In this painting of 1640 of a well-to-do but unremarkable Dutch family, Pieter Codde’s challenge was to give life to a static scene. The sitters are unknown, although it has been suggested that they are Hendricus Meursius and Judith Cotermans with their son. Whatever their identity, their fine clothes (too luxurious for everyday wear), spacious room, handsome furniture and the painting above the fireplace show that their household has money.
Codde puts the viewer into the position of a guest who has just walked into the room. The father, surprised in a pose of great informality, gestures a welcome with his hand; his wife has just risen from her chair, while his son doffs his hat at the visitor. With this clever narrative Codde manages to combine the family’s friendliness, courtesy and status in one domestic scene.
Pieter Jacobsz. Codde was an Amsterdam-based painter who specialised in small-scale genre paintings, although he also painted portraits and religious works. The majority of his pictures are interior scenes showing pastimes familiar to his middle-class buyers – games of backgammon, music making or ‘merry company’ pictures of friends gathered in taverns. Codde’s pictures are characterised by both their skill and their distinctive brown-grey palette.
Codde is said to have studied with Frans Hals, but despite the fact that in 1637 he completed a large work left unfinished by Hals of a company of the civic guard – a work known as The Meagre Company (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) – it is more likely that he trained with either Barent van Someren (1572–1632) or Cornelis van der Voort (1576–1624). Portrait of a Man, a Woman and a Boy in a Room nevertheless shows something of Hals’s skill at painting multiple figures.
The picture is a triple portrait of 1640 of the sort of bourgeois sitters who were Codde’s clients. The members of the family, possibly Hendricus Meursius and Judith Cotermans with their son, have dressed with care and are grouped in front of an unlit fire: their clothes, the hangings of the bed that can be seen in the next room, the painting above the fireplace and the carpet that covers the table all indicate that this is a well-to-do household.
Faced with this unremarkable group, Codde’s challenge was to give life and interest to a static scene. He did this by making the viewer a player in the action. The family look at the viewer as at someone who has just walked into their room: the father gestures towards them with his hand, his leaning, legs-akimbo pose one of unusual informality but indicating clearly that he is master of the house. His son has doffed his hat to the newcomer while his wife has just risen from her chair and still holds the skirt of her gown in her hand. Their faces all wear expressions of respectful welcome.
This family harmony and decorousness contrasts with what little is known of Codde’s own domestic life. It is recorded that at a summer party in 1625 he became embroiled in a fight with his friend and possible pupil Willem Duyster and hit him in the face with a ‘tin pitcher’. In 1636 Codde and his wife divorced – not an easy process in the seventeenth century – when he was accused of raping their maid. Nothing could be proved, however, and he was locked up for just one night. Such scandals did not seem to put off would-be patrons, and in 1657 he could afford to buy a handsome house on one of Amsterdam’s finer canals. He was also the owner, according to an inventory, of an extensive picture collection.
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