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 (d. 1663), dean of the guild of cloth manufacturers and captain of the city militia and his wife seem to be the more likely candidates to have been portrayed by Jordaens.
Apart from the fact that the artist’s portrait clientele was mainly drawn from the well-to-do merchants and burghers of Antwerp, a personal connection between van Diest and Jordaens is likely. From 1634 van Diest owned a house in the street where the artist’s birthplace as well as his house and studio were located. Moreover, 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. While both of Govaert van Surpele’s wives were from distinguished families with their own coat of arms that would have been included in the painting, the family of Cornelis van Diest’s wife, Lucretia Courtois (d. 1645), lacked any armorial insignia.
The composition was designed originally as a three-quarter-length portrait. In the final painting the substantial figures, shown at full length, have a commanding presence, while a domestic note is sounded by the dog crouching on the floor. Van Diest holds upright in the centre of the painting the staff of his military office, to which his wife gestures with her left hand.
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