Black and White and à la mode

We have all heard of Rembrandt, but what about the other portraitists working in Amsterdam when the snub-nosed, curly-haired young Turk burst upon the scene in 1631? The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza’s exhibition Rembrandt and Amsterdam Portraiture 1590-1670 shows that there was no shortage of talent serving Holland’s economic powerhouse.

Richard Green has lent a 1635 pair of portraits of a man and a woman by Nicolaes Eliasz. Pickenoy, painter of choice for the Amsterdam upper class. The married pair each carries an exquisite pair of gloves, traditional wedding gifts. Their black and white dress is the height of fashion, black being an expensive dye and lace even more costly. Ostentation was frowned upon, but one could show wealth in discreet ways.

Among the thirty-nine Rembrandts is the soulful Portrait of a man in a tall hat, 1656-58 (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC). The Thyssen’s sumptuous show, curated by Norbert Middelkoop of the Amsterdam Museum, can be enjoyed online at



Richard Green has lent this pair of 1635 portraits by Nicolaes Pickenoy to Rembrandt and Amsterdam Portraiture 1590-1670, the stylish new exhibition at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid (18th February–24th May). Pickenoy was the leading portraitist before the young Rembrandt settled in Amsterdam in 1631; his elegance and finesse held their appeal with the city’s upper class even in the face of the young turk’s ‘modern’ works. The couple in these paintings was portrayed shortly after their marriage, holding exquisitely-wrought gloves often given as betrothal or wedding gifts.