Jacob III de Gheyn
An inscription on the back of the panel identifies the sitter as the painter and engraver Jacob de Gheyn (1596-1641). He was painted by Rembrandt along with his friend Maurits Huygens (1595-1642), Secretary to the Council of State in The Hague, in 1632. While the two paintings were not strictly a pair having hung separately in the sitters’ houses, they still complemented each other in size and composition; Huygens occupied the left position and was depicted turned towards the right. De Gheyn bequeathed his portrait to Huygens upon his death and the paintings remained together until the 18th century. They were thought to have been separated in 1786; the portrait of Maurits is now in the Kunsthalle, Hamburg.
Rembrandt started to paint portraits when he moved to Amsterdam from Leiden around 1631. The small scale of this work is atypical for the artist who was working on much larger portraits at the time, but its intimate size suited the friendly circumstances in which it was commissioned. The artist himself was well acquainted with the two men and De Gheyn owned some of Rembrandt’s paintings. The format also suited Rembrandt’s refined painting technique that was characteristic of his early style. Jacob’s face has been softly modelled with a range of brushstrokes, some more thickly applied than others. The relatively bold application of creams and pinks on his sunlit cheek contrast with the subtle blending of the greys and browns in his moustache.
Despite Rembrandt’s apparent empathy for his sitter, this portrait was criticised in a poem by Constantijn Huygens, the brother of Maurits, for bearing little resemblance to De Gheyn. He still admired the painting but wrote: “If De Gheyn’s face had happened to look like this, this would have been an exact portrait of De Gheyn.”.