Portraits of Jacob Trip and his Wife Margaretha de Geer
In seventeenth-century Holland, it was common for married couples to be depicted separately in paintings designed to be hung as a pair, with the woman’s portrait invariably hung to the right. This placed the wife to her husband’s left – or, as it was regarded at the time, his inferior side: marriage was a partnership steered by the man.
These portraits are particularly large examples, reflecting the status of the couple, Jacob Trip and Margaretha de Geer – who belonged to one of the richest families in Holland. They were probably commissioned by two of the Trips‘ sons, to be hung in a palatial residence which they were building in Amsterdam.
The poses are unusual. Normally we’d expect each sitter to be half turned towards the other. But Margaretha faces the viewer directly. She may be sitting on her husband’s inferior side, but Rembrandt seems to imply that she is the more active and engaged of the two.
In seventeenth-century Holland, it was far more common for married couples to be depicted separately in two paintings than together in the same one. Despite this separation, they were designed to be hung together, often on either side of a fireplace and invariably with the woman’s portrait hung to the right. This placed the wife on her husband’s left – as it was regarded, at the time, his inferior side. It was a convention which confirmed the contemporary view that marriage was a partnership, but one which was steered by the man.
They are particularly large paintings – both were originally larger still, but have been trimmed by a few centimetres around their edges – reflecting the wealth and social status of the couple. Jacob Trip, from Dordrecht, was one of the richest men in Holland and one of Europe’s biggest arms dealers during one of its most turbulent periods of conflict. His wife, Margaretha de Geer, also came from a Dordrecht family which ran a similar business, so the marriage was of mutual economic benefit. It was also one which endured nearly 60 years and produced 12 children, at least five of whom were still alive when these paintings were made, around the time of Jacob’s death in 1661.
The portraits were probably commissioned by two of the Trips‘ sons for the Trippenhuis, a palatial residence which they were building on one of the canals in Amsterdam, which was prospering and expanding rapidly at the time. The Trippenhuis survives to this day, with canon-shaped chimneys, reflecting the family business, and palm fronds, representing peace, carved on the facade.
Rembrandt has chosen quite unusual poses for this powerful couple. Normally we’d expect each sitter to be half-turned towards the other – but while Jacob is depicted in this traditional way, Margaretha faces us. He has a reflective, even distracted, air; she seems energised and leans forward towards us. She may be sitting on her husband’s inferior side, but Rembrandt seems to imply that she is the more active and engaged of the two.
Unusually too, Rembrandt has used a different painting style for each. The portrait of Jacob has been done with economy. Rembrandt, usually meticulous in his application of paint when depicting flesh tones, has been very sparing here, especially around the eyes, the shadowed side of Trip’s face and on his hands. By comparison, the paint on Margaretha’s face and hands has been much more intensely layered. Why the differences? We know that Trip was dying around the same time the portrait was commissioned. Perhaps Rembrandt was working fast to capture the likeness of a man who was mortally ill. Perhaps he started painting only after Trip’s death and had to rely on other portraits. Or perhaps he was deliberately contrasting the fading presence of a dying man with the vibrant energy of his wife, who still had another ten years to live.