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Abraham Grapheus

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Cornelis de Vos
Hulst 1585 - Antwerp 1651
1620
oil on panel
120 x 102 cm
Inventory number 104

Cornelis de Vos was a renowned portrait artist. This particular portrait of Abraham Grapheus was one of his first great achievements. He painted it when he held the position of dean of Antwerp’s guild of St Luke. Grapheus, too, was a guildsman. As he was not a particularly accomplished artist, he fulfilled a mainly administrative and organisational role: he kept the guild registers up to date, informed the guildsmen about each other, organised auctions of estates of deceased members and took care of the table service at the patron festival. De Vos depicted him as an old man with a staring gaze, deep wrinkles and grey curly hair. Hanging around his neck is a so-called ‘breuk’, an ornamental chain with silver plates representing the guild of St Luke. One of the plates features the head of an ox, symbol of St Luke, another represents the Guild’s coat of arms. The chalice in Grapheus’s hand bears the portraits of four legendary painters: Apelles, Zeuxis, Raphael and Albrecht Dürer, all of whom were important role models to the guildsmen of St Luke.

Stolen silverware

During the Napoleonic occupation (1794 – 1796), the French transferred numerous artworks from Antwerp to Paris. In 1815, many of these pieces, including this portrait, were returned to the museum of the Antwerp Fine Arts Academy, the precursor to the Royal Museum. Unfortunately, the precious silverwork rendered so accomplishedly by De Vos in this portrait was never returned. 

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