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Portrait of a Family

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Anonymous Master
1599
oil on panel
196 x 126 cm
Inventory number 5034

Around 1500, the nuclear family, consisting of a father and mother with their children, became the cornerstone of Western society, and consequently family portraits rose in popularity. This example, by an anonymous Master, features the Amsterdam corn merchant Thomas Gerritszn Doesburch, his wife Claesje Hendricksdr Roeclaes and their children. The parents are life-sized, Doesburch in a self-assured pose, his wife looking rather more timid. The contrast between the stern expression of the parents and the daughters playing in the bottom of the picture is striking. Some of the details in the painting refer to the core values underpinning an enduring marriage. The pink carnation in Claesje's hand is a sign of faithfulness to her husband. The girls are playing with an apple, an age-old symbol of love and marriage, and some pieces of wood, a reference to a bundle of arrows, symbolising of harmony between husband and wife and the togetherness of the family.

A man's world

The window in the background of the painting looks out onto a landscape featuring Adam and Eve at the time of the Fall. As a consequence of their disobedience, the husband would assume the dominant role in every marriage thereafter. The appearance of the Biblical scene in this family portrait is no coincidence: it confirms Doesburch's domestic authority.

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