Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen Painting a Portrait of His Wife

Dirck Jacobsz.1550

The Toledo Museum of Art

The Toledo Museum of Art


  • Title: Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen Painting a Portrait of His Wife
  • Creator: Dirck Jacobsz
  • Date Created: 1550
  • Location Created: Europe
  • Physical Dimensions: w494 x h621 cm (Complete)
  • Catalogue entry: Remarkably inventive, this unusual double portrait plays with sophisticated concepts of absence and presence and of the role of the viewer. In this painting Dirck Jacobsz. depicts his parents. His father Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen, who was also an artist, is shown painting a portrait of Jacobsz.'s mother, Anna. Though Oostsanen had died in 1533, his wife lived until about 1550, the same time this panel was painted. Traditionally, portraits were seen as a way of making the absent present, if only in effigy. If Jacobsz. did paint this panel after his mother's death, he may allude to this function of portraiture by depicting his mother as a portrait within a portrait—brought "to life" simultaneously by her painter husband and by her painter son. Jacobsz.'s father, too, is "present" through his likeness preserved in paint. The ultimate function of the double portrait was likely as a memorial installed above the couples' tomb in a church. The format of the painting ingeniously incorporates the viewer in its fiction. The painter, Oostsaanen, looks out, presumably at his subject—his wife, Anna—whose likeness he paints. The likeness of Anna also looks out at the viewer. Dirck Jacobsz. himself would have had the most complicated relationship with the painting, standing before it as painter, viewer, and object of his parents' gaze. Because Jacobsz. based the head and costume of his father directly on a self-portrait the older artist had painted about twenty years earlier (now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), Toledo's painting had been attributed to Oostsanen for many years. Scholarly study, conservation work, and technical examination of the painting in the 1980s led to its reattribution to Oostsanen's talented son.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey
  • External Link: http://classes.toledomuseum.org:8080/emuseum/view/objects/asitem/96/38
  • Medium: Oil on wood panel


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