Portrait of Nicolaes Jansz. Lossy (c.1604-1664), organist of the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, and his wife Marritgen Pieters
Oil on panel: 18.7(h) x 24.8(w) in /
47.6(h) x 62.9(w) cm
Signed and dated 163
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(Active 1630 – 1640)
Portrait of Nicolaes Willemsz. Lossy (c.1604-1664), city organist of the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, and his wife Marritgen Pieters
Signed and dated indistinctly on the virginals: GDonck Ao 163
Oil on panel: 18 ¾ x 24 ¾ in / 47.7 x 62.9 cm
Frame size: 26 x 33 in / 66 x 83.8 cm
Wayne Charfield-Taylor (1883-1967), Under Secretary of Commerce and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President Franklin D Roosevelt;
by inheritance in a private collection, USA
On long term loan to the Indianapolis Museum of Art prior to 2010
Ruud van der Neut, ‘Ontdekkingen op TEFAF’, Tableau, Feb-March 2011, pp.72-74, illus. in colour
Sabine Craft-Giepmans, ‘De Amsterdamse organist Nicolaes Willemsz. Lossy (ca. 1604-1664), door Gerrit Donck geportretteerd’, Amstelodamum, 98-3, 2011, pp.122-129; illus. in colour p.122
The sitters in this portrait have recently been identified by Sabine Craft-Giepmans of the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie as Nicolaes Willemsz. Lossy (c.1604-1664), from 1639 city organist of the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, and his wife Marritgen Pieters. Lossy came from a musical dynasty that held posts as city musicians over several generations; like many such families, they were Catholic. His grandfather Jan Willemsz. Lossy (Dordrecht c.1545-Haarlem c.1629) was a well-known Haarlem musician, the teacher of the famous organist and composer Jan Pietersz. Sweelinck (1562-1621). Nicolaes’s father, Willem Jansz. Lossy (Haarlem c.1580-Amsterdam 1639), was an organist and composer for the flute. On 25th May 1604 Willem married Haesgen Willems, daughter of Willem Aertsz., city organist of the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. On Willem Aertsz.’s death in 1607 he inherited his father-in-law’s post, as his son Nicolaes Willemsz. Lossy was to do on his own death in 1639.
Nicolaes married Marritgen Pieters on 24th November 1626 in the Nieuwe Kerk, where his father was organist. The elegant clothing that the couple wears suggests a date for the portrait in the early 1630s, a few years earlier than Nicolaes’s promotion to city organist in 1639. It perhaps was painted to mark Nicolaes’s post as the organist at the Nieuwezijds Chapel. At his father’s death, Nicolaes succeeded to his job at the Nieuwe Kerk at the handsome salary of 450 guilders a year. He also earned money as a merchant and iron trader, enabling him in 1638 to buy a garden near the Amstel outside the Regulierspoort. In 1650 Nicolaes bought a garden on the Oetgensdwarspad and in 1662 a parcel of land south of the Spiegelpad. On 11th January 1645 the great organ of the Nieuwe Kerk was destroyed in a fire. Nicolaes supervised its rebuilding, which took ten years. The new organ was approved by Lossy and the remarkable blind composer and carillon player from Utrecht, Jacob van Eyck (c.1590-1657). He described Lossy as ‘a clever, fast and very good organist’ and paid homage to him in a composition named ‘Lossy’.
Nicolaes Lossy and his wife are seated in an interior with a black and white tiled floor. He rests his hand on a muselar virginal, while Marritgen is seated beside a table covered with an oriental carpet and a shawm, song books and sheet music. The virginal resembles early seventeenth century instruments by the famous Ruckers family in Antwerp; compare, for example, the Muselar Virginal dated 1622 by Johannes Ruckers, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, acc. no. 11.176.1. The instrument is supported by an unusual stand and has yellow-paper decorations derived from Balthasar Silvius’s Variorum protractionum … (Antwerp and Paris, 1554). The manuscript leaf visible on the table contains an anonymous canon for two voices, tenor and soprano, with the tenor leading. A canon is a strict and learned musical form, in which the two parts use the same material as in a traditional round. The musical instruments, song books and sheet music underscore the pervasive theme of music. Since the form of the canon depicted in the present work is perpetual, it could also signify stability, unity and constancy in marriage. Prof. Davitt Maroney has even proposed a transcription of the canon in the painting. The lid of the virginal is decorated with the coat of arms of the Lossy family between grisaille images of a couple making a sacrifice – possibly to Hymen, the god of marriage – and a soldier.
Very little is known about the artist Gerard Donck, who signs his paintings either as GDONCK or with the monogram GD. No documents have been discovered about his life and the only evidence of his work is his signed paintings and prints. He is sometimes called Gerard van Donck, but on insufficient evidence. His earliest dated work is of 1630 and latest 1640. He painted market scenes and street vendors (see for example, The vegetable seller, Sotheby’s New York, 12th January 1995, lot 104; and Peasant selling eggs, Christie’s London, 9th July 1993, lot 164); high life genre scenes (see sale Koller, 13th November 2000, lot 1049) and small scale portraits (see for example The portrait of Jan van Hensbeeck and his wife, Maria Koeck, with an infant in a landscape, National Gallery, London, inv. no.1305). The style of Donck’s portraits resembles that of Thomas de Keyser, Hendrick Pot and Pieter Codde (see especially Portrait of a family in an interior, Sotheby’s New York, 17th October 1997, lot 78), so that it has been assumed he worked in Amsterdam and possibly Haarlem. He was also active as a printmaker and illustrator. Donck engraved or provided the designs for most or all of the illustrations in the Amsterdam playwright and composer JH Krul’s songbook Eerlycke Tytkorting (The Honest Pastime) (Haarlem 1634), one of which is inscribed: G Donck in Venter [sic]. These engravings were reprinted in JH Krul’s De Pampiere Wereld, (Amsterdam 1644). The connection with songbooks, as well as the instruments that appear in Donck’s portraits, suggests that he delighted in music and the company of musicians.
Information based on the article by Sabine Craft-Giepmans of the RKD and an essay by Peter C Sutton, Executive Director of the Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut.
 On the theme of music in Dutch painting and portraiture, see P Fischer, Music in Painting of the Low Countries in the 16th and 17th Centuries, Sonorum Speculum, nos. 50- 1, Amsterdam 1972; and exh. cat. The Hague, Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder Galleries and Antwerp, Herrenhuis Museum, Music & Painting in the Golden Age, cat. by Edwin Buijsen et al. 1994.