In this engaging half-length portrait, Rembrandt captured the gentle sensibility of the twenty-nine-year-old Petronella Buys.1 Turned in a three-quarter view and seated before a gray curtain, Petronella gazes out warmly at the viewer, her subtle smile creating small dimples on her pink cheeks. Her wide, brown eyes glisten in the daylight streaming down from the upper left. She is dressed in all of her finery. A double strand of pearls sets off her face from the expansive white-wheel lace ruff that extends across the width of her shoulders.2 Beneath the ruff she wears an elegant lace bib, decorated with a brooch, and gold chains that hang across her brocaded black costume. Petronella’s hair, pulled high above her forehead, is silhouetted with a lace-and-pearl-trimmed bonnet. A jeweled pendant is nestled into her coiffure.
The sitter’s identity is known from an inscription in Dutch that was formerly visible on the painting’s verso: “Ms. Petronella Buijs, his wife / after this married to Burgomaster Cardon.”3 As Cornelis Hofstede de Groot demonstrated in 1913, “his” refers to Petronella’s first husband, Philips Lucasz (ca. 1598–1641), an officer in the Dutch East India Company (V.O.C.).4 Rembrandt painted Petronella—and the pendant portrait of Philips, now in the National Gallery London (fig 1)—in 1635, some months after the couple’s marriage in August 1634.5 Philips and Petronella had first met in Batavia, where she had traveled in 1629 with her sisters Geertruyd (1613–77) and Maria Odilia (died 1636), as well as with Maria Odilia’s husband, Jacques Specx (1588/89–1652).6 Petronella and Philips returned to the Netherlands in late 1633, and announced their marriage in Amsterdam on 4 August 1634. The preacher Johannes Sylvius, a relative of Rembrandt, married the couple three weeks later in the Nieuwe Kerk.7 Shortly after Rembrandt completed their portraits in 1635, Petronella and Philips left again for the Dutch East Indies on 2 May 1635; there, Philips resumed his role as councillor general extraordinary.8 After Philips’s death at sea in 1641, Petronella settled in the Netherlands.9 She married Johan Cardon in January 1646 and lived the remainder of her life in Vlissingen, where Cardon served twice as Burgomaster.10
The portraits of Petronella and Philips are first documented in 1655 in the collection of Jacques Specx, Petronella’s brother-in-law. In the division of his estate on 31 August, Specx’s daughter, Maria, received “two ditto (portraits) of Mr. Placas [Philips Lucas] deceased, and of his wife [dated] 1635 by Rembrandt.”11 An inventory of Specx’s collection taken two years earlier, on 13 January 1653, refers to “Twee conterfeytsels (two portraits),” which are likely the same paintings.12 The fact that Specx had bequeathed the portraits to Petronella’s niece when Petronella was still alive led I.H. van Eeghen to suggest that Specx either commissioned the portraits or received them as gifts from the couple prior to their departure for Batavia.13 Specx’s patronage of Rembrandt in the first half of the 1630s, following his return to the Netherlands in 1633, supports the former scenario.14 He owned three other paintings by Rembrandt from that period of the artist’s career; these have been plausibly identified as Christ on the Sea of Galilee, 1633 (formerly Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum); The Apostle Paul in Prison, 1631 (Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie); and the Abduction of Europa, 1632 (Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum).15
The portraits of Petronella Buys and Philips Lucasz, which had been together ever since 1635, were separated sometime before the early nineteenth century.16 Prior to 1989, when Josua Bruyn and Bob Haak of the Rembrandt Research Project raised attribution questions about them, they had always been accepted as fine portraits by the master.17 Bruyn and Haak argued, however, that Rembrandt executed only the face of Philips Lucasz, while a workshop assistant painted his costume and collar, as well as the entirety of Petronella Buys’s portrait.18 Among their criticisms of Petronella’s portrait were the modeling of the face and the treatment of light and shadow, as well as the handling of the lace in the diadem cap, ruff, and bib.19 Ernst van de Wetering also believes that a workshop assistant executed Petronella’s face and large portions of her costume, although he has recently concluded that Rembrandt executed her collar and ruff.20
The opinions expressed by Bruyn and Haak about the pendant portraits of Philips Lucasz and Petronella Buys have been critically received by a number of scholars, including Gary Schwartz, Christian Tümpel, and Walter Liedtke.21 The most extensive arguments for attributing the portraits to Rembrandt were made by David Bomford, Christopher Brown, and Ashok Roy in several National Gallery publications.22 These scholars argued that Philips’s portrait did not involve the hand of a workshop assistant, and that the couple’s portraits were entirely by Rembrandt.23 One of their central arguments in favor of an attribution for Philips Lucasz is that Rembrandt used “a kind of brilliant shorthand” for the execution of his collar—a technique, they explain, that the artist would have adopted when working under pressure.24 Whether or not the factor of “speed” can account for the bravura of this technique, which is also evident in Petronella’s bib, this innovative “shorthand” approach is characteristic of Rembrandt’s lace in the mid-1630s.25 Here, as elsewhere, Rembrandt seems to have devised new technical approaches for depicting changes in fashion by applying black paint over white with free and confident brushstrokes.26 Alive with energy, his paint creates a splendid three-dimensional effect throughout Petronella’s ruff, as the individual segments of the lace respond to subtleties of light and shadow.
The stylistic and technical similarities in the portraits of Philips and Petronella were particularly evident in 2017 when the two paintings were reunited in a study session at the National Gallery in London.27 The juxtaposition of these two portraits reinforced the opinion that they had been executed by the same hand.28 Depicted before a grayish, draped background,29 Philips Lucasz and Petronella Buys make compelling pendants as they turn toward each other with inner strength and personal conviction. Philips turns slightly away from the light, which allows light and shade to model his features in a forceful and expressive way. Petronella, who is set slightly further back from the picture plane, faces toward the light, which falls brightly and evenly across her face. Rembrandt used a cool palette with warm highlights in both paintings, and captured the effects of light rippling across the fabric in the background.30
Rembrandt portrayed the distinctive physical appearances and personalities of Philips and Petronella with great assurance, highlighting their respective individualities as husband and wife by varying his pictorial vocabulary in subtle ways.31 As Van de Wetering has explained when discussing Rembrandt’s varied painting techniques in portraiture—here in relation to the master’s pendant portraits of 1633 in Braunschweig (fig 2)—“the execution of faces could vary from portrait to portrait” as a result of the “speed” required by the commission or other “demands” by the sitters.32 These factors are likewise relevant when considering the distinctive aspects of the portraits of Petronella and Philips. Whereas Rembrandt depicted Philips’s face with great freedom, layering short, quick brushstrokes of pinks and yellows to create rich facial textures and a ruddy complexion, he rendered Petronella’s features more delicately and carefully. He painted her face with smooth, subtle brushstrokes of gray, brown, and ochre paints, while using a wet-into-wet technique to convey her porcelain-like complexion. Flesh-colored highlights define the inner corners of her eyes, and strokes of reddish-pink paint articulate the shadow on her nose.33
The painting techniques Rembrandt used to model Petronella’s features are also found in other female portraits that he executed in the first half of the 1630s. The smooth brushwork is comparable, for example, to the stylistic character of at least three paintings from this period: Portrait of a Woman in Braunschweig (fig 2), which demonstrates an even greater degree of control and refinement in the paint handling; Portrait of Oopjen Coppit in Amsterdam (fig 3) and (fig 4), and Portrait of a Young Woman in Houston (fig 5).34 Rembrandt modeled the faces in the latter two portraits somewhat more extensively than he did with Petronella, but he maintained a similar angle of light falling over the figures in order to achieve clarity of forms.35 He also used reddish-brown tones and flesh-colored highlights to model the eye sockets, reddish-pink highlights on the lips, and soft pinks on the chins and upper cheeks. Underdrawing applied with a brush is faintly visible around both Petronella and Oopjen’s nostrils and lips, indicating the degree of care Rembrandt took in rendering his sitters.36 Areas of underpainting and underdrawing (in paint) are also present in Philips’s portrait, including in the right eyebrow and around the eyes.37 These commonalities in technique situate Petronella comfortably within the framework of Rembrandt’s portraiture in this period.
The differing opinions that continue to exist about the attributions of Portrait of Petronella Buys and Portrait of Philips Lucasz reflect uncertainties about how the Rembrandt workshop functioned between 1631 and 1635 when he was working for the art dealer Hendrick Uylenburgh (1584/89–ca. 1660). The workshop focused on the production of commissioned portraits, and it is likely that Rembrandt had pupils and assistants to help him meet the high level of demand.38 In Dutch and Flemish portrait traditions it was not uncommon for a master to collaborate with an assistant in completing a portrait, with the master painting the face and hands and the assistant executing the costume.39 Rembrandt himself is believed to have worked in this way on occasion.40 Nevertheless, it is not certain who might have assisted Rembrandt in his portrait production in the first half of the 1630s. Dirk van Santvoort (1610/11–80), highly skilled in painting lace collars, may have had connections to the workshop, but his participation is not documented; nor is that of Isaac de Jouderville (ca. 1612–48), Rembrandt’s Leiden pupil, who may have continued to serve as an assistant to his master in the early 1630s in Amsterdam.41 Govaert Flinck (1615–60) and Jacob Backer (1608/9–51), on the other hand, were members of the workshop between 1633 and 1635.42
Discussion about the attribution of these pendant portraits also must consider the nature of the commission, as well as the relationships that existed between the artist and the sitters. As previously noted, Rembrandt likely painted these portraits for Jacques Specx, who had already bought three of Rembrandt’s history paintings in the early 1630s.43 Specx was not only an important patron of Rembrandt, he was also Petronella’s brother-in-law.44 Furthermore, he had served as a witness at the announcement of her marriage to Philips Lucasz. All of these factors make it quite improbable that Rembrandt would have assigned a workshop assistant to execute Petronella’s portrait. Relevant for this discussion is a question Albert Blankert posed about a patron’s expectations for a commissioned portrait: “When people gave such a commission to a famous and expensive artist, would they not have cared whether the task was carried out by the master himself or an assistant?”45 Aside from the unlikelihood that a workshop assistant painted the entirety of the painting, Van der Wetering’s proposal that an assistant executed Petronella’s face and Rembrandt the ruff and collar is contrary to the character of workshop collaboration.46
The portraits of Petronella Buys and Philips Lucasz are fascinating examples of Rembrandt’s portrait production in the mid-1630s. The remarkable history of these portraits and the distinctive and compelling manner with which they were painted strongly support their attribution to Rembrandt. Commemorating Petronella and Philips’s marriage and marking Philips’s service to the V.O.C., the pendants would have constituted important additions to Jacques Specx’s admirable collection of Rembrandt paintings. For Frederick Schmidt-Degener, who would later become director of both the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and the Rijksmuseum, Petronella’s portrait represented “one of those beautiful and strong paintings full of distinction that Rembrandt, [who] became the painter of Amsterdam’s high society, executed around 1631 to 1636.”47