarlem in 1628. The portrait, painted in 1630, was engraved shortly before or after Ampzing’s early death on July 29, 1632, by the prolific Haarlem draftsman and printmaker Jan van de Velde II (1593–1641).1 The print (fig 1) reverses the image and slightly reduces its scale. Somewhat later, perhaps about 1640, the Haarlem printmaker Jonas Suyderhoef (ca. 1613–86) reproduced the picture on a larger scale, also reversing the composition (fig 2).2 Both prints feature an encomium in verse signed “P.S.,” for Petrus Scriverius (1576–1660), the historian and Latin scholar who was Ampzing’s collaborator in writing the Beschryvinge and also Hals’s subject in a superb small portrait on wood, dated 1626 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).3
Ampzing was the youngest son of a Haarlem clergyman, Johannes Assuerus Ampzingius, who was dismissed from service in 1596 for preaching false views on predestination and other indiscretions. Nonetheless, his employers, the burgomasters of Haarlem, sent his son Samuel to Latin School at the city’s expense and then to Leiden University. Ampzing continued his theological studies at Geneva and Saumur, and in 1616 became a minister in the village of Rijsoord, located between Rotterdam and Dordrecht. He married Catharina van der Wegen, of Leiden, in 1616; she died three months before her husband, in April 1642.4
Residing elsewhere did not dampen Ampzing’s enthusiasm for his native city. His first “Praise of Haarlem” (Den Lof van Haerlem), in rhymed verse with classical allusions, dates from 1616 and was written with the help of Scriverius (who himself lived in Leiden from 1593 onward).5 A second edition of 1621 reflects a shift from a more “pagan” mode to a Christian one, following Ampzing’s appointment as a Haarlem minister in 1619 in St. Bavo’s cathedral.6 These first two odes to Haarlem, which were unillustrated, were published anonymously, but the 1628 edition proudly bears the author’s name (as announced in his foreword). The new publication included more information about Haarlem and its history, as well as a number of engraved views and plans of the city by, among others, Van de Velde (nine plates) and Pieter Saenredam.
Scriverius, who evidently provided funding for this publication, appended his own treatise, “Laure-crans voor Laurens Coster” (Laurel Wreath for Laurens Coster) to Ampzing’s text.7 Coster was a Haarlem printer credited locally with the invention of movable type. Also added to this publication was Ampzing’s important essay “Taelbericht der Nederlandsche spellinge” (Treatise on Dutch Spelling). Ampzing and Scriverius were both ardent proponents for the Dutch language, and took particular exception to the use of words adopted from Latin or French.
Hals made small paintings of this type as models for portrait prints, often sent to colleagues in other cities and countries as well as collected locally. His first such portrait may have depicted the preacher Joannes Bogaert (d. 1614) holding an open Bible, but the original is known only from Van de Velde’s engraving of 1628, and it could have been a painting of larger size.8 In 1617 Hals painted a small oval portrait on copper of Theodorus Schrevelius (1572–1649), a historian and vice-rector of the Latin School in Haarlem. The painting (14.5 x 12 cm), engraved by Jacob Matham in 1618 (and later by Suyderhoef, perhaps after the print), was acquired by the Frans Hals Museum in 2003.9 Like the 1626 portrait of Scriverius, that of Schrevelius (holding a small book) was originally accompanied by a pendant painting of his wife (known through copies). In each case, only the scholar’s portrait was reproduced in an engraving, but the companion pieces underscore the fact that Hals’s small portraits were intended not solely as models for prints but also as personal or family keepsakes. Hals used a copper support for the second time, as far as we know, in his Portrait of a Man (19.9 x 14.1 cm) of 1627 (Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin).10 As in the Scriverius panel (and portrait prints going back more than thirty years), an illusionistic oval frame opens a window in the picture field, and the sitter’s hand extends through it.
Hals exchanged this kind of realism for quite another in the Ampzing portrait, which in its remarkable luminosity takes advantage of the copper surface in a way not seen in the two earlier examples. The daylight on the textured wall behind the sitter and the highlights on passages such as the near sleeve, the collar, the face and the hand (which seems to move, with the head, in response to the viewer’s interruption) shine and shift with an immediacy that matches that of the sparkling eyes and the completely focused attention of the figure. In the first published description of Hals’s work, which Ampzing penned for the Beschryvinge of 1628, one can almost hear the author exclaim, “How dashingly Frans paints people from life!” Although Ampzing was citing here the great civic guard picture that Hals had just completed the previous year, he could as well have been referring to this small portrait.11
The Latin inscription on Van de Velde’s print of 1632 suggests that it might have been commissioned by Ampzing’s congregation in St. Bavo’s (the Grotekerk, or Great Church, of Haarlem), or at least addressed their concerns.12 For the most part, the stilted verse applauds Ampzing’s stinging criticism of the Catholic Church (for example, in pamphlets published in 1630 and 1632) and does not mention the Beschryvinge or any other of his secular publications.13 Nevertheless, the book Ampzing holds in the painting strongly resembles the modest scale of the Beschryvinge, not the massive Statenbibel (State Bible). In fact, Hals’s painting may have been intended for reproduction with a different inscription than the one printed in 1632. The Dutch inscription by Scriverius on the later Suyderhoef print again lauds him as a Haarlem teacher but drops all reference to wounded Catholics:
O Haarlem, look upon Ampzing’s appearance, which his city gives us that we may know him: a shepherd true to the church of God, and proficient in the Lord’s work, whose edifying verses and poetry uplift the pious with their deep gravity; rightly is he beloved of all Haarlem’s children and of the Lord’s people.14
In this case the inscription clearly implies that the city government commissioned the engraving, which in its scale seems intended for display as well as for private contemplation.
It would be good to know who owned Hals’s portrait of Ampzing after the sitter and his wife died in 1632, but no children from the marriage are known. The earliest trace of the picture is its reported acquisition in The Hague by Richard Trench, 2nd Earl of Clancarty, during his service there as British ambassador (1813–23). The painting descended in his family until 1892, when it was sold at auction in London; by 1905 it was in the eclectic collection of the railroad entrepreneur Sir William van Horne in Montreal.15 A more distinguished collector of Dutch pictures, Lord Harold Samuel, owned the portrait between 1966 and 1975 (his collection was given to the City of London in 1987),16 and it passed through two New York collections before entering the present one.