Naoko and I recently visited Museum van Loon, the splendidly-preserved 18th-century house on Amsterdam’s Keizersgracht. Even the windows have their wavy, faintly violet, hand-rolled old glass. Among the paintings which Naoko photographed was the family portrait of van Loon ancestors shown here, a masterpiece by Jan Miense Molenaer (1610-1668) of Haarlem, dated 1630-5. The materfamilias is shown seated at a so-called “Flemish” virginal, which could just as well have been built in one of the northern Seven United Provinces.
While researching the piece online the other evening, Naoko became puzzled by its entry on the website of the RKD, the Netherlands Institute for Art History. This stated that it was a wedding anniversary portrait of Maerten Ruychaver, mayor of Haarlem, his wife and their descendants. But a further search revealed that the couple had both died in 1626, when the painter was only 16. Naoko also found two pendant portraits of the Ruychavers by Michiel Janz van Mierevelt, which were hanging to either side of the group portrait at Museum van Loon. (The Rijksmuseum has an early copy of the mayor’s portrait.)
The resemblance between the group and the pendant portraits was so close that it was obvious that Molenaer had used the portraits as his post mortem model; the Ruychavers are seated alone at a side table, looking out at the spectator while the big family celebrates something. So it seemed that unless the descendants were celebrating a wedding anniversary of their dead ancestors, the government art institute was in error; and indeed, after an email query, they changed the entry to “family portrait”.
The museum’s information panel only states that Molenaer’s painting represents four generations of a family and the five senses. An expert tells me this should actually read “three generations”. But these quibbles are overshadowed by the splendor of the work itself, which really needs no further explanation.
Molenaer often used music-making in his paintings. Below is one from the Rijksmuseum, which has been given the generic title of “Lady at a Virginal”. This instrument is very clearly a product of Antwerp, as shown by its printed papers, marbled case, and characteristic stand. The lady, seated sidesaddle as it were, is keeping her feet warm on a charcoal stoofje. The little ape precariously perched on the open lid is nice touch, and a unique one to my limited knowledge. Possibly an allegory of the listening public, which, as Otto Klemperer said, “will devour anything – even the good”?
September 10, 2021