Nicolaes Maes is a Dutch painter and draughtsman of the North Netherlandish school. He worked principally in Amsterdam, Dordrecht and Antwerp city and he devoted himself particularly to genres scenes, portraits and religious compositions. Its crucial in Maes training, the opportunity that he had to stay in Rembrandt’s studio for five years, from around 1648. His formation was also enriched by the study of the works of Rubens, Van Dyck and Joardaens. It was in Amsterdam that he became a famous and sought-after portrait painter. When painters as Govaert Flinck, Adriaen Hanneman and Jan Mytens introduced the Flemish style of portraiture based on Anthony van Dyck into the Nothern Netherlands, Nicolaes Maes style evolved. This is particularly noticeable in the vivid colours and simple brushstrokes of the later portraits.
This painting is one of the incredible series of portraits of children that Nicolas Meas produced. He depicted particularly heads, half-length or three-quarters lengths, about half or two-thirds the size of life, as in this case. Furthermore, the position of legs and arms is often the same, and the children are usually masked, dressed as hunters and inserted into peaceful landscapes. Indeed, life in the country was perceived as free of worry or hardships. By painting the light in these works, the suggestion of antique was heightened. In fact, the reference to antiquity born from the popularity of pastoral literature that presented the vision of Arcadia as a world dominated by mythological characters, a perfect world free from the mundane tribulations of daily life.
Children are normally set at the centre of two specific symbols : the dog and the bird. Indeed, the dog, in the XVII century stand for the need of the prince to reign in natural tendencies, something that could be achieved through education and instruction. The dog's values are reminiscent of those of childhood. The dog is the child of the child, destined never to grow up. At the same time, the bird was a symbol of the proper education of a child. If the dog represents the raw childhood, the bird with no visible limbs represents the well-behaved child who has learned to speak and knows how to behave. So, the couple of dog and bird functions as head and legs.
The portrait is similar in pose and attitude to two portraits of the painter, published by Sumowski ( see W. Sumowski Gemälde der Rembrandt- Schuler, Landau, 1983, vol. III, n° 1418 and n°1419) that also present young boys wearing feathers and playing with a bird. The child’s face and the composition of the painting are also reminiscent of the portraits of the painter preserved in the Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste in Vienna ( see W. Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt Schuler, Landau, 1983, vol. III, n° 1417).
Ref. RKD (https://rkd.nl/en/home) (n°0000012529)
Our painting refers to the Rijksmuseum database.