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Portrait of a Man Reading a Book

Pieter Cornelisz van Slingelandt (Leiden 1640 – 1691 Leiden)
oil on copper
16.2 x 12.6 cm
signed information

signed and dated in dark paint along page edges of book: “PSlingeland / 1668”

inventory number

Rahusen, Henriette. “Portrait of a Man Reading a Book” (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 22, 2024).

This small portrait on copper depicts a seated man wearing a slate-blue robe who looks alertly at the viewer. He is about to turn the page in the book that he holds in his left hand. The book and the long nails of his elegant right hand establish him as a man of learning and leisure, but Pieter van Slingelandt’s painting is devoid of attributes that might identify him or indicate his vocation. The table supporting his right elbow is covered with a red oriental carpet providing a colorful anchor for the composition. Van Slingelandt has used a uniform light to isolate the unknown sitter against a background so dark, one can scarcely discern the edge of the man’s black skull cap. Wispy brown curls further frame the man’s face, in which quizzical eyes compete for attention with the prominent nose.

The man’s robe was known in the Dutch Republic as a Japonse rok (Japanese robe). These loose-fitting and padded robes were modeled on the precious silk kimonos (Keyserrocken, imperial gowns, or schenckagierocken, gift gowns) that the Tokugawa Shogun gave to high-ranking officials of the Dutch East India Company during their annual visits to Edo, Japan. The Japonse rok was worn indoors by men and women alike to ward off the cold. This slate-blue robe with its turned-over collar is very similar to the one worn by the standing man in another portrait by Van Slingelandt (), even if the latter robe seems much silkier and bulkier. It is unclear whether the brown trim of the collar is a strip of fur or the edge of a woolen padding that has been turned over.

One of Gerrit Dou’s (1613–75) most talented students, Pieter van Slingelandt was so adept at emulating his master’s meticulous techniques and compositional elements that his best work has often been attributed to Dou. The smooth modeling of the sitter’s face and hands echoes the latter’s finest brushwork, but this figure does not match the energetic physicality of Dou’s portraits. The diminutive size of Van Slingelandt’s half-length, seated portrait would have been rather unusual in the first half of the seventeenth century, when life-size portraits were the norm, but fits fully within the trend toward the smaller likenesses painted after the middle of the century by masters such as Gerard ter Borch (1617–81) and Caspar Netscher (ca. 1639–84). Gerrit Dou also produced several small portraits, including the delicate oval Portrait of a Young Woman, ca. 1655 (National Gallery, London) (), and Portrait of Dirck van Beresteyn in the Leiden Collection (GD-111). Dou’s student Frans van Mieris the Elder (1635–81) also painted meticulous works in small format, a number of which are in the Leiden Collection, as, for example, Portrait of a Fifty-Two-Year-Old Man (FM-104). The keen interest that Leiden patrons had in commissioning their likenesses from masters such as Dou, Van Mieris, and Van Slingelandt is evident in the large number of their portraits in the Leiden Collection. The refined technique of these fijnschilders made them eminently equipped to do their sitters justice on small panel or copper supports.

Small, precious portraits like this one by Van Slingelandt were time-consuming. Portrait of a Man Reading a Book dates from the phase in the artist’s career when he was known to spend prodigious amounts of time finishing his works, resulting, in this instance, in a finely rendered, charming portrait that retains an engaging, lifelike character.

- Henriette Rahusen, 2017
For further discussion about this artwork, see Leiden Fijnschilders and the Local Art Market in the Golden Age.
  • (Possibly sale, Jean Baptiste Pierre Lebrun, Paris, May 1803, no. 30).
  • Private collection, France or Belgium, possibly Dr. Richter.
  • Confiscated by Nazi forces in France in 1940; selected by Adolph Hitler for the Führermuseum on 21 July 1940; transferred by Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler on behalf of Adolph Hitler to Hans Posse by 29 July 1940; recorded in the possession of the Special Commission Linz (Sonderauftrag Linz) in Dresden, Linz no. 2132; collected by the Allies and recorded at the Munich Central Collecting Point, 15 October 1945, Mu. no. 9514.
  • Prime Minister of Austria, Salzburg, 18 January 1952, on the condition that the painting would be restituted to its prior owner; transferred to the Museum of Fine Arts, Vienna (Kunsthistorisches Museum); held at the Mauerbach Depot until 1980, Mauerbach no. 408 (announced in the Amtsblatt zur Wiener Zeitung on 2 September 1969, no. 428).
  • Austrian Federal Monuments Office (Bundesdenkmalamt), ca. 1980–92 (announced in the Amtsblatt zur Wiener Zeitung on 1 February 1986, no. 408).
  • Restituted to the descendants of the prior owner in 1992.
  • (Sale, Sotheby’s, London, 8 July 2004, no. 268 [Johnny Van Haeften Ltd., London]).
  • From whom acquired by the present owner.
  • Philadelphia, Arthur Ross Gallery, University of Pennsylvania, “An Inner World: Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting,” 17 April–25 July 2021, no. 7 [lent by the present owner].
  • Schwarz, Birgit. Hitlers Museum: Die Fotoalben Gemäldegalerie Linz; Dokumente zum “Führermuseum.”  Vienna, 2004, 107, 225, no. 3/19.
  • Moqtaderi, Heather and Lara Yeager-Crasselt, eds. An Inner World: Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting. Exh. cat. Philadelphia, Arthur Ross Gallery, University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, 2021, 6, no. 7.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Introduction: Pulling Back the Curtain.” In An Inner World: Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting. Edited by Heather Moqtaderi and Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 25, no. 7. Exh. cat. Philadelphia, Arthur Ross Gallery, University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, 2021.

The support, a rectangular copper sheet, has been inset flush into the routed surface of a four-membered wooden stretcher slightly larger than the copper in both directions. The copper edges are not visible and the panel thickness cannot be measured directly.

The reverse of the copper panel has been firmly adhered to the wood stretcher members, so only the middle rectangle of copper remains visible along the reverse. The panel is in plane and has a smooth surface along the front, however the oxidized reverse has slight pitting and variations in texture, which suggests the copper may have been hammered prior to being rolled. There are two inscriptions along the exposed reverse, but no wax seals, stencils, chalk, labels or makers marks are located along the panel reverse.

A light-colored ground has been thinly and evenly applied followed by paint thinly and extremely smoothly applied with no use of impasto, although areas of low brushmarking outline the outer contours of the compositional forms.

The painting is signed and dated in dark paint along the page edges of the book the figure holds, oriented towards the viewer.

No underdrawing is readily apparent in infrared images captured at 780–1000 nanometers. Compositional changes revealed in the images and as a pentimento appear along the back cover of the open book: the length of the spine appears to have been extended by about one third beyond the figure’s proper left hand toward the right panel edge, and the position of the figure’s hand (i.e., thumb) may have been shifted. 

The painting has not undergone conservation treatment since its acquisition and remains in a good state of preservation.

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