Information on the life of Geldorp Gortzius is summary at best. He is assumed to have been born in Leuven in 1553, but the identity of his parents is unknown. He might have been the father of George Geldorp (before 1595–1665), who was active in Antwerp in the first quarter of the seventeenth century and subsequently moved to London. Karel van Mander, the first to report on Geldorp, referred to him as “Gualdrop Gortzius gheseyt Geldrop” (Gualdrop Gortzius called Geldrop), which could indicate that his family came from the village of Geldrop in the province of Noord Brabant. We do not know his first name—it is not mentioned in any contemporary source—nor does his signature afford any clues, for when he signed his work he used only “GG,” the first letters of his surname.1
According to Van Mander, Geldorp Gortzius trained with Frans Francken the Elder (1542–1616) and Frans Pourbus the Elder (1541–85).2 When he left for Antwerp in 1569, he was approaching eighteen years old, the age at which a prospective painter had usually completed the first part of his training. However, it is unknown who taught Geldorp the rudiments of his craft.
Geldorp’s earliest known picture, The Last Supper as an Allegory of the Pacification of Ghent, is dated 1576 and already reveals his skills as a portraitist.3 Around this time he was appointed court painter to Charles of Aragon, Duke of Terranova, in whose company he traveled to Cologne in 1579, when the duke served as the ambassador of Philip II in the peace negotiations between the Netherlands and the Spanish crown. At the conclusion of the mission, Geldorp elected to remain in Cologne. In contrast to most other Catholic Netherlanders, Geldorp—who was not a refugee—acquired citizenship, although it is not known exactly when. Thanks to his talent, he fared well in Cologne and became a prominent burgher. During Christmas of 1609, he was appointed a representative of the Cologne painters’ guild, and he sat on the city council in 1610 and again in 1613. At present, no additional information on the artist can be traced. Geldorp Gortzius’s last known work dates to 1619,4 and he may have died shortly thereafter.
Approximately seventy pictures are attributed to Geldorp, most of them portraits, including copies of paintings by other contemporary artists. Geldorp seems to have become the local elite’s favorite portraitist quite soon after he settled in Cologne. For instance, in 1609 the Dutch-born writer Matthias Quad (1557–1613) noted in his history of German artists: “Geldorp, currently living in Cologne, is favored above all others for likenesses from life.”5 This standing is reflected in Geldorp’s oeuvre, which is notable for the fact that various members of the powerful Cologne Lyskirchen family sat for him repeatedly in the course of twenty years, as did other prominent Cologne families, such as the Jabachs. That his reputation extended beyond Cologne is suggested by several prints by Crispijn de Passe after Geldorp’s painted portraits of German rulers.6
Geldorp painted not only portraits, but also history scenes. His oeuvre includes several Madonnas, Mary Magdalenes, evangelists, and other saints.7 Particularly famous is the Crucifixion he painted for the Cologne city council between 1597 and 1603, one of his very best works, which was returned to its original location in the council chamber of the Cologne Town Hall in 1973.8 Geldorp must have already been a noted history painter when he was awarded this prestigious commission. Relying on Arnoldus Buchelius, who visited Cologne around 1600,9 Van Mander mentions some notable works in private collections in Cologne. For example, Johan Meerman owned “a very finely painted Diana.”10 Everhard Jabach III (1567–1636), a native of Antwerp and later resident of Cologne, whom Geldorp portrayed, along with his wife, in 1600,11 had “a beautiful and very lifelike Susanna.”12 As there are various versions of this picture, the one referred to in the description cannot be identified. That Geldorp often painted several versions of the same subject emerges from Van Mander’s mention of “a very artfully done history of Esther and Ahasuerus.”13 The only known painting of this subject by Geldorp is in The Leiden Collection; however, as it is dated 1612, it cannot be the work mentioned by Van Mander, whose book was published in 1604. Given the close correspondence between the compositions of Geldorp’s preserved history paintings, the assumption that the version in New York resembles the Esther mentioned by Van Mander is not that improbable.