Family Portrait

Maarten van Heemskerck, ca. 1530
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel

A family at table, in the open air, under a blue sky. As a spectator of this scene, you have the feeling that you can sit down for a cozy meal. The clothing reveals that this is a sixteenth-century family, but the lively character of the scene looks downright modern. And indeed, this portrait was very modern when Maarten van Heemskerck painted it in 1530, at the beginning of his career as a successful painter, draughtsman, and printmaker. As far as we know, the painting is the first autonomous Dutch family portrait. Group portraits like these were made, but always as part of a larger whole, such ans an altarpiece. On this panel, however, the family is central, and the atmosphere is remarkably cheerful. The answer to the question of the identity of these realistically depicted people lay in a tiny detail: the coat of arms on the signet ring on the father’s left hand is that of Pieter Jan Foppesz, who held important administrative functions in Haarlem. This identification is all the more plausible because, from 1530, Van Heemskerck stayed with them for quite some time. Van Heemskerck will therefore have sat at table with this family on a regular basis.

Christi M. Klinkert, Curator, Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar