The serious young boy in this portrait turns away from us to gaze into the distance. The artist has signed the picture but he hasn’t named the sitter. Only his age, 11 years old, and the date, 1660, are given. The boy is pale, but the deep brown background, the warm shade and delicate texture of his fur muff and the cloud of feathers in his hat keep the painting from being austere.
Jacob van Oost the Elder was one of the leading artists of seventeenth-century Bruges, much in demand for his sensitive portraits. He visited Rome early in his career and was influenced by Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro (strongly contrasted light and shade).
The brilliant white of the collar and shirt, which puffs out from his jacket in fashionable style, further enlivens the severe black of his clothes. His clothes are plain but costly and ostentatious. The artist has captured the youthful softness of his skin and allowed an ear to peep out through his long straight hair. Although we don’t meet the boy’s gaze, there is the hint of a smile around his mouth and in his eyes.
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