This informal self-portrait shows the artist Karel van Mander with his family. His wife, Maria Fern, is shown with an open book, presumably the Bible, and lovingly clasping her mother’s hand. All three look toward the spectator with alert gazes.
Family life was a favourite motif within Dutch and Flemish art in the 17th century. This makes the work typical of its day. The persons in the painting are depicted as distinctive individuals, full of life and character, and attention is focused on the figures’ emotional relationships with each other. Nothing in the painting points to van Mander’s profession as an artist, a fact that only serves to accentuate its focus on family life.
Karel van Mander III (circa 1609-70) belongs to a Dutch family of painters. He arrived in Denmark in 1623 and finished his education here, after which he began working for Christian IV. Trips to the Netherlands and Italy made him familiar with the leading schools and movements of the time. Having returned to Denmark he became the favourite portrait painter amongst the royal household and the nobility. In van Mander they found an artist of international standing and calibre who knew how to successfully merge inspiration from Danish role models with the most recent impulses from abroad.
Van Mander was part of the cultural elite in Copenhagen. He shared a number of interests with the great pioneer within Danish museum life, Ole Worm. Both men were collectors and owned considerable private collections that were open to interested parties. Van Mander was also interested in anatomy, and in the 1650s he worked together with the doctor Thomas Bartholin to create illustrations for a large volume on anatomy.
A collection of drawings housed at the Royal Collection of Graphic Arts is believed to be preliminary studies for this work. His own time described him as more than just a painter; he was an honnête homme, i.e. a man well versed in the full spectrum of culture, learning, and refinement. Towards the end of his life van Mander was also associated with Frederik III’s kunstkammer in the capacity of inspector.