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Amsterdam artist Thomas de Keyser created this appealing portrait in 1627, when he was at the height of his artistic powers. It is a commanding yet sympathetic image. The gentleman’s frank gaze and angular cheekbones endow him with a sense of strength, while his receding hairline and crow’s-feet, which reveal his age, lend him a certain softness. De Keyser rendered these features as well as the man’s facial hair and the magnificent collar with remarkable sensitivity. Carefully articulating the hair with delicate highlights and building up impastos around the lace-tipped ruff, he masterfully evokes their different textures. De Keyser pictures the unknown sitter in an understated brownish-red wool jacket with rows of beaded buttons down the front and sleeves.


As with many of his finest works, De Keyser chose a copper panel and an octagonal shape as a framing device. The copper’s smooth, rigid surface allowed De Keyser to paint with an extraordinarily controlled brush, and its inherent luminosity enabled him to use light to model and define the figure’s form.


The identity of the sitter is not certain, but the painter Pieter Lastman (1583–1633) is a likely possibility. A contemporary poem celebrates a portrait of Pieter Lastman by De Keyser, and an entry in Lastman’s inventory of 1632 lists a portrait of or by Lastman in an octagonal frame.

Details

  • Title: Portrait of a Gentleman Wearing a Fancy Ruff
  • Creator: Thomas de Keyser
  • Date Created: 1627
  • Physical Dimensions: overall (octagonal): 28 x 22 cm (11 x 8 11/16 in.)
  • Provenance: Henri Louis Bischoffsheim [1828-1908], Bute House, London; (his estate sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 7 May 1926, no. 48); Martin. (Frederik Muller & Co., Amsterdam); sold 8 December 1926 to Count Gerard Joseph Emile d'Aquin [born 1865], as a self-portrait by De Keyser; by descent in his family; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, New York, 25 January 2012, no. 13); purchased by NGA.
  • Medium: oil on copper

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