Fine Art

Jan Jansz Westerbaen I

The Hague, c. 1600/1602-1686

A Portrait of a Man

Oil on panel
28 x 23 inches (71 x 58 cm)


Private collection, New England

The date of birth of Jan Jansz Westerbaen is not precisely known.  Not much younger than his brother Jacob, Jan Jansz was most likely born between 1600 and 1602. In 1619, he was a pupil of Evert Maes and in 1624, he became a master in the painters guild. Six years later, in 1630, he married the widow Maria Bartelmeesdr. Suijster, and had a son named Jan Jansz the Younger. Maria died in 1652, shortly after their son was married.

Through the years, Westerbaen was actively involved in the board of the painter’s guild; from 1642-1645 and 1650-1652 he served as chairman. Despite the fact that his name and his son's name appear on the list with artists who, in 1656, were invited to join the Confrere Pictura, Jan Jansz stayed loyal to his old guild for many years. Eventually, he did join the Pictura and worked for them as a chairman from 1659 to 1661 and from 1663 to 1665.

Westerbaen was one of the many talented portraitists working in The Hague in the 17th century.  In 1656 he lived in a house on the Nieuwe Burgwal, which he sold in 1677. Before that he had lived in the Wagenstraat. His capital was then estimated for taxes at about 4800 guilders (approx. $1920). He later moved to the Proveniershuis aan het Zieken, where he wrote an extra section for his testament from December 1685 to 1686. He died in 1686, at over 80 years old.

Today there are only a few known examples of the master's work.  The two portraits most closely related to our painting, A Portrait of a Man, are at the Mauritshuis in The Hague and the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.  Both of these sitters are men, dressed in black with white-collar ruffs and both evoke similarities to our painting in the handling of the face, the hair, and the clothes.  Rudy Ekkart, Director of the RKD (Netherlands Institute for Art History) has studied our painting in its original and has dated it to 1640.

Our picture demonstrates Westerbaen's realistic style and use of strong light, both of which help compose a striking portrait. Depicted is a man, his neck sporting a fashionable and elaborate white collar. His bushy mustache spans his upper lip, nearly concealing his mouth. While his expression could perhaps be interpreted as pensive, the man's dimpled right cheek simultaneously points to mirth. Attention to small details, such as the wrinkled skin or the texture of the white ruffles, cast in a strong light, cut sharply into the dark background. To accentuate this crisp dynamism, the artist employs bright, cool tones in the face and garments. The predominately pale flesh tone used in the skin is relieved by the subtle use of rose and sepia tones in the cheeks and lower lip. Rich hues and textures are furthermore echoed in the man's velvet robes, with black on black detailing, and sumptuously embellished with a fur trim. His cap indicates that he was perhaps minister, or at the least, a conservative man of his day.