CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Rembrandt’s Portrait of Jan Six: Eye-Catcher in the Mauritshuis This Fall

The Mauritshuis is extremely pleased with the Six Collection’s recent pledge to lend Rembrandt’s Portrait of Jan Six from 1654 for the exhibition Dutch portraits: the age of Rembrandt and Frans Hals (13 October 2007 to 13 January 2008).

Mauritshuis, The Hague
24 April 2006
Director F. J. Duparc: ‘The Portrait of Jan Six is not only Rembrandt’s most beautiful likeness or the finest portrait of the seventeenth century. No, to me it is the most beautiful in the entire world. For years, I have dreamed of once being able to exhibit this painting in the Mauritshuis.’

Dutch portraits presents 60 splendid works that together provide a representative overview of Dutch seventeenth-century portraiture. One or more superb works by the close to 30 leading painters in this genre will be on view. The loans have been extended by more than 30 museums and private collections in Europe and the United States.

Dutch portraits is jointly organised with the National Gallery, London, and is sponsored by Royal Dutch Shell plc (‘Shell’).
Extraordinary exception
Already at the very first in-house meetings three years ago regarding the constellation of Dutch Portraits, the Mauritshuis expressed its wish to include the intriguing Portrait of Jan Six in the exhibition. Painted by Rembrandt in 1654, this portrait has been in the family ever since. In principal, it is never lent out. That the Six Collection is willing to part with it so that it can be admired for three months in the fall of 2007 represents a remarkable and rare exception.
Why does this magisterial portrait command such universal and unconditional admiration? In first place, this has to do with Rembrandt’s fluid and deft facture. Jan Six stands before a dark background, his hat barely visible, but his face fully lit. The linen collar is sharply delineated and contrasts with his grey coat. The cuffs, gloves and gold braiding on the cloak are almost impressionistically rendered, Rembrandt’s thumb prints are impressed in the buttonholes. In second place, an important role is played by Six’s informal pose. The portrait records a random moment in time. Six seems to be on the verge of taking his leave: he has thrown his cloak loosely over his shoulder, and is pulling on his gloves while calmly and attentively looking out at the viewer. The portrait makes a surprisingly modern and intimate impression.
Jan Six (1618-1700)
Born in Amsterdam, Jan Six was the youngest son of Jean Six and Anna Wijmer. His father, who died two months before Jan’s birth, had made his fortune in the silk and cloth trade. After his death, Anna continued to run the family business with a firm hand. The profits this generated along with sound real estate investments, made the Sixes one of the wealthiest families in the city. Jan Six received a thorough education. In 1634 he was enrolled in the University of Leiden, where he studied law. Between 1641 and 1643 he concluded his formal training with a Grand Tour through Italy. Upon his return to Amsterdam he devoted himself to studying, writing poetry and building up an extensive art collection and a library. He did not take part in the family business, which was managed by his eldest brother, Pieter, after their mother’s death in 1654. On 20 July 1655 he married Margaretha Tulp (1634-1709), the daughter of the renowned physician Nicolaes Tulp, whereby Six joined the ruling elite. Six’s powerful father-in-law Tulp also appears in the exhibition, twice even: in Rembrandt’s world-famous The anatomy lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp from 1632 and in a portrait that Nicolaes Eliasz. Pickenoy made of him around 1633, likewise owned by the Six family. Six was a member of the Amsterdam city council as of 1656 and appointed burgomaster of Amsterdam in 1691.
That Rembrandt and his patron were very well acquainted is a known fact. In 1641 Rembrandt painted a portrait of Six’s mother, Anna Wijmer (Amsterdam, Six Collection, not included in the exhibition). Jan Six was twenty-three at the time and still living at home. The two men forged a great friendship. Not only did they live close to one another, they also shared many interests. Moreover, Rembrandt etched the title print for Six’s play Medea (1648). And, in 1652 Six bought three paintings by Rembrandt that he had made many years earlier. The artist made two fabulous drawings for Six’s ‘album amicorum’ in 1652 as well.
‘Lossigheydt’ or Effortlessness
Nothing in the portrait alludes to Six’s background. Only the artistry of this likeness seems to be of any importance. Rembrandt’s seemingly effortless execution is studied, as is Six’s pose. One of Six’s favourite authors was the Italian Baldassare Castiglione, whose manual Il Cortegiano (The Courtier) of 1528 was very popular at the time. In it, the author lists ‘sprezzatura’ as one of the attributes befitting an ideal courtier. By this he means an unstudied grace, or nonchalance, the ability to create the impression that one’s conduct and actions are unaffected and effortless. A man like Jan Six will certainly have given his portrait a great deal of thought. After all, art and literature were essential to him. In this, he resembles Castiglione’s image of the perfect courtier: an erudite, worldly gentleman, a confident and skilled soldier and horseman, and an art lover with a command of foreign languages.
Costume historian Marieke de Winkel recently investigated Six’s clothing. Around 1650 it was customary for men portrayed in their public office to be dressed in sober black attire. Thus, the striking red of Six’s French cloak emphatically indicates that he is here depicted as a private person. The long grey undercoat is a ‘rijrock’ or ‘kazak’, which was worn for travelling or horseback riding. In 1651 Six had bought Elsbroeck Manor near Hillegom. There he enjoyed the outdoor pursuits typical of the landed nobility, such as riding and hunting. These activities, again after Castiglione’s model, were inherent to the life of the perfect gentleman.