A Portrait of a Silversmith
Thought to be Christian van Vianen (c.1600-1667)

Courtesy of John Green (Richard Green Fine Paintings)


1596/7 - Amsterdam - 1667

This outstanding painting belongs to a group of small full-length portraits in meticulously delineated interiors, executed by the Amsterdam artist Thomas de Keyser in the 1620s and 30s, which were extremely influential upon the development of Dutch portrait painting in the second quarter of the seventeenth century. In each case the sitter is placed in a rich interior, informally posed with lively gestures, looking confidently out at the viewer. The first of this series is de Keyser's splendid portrait of the Stadholder's secretary Constantijn Huygens and his derk of 1627 (National Gallery, London), which seems to have been an immediate success. As Ann Jensen Adams notes (op. at., I, p.97), de Keyser adapted aspects of courtly painting in England and France for his portraits of the Dutch urban patriciate, but filled his interiors with objects that reflected their status and interests. It was a radical departure from the static, formal three-quarter-length portraits of Mierevelt and Pickenoy.

De Keyser works in a delicate, but freer style than Leiden fijnschilders such as Gerrit Dou who have a similar interest in figures in interiors. The son and brother of architects, he has an exquisite sense of figures in space, as well as a subtle eye for gradations of colour, for example the greys and blacks of the young man's dress in this painting. The light on his face and golden curls emphasises his youthful openness, the light on the monumental salt-cellar behind him his virtuosity as a craftsman. The rich red table carpet provides a foil to the sitter's sober dress and emphasises the ease, taste and luxury of his surroundings. The carpet must have been a studio prop, as it reappears in the Portrait of a scholar, 1631 (The Mauritshuis, The Hague) and in a pair of portraits from 1631 in the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen.

This new portrait style was spurred by de Keyser's marriage in 1626 to Machtel Andries, the niece of the Amsterdam goldsmith Loef Frederiks, whose portrait (now in the Mauritshuis, The Hague) de Keyser painted that year. The marriage introduced de Keyser to a new social circle, which proved a rich source of patronage around 1630. De Keyser painted three group portraits of the Amsterdam confraternity of gold and silversmiths: one undated (present whereabouts unknown) and two from 1627, The Syndics of the Amsterdam Goldsmiths' Guild in the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio and The Amsterdam Silversmiths' Guild, formerly in the Muse des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg, destroyed in the Second World War.

The present portrait is thought to be of the great Amsterdam gold and silversmith Christian van Vianen (c.1600-1667), who later became court goldsmith to Charles II of England. Christian was the son of Adam (1569-1627) and the nephew of Paulus van Vianen (c.1570-1613) who developed the free-flowing 'auricular' style in silver, a manner which Christian elaborated. About 1650 Christian published Modelles Artificiels (Constighe Modellen), a book of sculptural silver designs; there is a striking similarity between the base of the large auricular salt in the painting and one of the designs in the book.

The young man in the painting holds an earlier engraved hexagonal salt-cellar and it has been suggested that this was made by his father while the auricular example is his own work, conceived in the very latest fashion (see JR ter Molen, Van Vianen enn Utrchtse fami1ie van Zilversmedensn meet enn internationale faam, Leiden University doctoral dissertation, 1984, I, p.38). Engraved hexagonal salts of this type are usually dated to the early seventeenth century and in one case as late as 1620 (see the example illustrated by JW Frederiks, Dutch Silver, The Hague 1958, II, p.62, no.176, pl.53, and that in the Rothschild-Rosebery Collection; Mentmore sale, Sotheby's London, 11th February 1999, lot 50). However, this dating has been influenced by their similarity to the hexagonal salt in the present painting, dated 1630. Such salts could in fact date from as early as 1600; the engraving on the example illustrated by Frederiks has close affinities with Antwerp cutlery handles dateable to the very end of the sixteenth century (see exh. cat. Zilver-uit de Gouden eeuw van Antwerpen, Antwetp 1988, no.91-96). The presence in de Keyser's painting of silver in two highly contrasting styles may simple allude to the silversmith's ability both as a chaser and engraver.

A further identification of the sitter with Christian van Vianen may lie in Thomas de Keyser's group portrait of The Amsterdam Silversmiths' Guild, 1627, formerly in the Muse des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg and destroyed in the Second World War. Adam van Vianen's auricular silver masterpiece, a ewer commissioned by the Guild in 1614 and made in memory of his brother Paulus, is displayed at the left of this picture. (This ewer was sold at Christie's Laren, 19th October 1976 and is now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). The seated figure third from left is thought to be Adam van Vianen and has close similarities to the etched portrait of Adam by Theodoor van Kessel after John Smith in Christian's Modelles Artificiels. Professor Th. H Lunsingh Scheurleer has observed a strong likeness between the young man standing in the centre of The Amsterdam Silversmiths' Guild and the sitter in the present portrait (see Christie's Laren, 19th October 1976, lot 544, footnote). The standing figure, with his right hand around his supposed father's shoulder and holding in his left the cover of Adam's ewer, appears to be a later addition by another artist. The 1938 catalogue of the Strasbourg Museum mentions a barely visible inscription giving the date of the addition. This has been variously deciphered as 1635, 1636 or 1638. Beside the date is the age of the sitter and this has been read as either twenty-six or twenty-nine. Possibly the artist who added this figure gave the age of the sitter when de Keyser signed and dated the rest of the painting in 1627, when Christian would indeed have been twenty-six or twenty-seven. The added figure, painted a few years later, looks to be in his mid-thirties. The painting thus would incorporate all three van Vianens, with Paulus alluded to by the ewer made in his memory.

An alternative identification of the young man in the group portrait and the man in the present painting was put forward by Ann Jensen Adams in 1995 (Shop Talk: Studies inHonour of Seymour Slive, Cambridge Mass. 1995, p.28-32). In her view The Amsterdam Silversmiths' Guild, which she renames Portrait of six gold and siversmiths, is a friendship portrait and posthumous tribute to Andries Frederiks (1566-1627), an Amsterdam silversmith and half-brother of Loef Frederiks, de Keyser's father-in-law. The standing young man, whom she also believes is portrayed in the present portrait, she identifies as Andries Frederiks's son, Simon Andries Valckenaer (1609-1672).

In support of this identification is the fact that these were Amsterdam goldsmiths, not Utrecht goldsmiths like the van Vianens, and the family connection with de Keyser. Between 1599 and 1625, the elder Andries was assay master of the Amsterdam silversmiths' guild on seven occasions and dean six times. His son became master in 1630 (the year of de Keyser's picture) and would have been twenty-nine assuming that his portrait was added to the group of silversmiths in the year 1638, the same year he was elected as guild dean. However, it should be noted that Simon Valckenaer was recorded as a maker of engraved beakers and coffin shields and is certainly not noted for the kind of showy auricular silver which dominates de Keyser's portrait (KA Citroen, Amsterdam Silversmiths and their Marks, Amsterdam 1975, p.194, no.999). It seems most likely that the portrait is indeed of Christian van Vianen - a worthy tribute from a great painter to a great craftsman.

Richard Green (Fine Paintings). 33 New Bond Street, London. W1S 2RS
(The picture can be seen in colour on Richard Green's website: www.richard-green.com - Ed.)


.12. & .13.
The Finial, April/May 2003

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