Oil on canvas
27 1/2 x 22 1/2 inches (69.9 x 57.2 cm)
Removed from Château les Tours de Lenvège, Saussignac, France
Ferdinand Bol received his initial training in Dordrecht from the painter Jacob Gerritsz. Cuyp. At the age of twenty, he left for Amsterdam to study in Rembrandt’s workshop. By 1642, he had become an independent painter, although his compositions still reflected the profound influence of his master. After 1650, his history paintings were popular for their classicizing and elaborate style. His portraits also followed prevailing trends, influenced by the manner of van Dyck, and depict subjects against a landscape background, or seated in three-quarter length view in an elegant interior. In addition to history paintings and portraits, Bol often painted tronies, or character heads such as our picture, throughout his career. His vibrant, carefully rendered studies depict men in berets in the custom of Rembrandt.
Our painting is a striking half-length portrait of a young man in three-quarter view posed against a neutral background. The paint in the background is thinly applied so that the underlying ground shows through to add texture and depth. The sitter leans forward, supporting the shifted weight of his torso on his left forearm, which creates a strong diagonal in the composition. As is common in Rembrandt tronies, the young man dresses in an oriental costume that echoes the color of the background. He wears a light brown cloak, highlighted with touches of gold embroidery along the edges, slung over his shoulders and fastened by a jeweled clasp. A pendant hangs from a chain that spans his chest and follows the line of a sash loosely draped across his waist.
A white shirt collar at his throat draws attention to his facial features, which the artist sensitively molds in deep shadows and impasto. His large brown eyes peer out of the canvas with a poignant, doleful gaze. A soft velvet cap, adorned with a hanging pearl and jaunty black feather, crowns the dark hair that frames his face. The angle of the feather replicates the position of his arm in the foreground, and imparts a lively element to the composition. The dynamic pose and sensitive expression of the sitter invite the viewer to interact with, rather than contemplate, the portrait.