Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul

Rembrandt van Rijn, 1661, painting, SK-A-4050

Here, Rembrandt is about 55. In this portrait he represents St Paul, the apostle, identified by his usual attributes: a manuscript and a sword, of which the hilt extends from under the cloak. The self portrait is typical of Rembrandt’s late style of painting: he used the paint structure in the…

Militia Company of District II…

Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642, painting, SK-C-5

Rembrandt’s largest, most famous canvas was made for the Arquebusiers guild hall. This was one of several halls of Amsterdam’s civic guard, the city’s militia and police. Rembrandt was the first to paint figures in a group portrait actually doing something. The captain, dressed in black, is…

The Wardens of the Amsterdam…

Rembrandt van Rijn, 1662, painting, SK-C-6

Samplers checked the quality of dyed cloth. Here Rembrandt shows them at work, distracted for a moment and looking up. One syndic is about to sit, or stand, so not all the heads are at the same level. A clever trick which, with the confident brushwork and subtle use of light, make this one of the…

Fishing for Souls

Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne, 1614, painting, SK-A-447

Protestants (left) and Catholics (right) are competing for adherents by a river. The politicsal nature of the struggle between Protestants and Catholics is reflected in the presence of powerful rivals on either side. Left: Stadholder Prince Maurice and his brother Frederick Henry with their allies.…

The Threatened Swan

Jan Asselijn, c. 1650, painting, SK-A-4

With its wings stretched and its neck poised, the swan protects her eggs against a dog swimming nearby. Showing the scene from a low angle emphasises the bird’s power. The inscriptions are a later addition and have a political message. They refer to the Dutch political leader Johan de Witt, who…

Gallant Conversation, Known as ‘The…

Gerard ter Borch (II), c. 1654, painting, SK-A-404

A man of the world, a soldier perhaps, is looking admiringly at the young woman in the splendid satin dress. They were once thought to be father and daughter. But perhaps the man is the woman’s suitor, and the older woman is a chaperone. The young woman’s pose, standing with her back to the viewer,…

The Battle of Terheide

Willem van de Velde (I), 1657, painting, SK-A-1365

English ships blockaded the Dutch Republic’s harbours in 1653. While leading an attempt to break the blockade, the Dutch admiral Maarten Tromp was killed. His family commissioned this painting of his final battle to commemorate his death. It still has its original frame, featuring the heraldic arms…

Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue

Johannes Cornelisz. Verspronck, 1641, painting, SK-A-3064

What made this such a popular portrait? That it shows a pretty child dressed in her finest clothes? As was usual at the time, the girl actually has an adult appearance. Her facial expression is all that shows she is playing the role. Unfortunately, we no longer know who she was.

View of Houses in Delft, Known as…

Johannes Vermeer, c. 1658, painting, SK-A-2860

An unusual painting in Vermeer’s oeuvre: a few houses and a couple of people in a quiet street. Vermeer gave the scene a palpable sense of tension and balance. The old walls, worn bricks and white plaster are almost tangible. What part of Delft this shows is no longer known.

Italian Landscape with a…

Jan Both, c. 1650 - c. 1652, painting, SK-C-109

An artist has found a place to sketch by a wood, near a waterfall – perhaps it is Both himself. Travellers with heavy-laden mules are walking towards a plain bathed in Italian sun. Both was clearly fascinated by the Mediterranean light and stayed in Rome for a long time. Back in the Netherlands, he…