When this portrait was made, Philips Lucasz. was in his thirties and an important official in the Dutch East India Company. He had been in charge of the company’s fleet, which had sailed home from the East Indies in December 1633 and was to leave Holland again on 2 May 1635, shortly after this picture was finished.
This portrait of Lucasz. was most likely made to hang alongside one of his wife, Petronella Buys (private collection). Although both are signed by Rembrandt himself, there is a clumsiness to the execution of this one which suggests that one or more of his assistants may have had a hand in it. The thick black line representing the shadow between the sitter’s lips is quite rudimentary, for example. But it’s also possible that Rembrandt was forced to finish the painting quickly, and that what we see here are simply signs of overhasty work.
This painting was made in 1635, when Rembrandt was 29 years old, just over three years after he had set up his studio in Amsterdam. He had already become one the most famous and successful portrait painters in the city, and the man depicted here, Philip or Philips Lucasz. of Middelburg, was typical of his clients. Lucasz. was wealthy, successful and with some status in Amsterdam society. Then in his thirties, he was an important official in the Dutch East India Company, which was the source of most of Holland’s trading success during the seventeenth century. He had been in charge of the company’s fleet, which had sailed for Holland from the East Indies in December 1633 and was to leave Holland again on 2 May 1635, presumably only shortly after this picture was finished.
In August 1634, Lucasz. had married Petronella Buys of The Hague, who was born about 1605. Her portrait (now in a private collection) was also painted by Rembandt and the two were most likely designed to be hung side by side. The first recorded owner of the two pictures, Jacques Specx, was Petronella’s brother-in-law through his marriage to her sister and an important patron of Rembrandt in the 1630s. He and his wife may have commissioned them for themselves, or they may perhaps have been given them by the sitters.
The black tunic and white lace collar Lucasz. wears were conventional at the time, but the gold chain around his neck was not a common item of men’s dress. However, such chains were often given as a reward for service by the directors of the East India Company to commanders who – like Lucasz. – had brought their merchant fleets home successfully.
Although the portrait is signed by Rembrandt himself (on the lower right-hand side), there is a clumsiness about the painting which, it has been argued, suggests that one or more of his assistants may have had a hand in it. The thick black line representing the shadow between the sitter’s lips has been made in quite a rudimentary way, for example, and the painting of the lace collar is also unusual. Instead of the details of the white lace being painted over the black fabric beneath, which would be the normal and logical way of creating the effect, the artist has taken the reverse approach: the collar has been painted as a solid block of white paint and the detail of the lace shapes has been outlined in black. In some places, this was done even before the white paint had dried properly. The same method was used to depict the gold chain in the places where it shows through the lace collar – the yellow paint has been applied on top of the white, instead of the other way round. But it is possible that Rembrandt was forced to deliver the painting to a tight deadline, and that what we see here are simply signs of overhasty work.
The sitter’s left hand, which X-ray images show was depicted touching the gold chain, has been painted out, perhaps as early as the late seventeenth century. The picture’s elaborate frame was probably made in Holland in the 1690s.
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