In total there are about 1700 portraits in the painting collection ranging in date from the end of the 14th century to the present. The museum collects them not only for their aesthetic but also historical qualities, as part of the History Department. The likenesses of known and less-known men, women and children, mostly from the Netherlands but also from abroad, literally give the past a human face. The earliest, medieval ‘portraits’ are standard facial types, such as the likeness of Lysbeth van Duyvenvoorde (1430). The museum also has magnificent Italian examples of the more realistic Renaissance portraits, for instance the double portrait of Da Sangallo the elder and younger by Piero di Cosimo.
Portraits were commissioned for all kinds of reasons: to confirm occupation or status, as demonstrated by the numerous civic guard group portraits in the collection; to immortalize a marriage; or to memorialize the dead. Particularly poignant is the 17th-century memorial portrait of Moses ter Borch painted by his brother and sister. The Rijksmuseum also owns numerous self-portraits of painters, including the celebrated masters Jan Steen, Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh.