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Portrait of Petronella Buys (1605–1670)

Rembrandt van Rijn (Leiden 1606 – 1669 Amsterdam)
date
1635
medium
oil on oval panel
dimensions
79.5 x 59.3 cm
signed information

signed and dated at lower left: “Rembrandt·f. 1635″

inventory number
RR-115
Print

Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Portrait of Petronella Buys (1605–1670).” In The Leiden Collection Catalogue. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. https://www.theleidencollection.com/archive/ (accessed October 19, 2019).

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In this engaging half-length portrait, Rembrandt captured the gentle sensibility of the twenty-nine-year-old Petronella Buys. 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. 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.” 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.). Rembrandt painted Petronella—and the pendant portrait of Philips, now in the National Gallery London ()—in 1635, some months after the couple’s marriage in August 1634. 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). 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. 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. After Philips’s death at sea in 1641, Petronella settled in the Netherlands. She married Johan Cardon in January 1646 and lived the remainder of her life in Vlissingen, where Cardon served twice as Burgomaster.

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.” 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. 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. Specx’s patronage of Rembrandt in the first half of the 1630s, following his return to the Netherlands in 1633, supports the former scenario. 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).

The portraits of Petronella Buys and Philips Lucasz, which had been together ever since 1635, were separated sometime before the early nineteenth century. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. The juxtaposition of these two portraits reinforced the opinion that they had been executed by the same hand. Depicted before a grayish, draped background, 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.

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. 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 ()—“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. 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.

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 (), which demonstrates an even greater degree of control and refinement in the paint handling; Portrait of Oopjen Coppit in Amsterdam () and (), and Portrait of a Young Woman in Houston (). 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. 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. Areas of underpainting and underdrawing (in paint) are also present in Philips’s portrait, including in the right eyebrow and around the eyes. 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 van 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. 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. Rembrandt himself is believed to have worked in this way on occasion. 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. Govaert Flinck (1615–60) and Jacob Backer (1608–51), on the other hand, were members of the workshop between 1633 and 1635.

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. Specx was not only an important patron of Rembrandt, he was also Petronella’s brother-in-law. 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?” 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.

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.”

- Lara Yeager-Crasselt, with contributions by Leonore van Sloten
2019
  • Possibly commissioned by the sitter’s brother-in-law, Jacques Specx (1588/89–1652), around 1635; by descent to his daughter Maria de Gruijter, née Specx (1636–1704), Amsterdam.
  • Cornelis Sebille Roos (1754–1820), Amsterdam (his sale, 28 August 1820, no. 85 [180 florins to Engelberts]).
  • Christiaan Everhard Vaillant (1746–1829) or Jacobus Sargenton (sale, J. de Vries, Amsterdam, 19 April 1830, no. 74 [540 florins to Roos]).
  • [Cornelis Francois Roos (1802–74), Amsterdam, 1836.]
  • Adrian Hope, London (his sale, Christie’s, London, 30 June 1894, no. 56 [1,300 gns. to Weilheim]).
  • [C. Sedelmeyer, Paris, 1894 (to M. Knoedler and Co.).]
  • [M. Knoedler and Co., New York, November 1894 (to Jefferson).]
  • Joseph Jefferson (1829–1905), New York, January 1895 (his sale, The American Art Galleries, New York, 27 April 1906, no. 50 [to A. Preyer for $20,600]).
  • [A. Preyer, The Hague.]
  • [F. Kleinberger, Paris, 1906.]
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  • Michel van Gelder, Château Zeecrabbe, Uccle, Brussels, by 1911.
  • [D. Katz, Dieren, 1938.]
  • [Schaeffer Galleries, New York, by 1939 until at least 1947.]
  • André Meyer, New York, by 1962 (Sotheby’s, New York, 22 October 1980, no. 12).
  • [Wildenstein, New York, 1985 (sold to Weiller).]
  • Commandant Paul Louis Weiller (1893–1993), Geneva (his sale and others, Christie’s, London, 7 December 2017, no. 10).
  • From whom acquired by the present owner.
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  • Amsterdam, Arti et Amicitae, “Tentoonstelling van de 16de en 17de eeuwsche Hollandsche en Vlaamsche schilderijen: Waaronder van Rembrandt, Van Dijk, Jan Steen,” 7 May–4 June 1938, no. 67.
  • Providence, Rhode Island Museum, “Dutch Painting in the Seventeenth Century,” December 1938–25 January 1939, no. 37.
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  • Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, “Exhibition of the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. André Meyer,” 9 June–8 July 1962 [lent by Meyer].
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  • Amsterdam, Museum Het Rembrandthuis, on loan with the permanent collection, September 2018–January 2019 [lent by the present owner].
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  • Von Bode, Wilhelm, and Cornelis Hofstede de Groot. Rembrandt: Beschreibendes Verzeichniss seiner Gemälde mit den heliographischen Nachbildungen: Geschichte seines Lebens und seiner Kunst. 8 vols. Paris, 1897–1906, 2: 11, 115, 116, no. 118.
  • Sedelmeyer, Charles. Illustrated Catalogue of 300 Paintings by Old Masters of the Dutch, Flemish, Italian, French, and English Schools being some of the principal pictures which have at various times formed part of the Sedelmeyer Gallery. Paris, 1898, no. 126.
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  • Veth, Jan. “Rembrantiana.” L’Art flamande et hollandaise (October 1906): 89, illustrated.
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  • Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt: des Meisters Gemälde. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben. 3rd edition. Stuttgart, 1908, 206, 555, S. 206.
  • Dumont-Wilden, Louis. La Collection Michel van Gelder au Château Zeecrabbe, Uccle.   Brussels, 1911, 10–11.
  • Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. “Rembrandts portretten van Philips Lucasse en Petronella Buys.” Oud Holland 31, no. 5 (1913): 236–40.
  • Meldrum, David S. Rembrandt’s Paintings. New York, 1923, 189, no. 107.
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  • Benesch, Otto. Rembrandt: Werk und Forschung. Vienna, 1935, 19–20.
  • Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt. Gemälde. Vienna, 1935, under “Notes,” page 14, no. 349.
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  • Frankfurter, Alfred M. “17 Pictures of the XVII Century.” Art News (4 February 1938): 11, illustrated.
  • Stechow, Wolfgang. Dutch Painting in the 17th Century. Exh. cat. Providence, Rhode Island Museum. Providence, 1938, no. 67, illustrated.
  • Voren Kamp, A. P. A. “Masterpieces of Dutch Painting.” Art News (10 December 1938): 10, illustrated.
  • Frankfurter, Alfred M. Official Souvenir Guide and Picture Book: Masterpieces of Art: Exhibition at the New York World’s Fair, 1939. Exh. cat. New York, World’s Fair. New York, 1939, no. 16.
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  • World’s Fair. Illustrated catalogue of an exhibition held on the occasion of the New York World’s Fair, 1939. Exh. cat. New York, World’s Fair. New York, 1939, no. 16.
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  • Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. 17th Century Dutch Masterpieces. Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. Kalamazoo, 1942, no. 2.
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  • Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Frans Hals, Rembrandt. Exh. cat. Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Los Angeles, 1947, no. 13.
  • Van Eeghen, L.H. “De Portretten van Philips Lucas en Petronella Buys.” Maandblad Amstelodamum 43 (1956): 116.
  • MacLaren, Neil. National Gallery Catalogues. The Dutch School 1600–1900. 2 vols. London, 1960, 325–26, under no. 850.
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  • Bauch, Kurt. Rembrandt: Gemälde. Berlin, 1966, no. 486, illustrated.
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  • Coolhaas, Willem Philippus. Het Huis ‘De Dubbele Arend’: Het huis Keizersgracht 141, thans ‘Van Riebeeckhuis’ genaamd, nu daar een halve eeuw gearbeid is voor de culturele en econokmische betrekkingen met Zuid-Afrika. Amsterdam, 1973, 54–55, 57, 61, 73.
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The support for the painting is an oval, wooden panel. It consists of a single board, presumed to be oak, with a vertical grain. The bottom of the oval is slightly flat, but there is no evidence that the shape of the panel was ever altered. A cradle was applied to the verso of the panel over 100 years ago. The fixed, vertical cradle members and the panel’s verso are coated in wax.

The panel’s white ground is covered with a thin, transparent brown layer. Infrared photographs (captured at 700 to 900 nanometers) reveal a faint underdrawing around the lids of the eyes, nostrils, and lips. The underdrawing was likely made with a brush. X-radiographs show that the sitter’s ruff was originally smaller, and that it was extended with broad and energetic brushstrokes.

The painting was executed with a mixture of glazes and opaque paint. The artist applied the paint mostly wet-into-wet in the face, smoothly blending the colors together. Highlights and accents were then added wet-over-dry. The background was painted thinly, and reserves were left for the sitter’s hair and ruff. Rembrandt used thin, dark brushstrokes to create the hair, allowing the warm, brown underlayer to show through. He left an area in reserve for the white lace and pearls that surround the sitter’s hair. Similarly, the artist left a reserve in the white ruff for the shadow of the sitter’s head.

The painting is signed and dated in dark paint in the lower left.

The painting was cleaned in 2017 and is in good condition. Small flake losses along the grain of the wood panel have been inpainted. The varnish is clear and even.

Further technical information about this artwork is available in The Rembrandt Database.

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