This full-length double portrait of a married couple is a powerful image of the pride and prosperity of seventeenth-century Flanders and its citizens. Dressed in costly black silk garments, both sitters are looking confidently at us. The woman sitting in a red velvet upholstered armchair sports an abundance of gold jewellery. The man standing proudly to the right holds a tall staff and displays a bold red sash and an ornate sword; all three suggest that he held a military office. The portrait seems to have a slightly comical note: the man looks bemused, and his expression is mirrored by the little dog looking straight at us.
The sitters are almost certainly Cornelis van Diest, dean of the guild of cloth manufacturers and captain of the city militia in Antwerp, and his wife Lucretia Courtois. They were probably acquainted with the artist.
The woman and man in this theatrical double portrait are presented as if they are on a stage. We look up at the sitters, positioned on a raised dais and in front of an architectural set with elements derived from Greek and Roman classical antiquity. A red curtain hangs down on one side.
Dressed in costly black silk garments and looking confidently at us, the portrait of the married couple is a powerful image of the pride and prosperity of seventeenth-century Flanders and its citizens. The woman sitting in a red velvet upholstered armchair sports an abundance of gold jewellery. Standing proudly to the right, the man has a commanding presence: he holds a tall staff with one hand and rests the other on his hip, his elbow turned out towards us. He displays a bold red sash and an ornate sword. The sash, sword and staff all suggest that this man held a military office. The portrait seems to have a slightly comical note: the man’s head is paired with the stone face of a laughing satyr on the pilaster next to him, and his bemused expression is mirrored by the little dog looking straight at us.
The portrait was initially painted three-quarter-length: a horizontal seam running the width of the canvas at a point just level with the man’s knees indicates that the composition was subsequently extended. We do not know whether the patron wished for a full-length portrait at a later stage or if the artist decided on the change.
Once thought to represent Govaert van Surpele (1593–1674) and his wife, from Diest in South Brabant, the sitters in this portrait can now almost certainly be identified as belonging to the Antwerp branch of the same family. Cornelis [van Surpele] van Diest, dean of the guild of cloth manufacturers and captain of the city militia, and his wife Lucretia Courtois seem to be the more likely candidates.
Jordaens was not a prolific portrait painter (only around 30 portraits by his hand are known) and it seems that his clientele was exclusively drawn from the well-to-do merchants and burghers of Antwerp. In this case a personal connection between van Diest and Jordaens is likely. From 1634, van Diest owned a house in the same street as the artist’s birthplace, house and studio. Jordaens’ father was also a linen merchant, so there is a good chance the families were acquainted. The single coat of arms in the background, which was probably added soon after the painting was completed, may also be significant for the identification of the sitters. Govaert van Surpele’s wives were from distinguished families with their own coat of arms, which would have been included in the painting, while the family of Lucretia Courtois lacked any armorial insignia.
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