An eighteenth-century label stuck on the back of this painting names the sitter as Marie Larp, and there was a Maria Larp living in Haarlem around the time the portrait was made. She married Pieter Tjarck in 1634, whom Hals also seems to have painted in a portrait now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. That portrait (identified by an old label on the back) is set in a similar frame – the two paintings seem like a pair of marriage portraits, although there are very slight differences in the painted frames.
The woman’s pose is formal. She sits upright and stiff; her hand gesture is rather contrived, pointing towards the rich embroidery on her gown. The vertical lines of the bright yellow buttons and the chair back add to the sense of a rather rigid attitude. Perhaps she feels constrained by the awkwardness of her huge, starched millstone ruff, which, along with her lace cuffs, was a fashionable and expensive accessory.
There is an old label, probably dating from the eighteenth century, stuck on the back of this painting – it names the sitter as Marie Larp. There is no independent proof to confirm the identification, but there was a Maria Larp living in Haarlem around the time the portrait was made. Contemporary documents show that she was married twice and died in 1675, about 40 years after this portrait was made.
The first of those marriages was in 1634, to Pieter Dircksz. Tjarck, a silk dyer whom Frans Hals also seems to have painted. Hals’s portrait of a man, now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is exactly the same size as the National Gallery painting and set in a similar, grey-green oval-shaped painted frame. It too has a label on the back written in an eighteenth-century hand, which identifies the sitter as Pieter Dircksz. Tjarck.
This seems to suggest that the two paintings are marriage portraits of Larp and Tjarck. Married couples were usually depicted in this way, each in a separate painting and turned in the direction of the other. They were then hung together with the man nearly always to the left and the woman to the right. However, despite this, some art historians are not convinced that the paintings are a pair, because there are slight differences in the shape of the two oval frames and design of the mouldings around them and because there are no other confirmed likenesses of the two sitters. It seems highly likely, however, that the two belong together.
The pose of the woman is a formal one, stiff even. She sits upright and the gesture of her left hand is contrived rather than spontaneous. It leads our eye towards the rich gold embroidery on the front of her gown, and the vertical lines of bright yellow buttons as well as the chair back add to the sense of a rather rigid, upright attitude. No doubt she feels constrained by the awkwardness of her huge, starched millstone ruff, which, along with her lace cuffs, was a fashionable and expensive accessory. It is an exceptionally large example – one of the largest painted by Hals. A ruff this size would have needed a wire under-frame to hold it at the correct angle. But for all this stiffness and formality, the sitter’s gaze is a warm and direct one. She engages the viewer without a waver yet, as is often the case in Hals’s portraits, there is a touch of humour and animation on her face. The slightest of smiles plays around her lips and there is a shine to her eyes.
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