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Bakker, Piet. “Jacob Toorenvliet” (2017). In The Leiden Collection Catalogue, 4th ed. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Elizabeth Nogrady with Caroline Van Cauwenberge. New York, 2023–. (accessed June 13, 2024).


Jacob Toorenvliet was baptized in Leiden on 1 July 1640. His parents were Abraham Toorenvliet (ca. 1610–92) and Maria Willemsdr van der Hulle (d. 1649). Jacob’s father was a drawing master and glass painter, and as of 1636 a member of the Glassmakers’ Guild, of which he was either headman or dean almost continuously between 1645 and 1687. In 1649 he also became a member of the recently founded Guild of Saint Luke, giving his profession as “Constschilder” (“painter”) in two documents. He was elected headman and dean of the Guild of Saint Luke, presumably for his administrative skills, as he does not seem to have been a particularly productive painter. He did, however, enjoy a great reputation as a drawing master, a skill that benefitted not only his son, but also Frans van Mieris the Elder (1635–81), and Mathijs Naiveu (1647–1726). A year after Jacob’s mother died in 1649, his father married Geertruy Somers (d. before 1656), the widow of Jan Dou (1609–ca. 1647), a producer of church glass. Abraham and Jan’s brother, Gerrit Dou (1613–75), assumed guardianship of Jan’s surviving young son.

Jacob Toorenvliet learned the rudiments of painting from his father and subsequently completed his training with Gerrit Dou. He drew his first self-portrait in 1655, at the young age of fifteen, and signed his first painting four years later. Evidence of his independence is also found in a 1660 document, in which he is first mentioned as a “schilder” (“painter”). At the same time, he produced drawings for engraved book illustrations and received his first portrait commissions, the most notable ones in 1660 from Cornelis Schrevelius (1608–64), dean of the Latin school, and in 1661 from Ole Borch (1626–90), a Danish scholar residing temporarily in Leiden. After 1661 the Leiden sources remain quiet regarding Toorenvliet. His name only surfaces again in a 1674 archival document, in which he is said to be “uytlandich” (“abroad”). In a document dated two years later one reads that he was living “tot Wenen in Oostenrijk” (in Vienna, Austria).

In his biography of Toorenvliet, Arnold Houbraken (1660–1719) also notes that the artist lived abroad for a long time, but only in Italy. He does not mention Vienna, where the painter actually did reside for a long time. Houbraken reports that Toorenvliet traveled together with the Catholic history painter Nicolaes van Roosendael (1634/35–86) to Rome, arriving there when he was “ruim 29 jaren” (over 29 years old), hence around 1670. In Rome, Toorenvliet subsequently “assiduously and diligently . . . devoted his time to drawing after paintings by Raphael, Paolo Veronese, Tintoretto, and furthermore after the most famous works of art hanging in palaces and churches.” Like so many other northern painters in Rome, Toorenvliet joined the Bentvueghels (“Birds of a Feather”), who gave him the nickname Jason. After some time Toorenvliet decided to leave the Eternal City. He moved to Venice, where he lived for “verscheyden jaren” (several years) and married a wealthy woman, who accompanied him when he returned to the Dutch Republic.

Even though Houbraken’s biography of Toorenvliet is incomplete, his assertion that the artist traveled to Rome has never been doubted. Not even when it emerged that Toorenvliet not only lived in Vienna from 1674 to 1679—the year of his return—but also probably from 1668 to 1670; at least, this is inferred by various paintings in Austrian museum collections dated 1668 and 1669 and the twenty-six engravings by the artist in a Vienna publication of 1670.

These indications never led anyone to investigate whether Toorenvliet might have lived in Vienna continuously from around 1668 to 1679. This omission is due in part to Toorenvliet’s 1669 portrait of Carel Quina (1622–89), which is assumed to have been painted in Rome. In that year, Quina is thought to have stopped in the Eternal City on his way back to the Netherlands from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. However, in his travel journal, which he only wrote once he was home in Amsterdam, he barely mentions this return journey. That this trip passed through Rome thus rests entirely on the assumption that Toorenvliet was living there in 1669. Quina’s travelogue does include a passage from which it emerges that he traveled via Vienna on the return trip, as he had done on the outward one. Writing extensively about his Vienna adventures, which all seem to have taken place on the outward journey, Quina also reflects on his visit to the grave of a deceased friend. According to Quina, this took place “after I had been to Jerusalem.”

That Toorenvliet spent time in Rome and also “verscheyden jaren” (several years) in Venice is not contested here. What is disputed is the timing of 1670 to 1673. This objection gains support from the fact that Houbraken contradicts himself. Immediately following his digression on Toorenvliet’s artistic training, he writes: “When he had made such progress in art that he could draw well and paint a good portrait, he left Leiden and went to Rome to verse himself further in art.” Later in the text (when Toorenvliet has arrived in Rome), Houbraken observes that he “[had] then already painted many portraits, for which he had gained fame.” To illustrate this he refers to the aforementioned Schrevelius family portrait, including the paean it inspired, and concludes with “Dit was in den jare 1661” (This was in the year 1661).

The content of both passages allows for no other interpretation than that Toorenvliet went to Rome soon after completing his training and having acquired some experience as a portraitist. This will have been shortly after 1661, because most of Toorenvliet’s (few) dated portraits were painted between 1659 and 1661. It therefore seems likely that Houbraken was mistaken and meant “ruim 20 jaren” (over 20 years old) when he wrote “ruim 29 jaren” (over 29 years old).

A departure date not long after 1661 also accords better with the information we have about Nicolaes Roosendael, Toorenvliet’s travel companion. Roosendael—to whom only a dozen paintings can be attributed at present—was living in Vienna already in 1655, working together with Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627–78) on a painting of Saint Benedict intended for the Abbey of Weingarten in southern Germany. The next signs of life come from Amsterdam; Roosendael made an exceptionally good match there in 1665, became a citizen a year later, and set up a workshop where he trained several pupils. What he did between 1655 and 1665 is not documented. However, the crisp composition and bright palette of his earliest known, independent, signed painting, the 1664 Carrying of the Cross, reflects Italian art to such an extent that it seems more logical to date Roosendael’s sojourn in Rome between 1655 and 1665 rather than around 1670, when he appears to have been leading a settled and comfortable life in Amsterdam.

If Roosendael stayed on in Vienna after 1655, it is possible that Toorenvliet met him there around 1662 and that the two artists then traveled on to Rome, like Van Hoogstraten before them. When Roosendael made his return journey around 1664, Toorenvliet may have accompanied him up to Venice and subsequently stayed there for “verscheyden jaren” (several years). We know with certainty that he was acquainted with Roosendael and also maintained contact with him after the trip to Rome, for Roosendael’s wife witnessed the baptism of Toorenvliet’s son Abraham (1682–ca. 1735) in Amsterdam years later.

Around 1667 Toorenvliet traveled from Venice to Vienna, where he may have lived continuously until the end of 1679. If Houbraken is correct and Toorenvliet did indeed take his Venetian wife to Leiden, his stay there was brief. This intermezzo, however, would have to have occurred well before 1679, given that her death in that year would have been Toorenvliet’s main reason for returning to the Dutch Republic for good.

While we may not know the exact details of Toorenvliet’s life between 1661 and 1679, he was certainly back in Leiden in 1679. He did not remain a widower for long; in that same year he married Susanna Verhulst, although where is unknown. The couple settled in Amsterdam and was soon followed there by Jacob van der Sluis (ca. 1660–1732), who had become Toorenvliet’s pupil in Leiden. Toorenvliet took possession of a house on the corner of the Herengracht and the Reguliersgracht. Shortly thereafter on 24 May 1680, their daughter Lidia was baptized in De Krijtberg, a clandestine Catholic church, suggesting that Toorenvliet had converted to Catholicism in Italy or Austria. In March 1682 their son Abraham, who would become a painter, was baptized in Amsterdam, at which, as mentioned above, Catherina Deyl (ca. 1643–86), the wife of Toorenvliet’s former travel companion Nicolaes Roosendael, served as a witness.

The artist was again living in Leiden in 1686, when he joined the Guild of Saint Luke and enrolled in the university, the latter undoubtedly because of the tax benefits this entailed. His return may have coincided with the establishment of the Leiden Tekenacademie (Drawing Academy), an initiative he undertook together with Willem van Mieris (1662–1747) and Carel de Moor (1655–1738). He inventoried his father’s sizable collection of paintings following his death in 1692. Jacob’s name appears in the guild records with nearly uninterrupted regularity, alternately as headman and dean, from 1695 to 1712, the year he stepped down. And in 1717 he is recorded in the university as informator pingendi, which may mean that he gave drawing lessons to students.

Toorenvliet’s extensive, generally high-quality oeuvre and his important position in the Leiden painters’ community suggest that he had a successful career. Houbraken, however, contends that Toorenvliet did not fare well at all. That he was talented went without saying, ‘‘however, it is painful to behold that others who are less artistic, as the saying goes, just roll rather than having to crawl through the world.” Toorenvliet’s straitened circumstances at the end of his life are confirmed by a tax assessment register of 1716, in which the artist was exempted from payment because he was “onmagtigh” (unable) to do so. He died in January 1719, and was brought to Oegstgeest for burial on 25 January. This may have taken place from the house of his brother, the notary public Dirck Toorenvliet, with whom he lived after his wife died in 1713 and whose family he portrayed so beautifully in 1687.

- Piet Bakker, 2017
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