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Bartholomeus van der Helst (1613-1670)
Four governors of the Musketeers practice range, Amsterdam. Signed and dated Bartholomeus.vander.Helst 1655.
Canvas, 171 x 283 cm.

Amsterdam, Amsterdams Historisch Museum, inv.nr. 171 (A 2010). From the Musketeers practice range (Kloveniersdoelen).

The civic guard of Amsterdam was far more important as a political institution than a military one. The only time it was called to arms during the tenure of the gentlemen in this portrait was during an operetta battle in 1650, when the 24-year-old Stadholder Willem II tried to take the city by surprise.

The gentlemen at the table are, from left to right: Cornelis Witsen (1605-1669), a political heavyweight who served the first of his four terms as burgomaster in 1653; Roelof Bicker (1611-1656), cousin of Andries Bicker, who was the uncrowned king of the city until he was deposed in the wake of the 1650 fiasco; Simon van Hoorn (1618-1667), alderman and future burgomaster; and Gerrit Reynst (1599-1658), alderman, the richest of the four and one of the most important Dutch art collectors of his time. All were members of the town council, which they entered in short succession of each other in the 1640s.

The practice ranges of Amsterdam echoed less often with the roar of the musket and the swish of the arrow than with the clink of the mug. On off hours, the premises were run as taverns by concessionaires. The licensee of the Musketeers range, whom we see behind the figures at the table, was the painter's brother. Not that van der Heist needed such connections for the commission. He was the leading group portraitist of the city in these years, and painted the governors of the other practice ranges – that of the handbow and footbow guards – in 1653 and 1656 respectively. In life as in art, he cultivated a hard-edged style that appealed to the he-men of town hall.

Cat. Amsterdams Historisch Museum 1975/ 1979. De Gelder 1921.

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