fig.1
Cornelis de Vos

The National Gallery of Victoria has recently acquired a fine portrait of a Mother and child (fig. 1) by the early seventeenth-century Flemish artist Cornelis de Vos. The painting combines the beguiling and spontaneous warmth of its subjects with a strict decorum in their lavish dress. Both aspects demonstrate the artist’s remarkable skills, yet the work is more than a mere imitation of the material world. Rather, it illuminates reality, depicting the human traits and the relationship of the sitters as well as the social forces that shape their self-presentation. It reveals the subtle layers of meaning that can be embedded within the invention of likeness. The painting is a historically significant, eloquent and appealing addition to the NGV’s rich collection of seventeenth-century portraits.

Historical context and provenance

Cornelis de Vos was a leading portraitist in Antwerp in a milieu that included Anthony van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens. He was born around 1584 in Hulst, near the border between Holland and Flanders, and moved with his family to Antwerp in 1596. De Vos began his artistic training in 1599 and rapidly made his way into the foremost artistic circles. After only five years as an apprentice in the workshop of David Remeeus, he was appointed a master’s assistant. From 1608 he became a master in the Antwerp guild of Saint Luke’s; in 1619 he was elected dean and, in 1620 high dean in recognition of his status in the city.1 See Marjorie E. Wieseman, ‘Cornelis de Vos’, in Peter C. Sutton, The Age of Rubens, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1993, p. 374. On becoming a citizen of Antwerp in 1616, De Vos was listed as an art dealer.

Around 1617 De Vos was involved in painting the cycle of the Garland of roses for the church of Saint Paul in Antwerp, working with Rubens, Van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens. With Van Dyck’s departure for England in 1620 and then Italy in 1621, and with Rubens away on diplomatic and artistic missions, De Vos became ‘the premier portraitist of haute-bourgeois and patrician society in Antwerp’.2 ibid., p. 377. Portraiture remained his focus although he also undertook subject paintings and religious works. Between 1636 and 1638 he travelled to Spain to assist Rubens with decorations for Philip IV’s hunting lodge at Torre de la Parada, near Madrid. De Vos died in Antwerp on 9 May 1651.

De Vos’s role in the city’s artistic life was confirmed through family connections. He was married to Susanna Cock, half-sister of the landscape painter Jan Wildens. His younger brother, Paulus, was a painter and his sister, Margaretha, married Frans Snyders, the accomplished animalier (painter of animals), who worked closely with Peter Paul Rubens. Van Dyck painted an influential portrait of Margaretha Snyders-de Vos in 1620–21 (fig. 3).

  

 While De Vos absorbed a range of artistic skills from this illustrious milieu, his personal style was distinguished by a lucid plasticity of painted flesh and bright tactility of highlights. These qualities are abundantly evident in the NGV’s Mother and child because of its unusually pristine preservation.3 Carl Villis, NGV conservator of European paintings before 1800, writes: ‘The painting appears in excellent condition for a work of its age and type … The paint is applied with brushy yet carefully modelled strokes in the faces and hands of the sitters and crisp, pastose highlights in the jewellery and decorative elements of the sitter’s garments … The paint and ground layers are very well preserved. There is very little evidence of physical instability or mechanical damage; two repaired losses at the top left of the painting are the only notable areas of paint loss’ ‘Brief condition report’, paintings conservation department, NGV, 3 February, 2009: Cornelis de Vos, Mother and child). The work has emerged as if reborn in its original freshness from the distinguished private collection of Charles H. Butler (1821–1910) who had purchased it around 1883 and passed it down through his family to the present day. Butler was a renowned collector of pictures, manuscripts, objets d’art, furniture and books in the late nineteenth century. He lived at Warren Wood, Hatfield, and 3 Connaught Square (or Place), Hyde Park, London. At seventeen he entered the family firm, which traded with the East, and made a fortune. He suffered a nervous breakdown in his early forties and devoted his energies to collecting, particularly in the 1880s and early 1890s. Butler’s primary advisor was the Pre-Raphaelite painter and art dealer Charles Fairfax-Murray, although he also consulted Bernard Berenson on Italian pictures. His collection expressed his taste for Italian, Dutch and British art.4 See Denys Sutton, ‘Aspects of British collecting: Part IV’, Apollo, vol. CXXIII, no. 282, August 1985, p. 122.

Charles Butler is depicted in the painting Private view of the Old Masters Exhibition, Royal Academy, 1888, by Henry Jamyn Brooks (fig. 4).5 See Jo Hedley, Van Dyck at the Wallace Collection, Wallace Collection, London, 1999, pp.142–3. On the walls behind him are works by Rubens and Van Dyck. This was the very context in which the De Vos painting was twice exhibited in the late nineteenth century, lent by Charles Butler in 1883 and 1894.6 1883, Royal Academy, London, A lady and child, no. 165, loaned by Charles Butler; 1894, Royal Academy, London, Lady and child, no. 123, loaned by Charles Butler (see Algernon Graves, A Century of Loan Exhibitions 1813–1912, Kingsmead Reprints, Bath, 1970, vol. I, p. 279). A label for the 1883 exhibition on the frame’s reverse identifies the subject as ‘Rubens’ first wife and child’, reflecting the woman’s facial similarity to members of the Fourment family, especially Susanna Fourment, the sister of Rubens’s second, not first, wife, Hélène Fourment. The identity of the sitter in this work is currently unknown. The Royal Academy thus provided an aesthetic setting that appropriately illustrated the major influences on De Vos’s style.

Butler frequently loaned his paintings to exhibitions of old and recent masters at the Royal Academy. In sheer numbers of works loaned he was surpassed only by mining entrepreneur and collector George McCulloch, the Duke of Devonshire, Richard Wallace (Wallace Collection) and Queen Victoria herself. With the Barings Bank crash of 1890, Butler lost part of his fortune and was compelled to liquidate a significant part of his collection. However, he retained many great works, some of which have gradually been put on the market by descendents, the Melbourne De Vos being a recent example.7 See Sutton, p. 122. The bulk of his collection was dispersed in posthumous sales at Christie’s, 22–24 May 1911. Other works from the Butler Collection include such masterpieces as Giovanni Bellini’s Saint Jerome reading, 1505 (National Gallery of Art, Washington); Giovanni di Paolo’s Baptism of Christ, c.1454 (National Gallery, London); and Antonio Vivarini’s Death of the Virgin, 1485 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.)

Butler’s acquisition of a De Vos portrait may well demonstrate the specific influence of his advisor, Charles Fairfax-Murray. De Vos’s skills in rendering material textures with brilliant intensity, combined with the humble attitudes displayed by his figures, would have appealed to the Pre-Raphaelites. For Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt, the suave swagger of Rubens’s style lacked the honesty and charm of more archaic Flemish works by artists such as Hans Memling or Jan van Eyck.8 See Leonée Ormond, ‘Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the old masters’, Yearbook of English Studies, vol. 36, 2006, pp. 158–9. Having visited Antwerp, Rossetti wrote that Bruges had the advantages of ‘a quantity of first rate architecture and very little or no Rubens’ (p. 159); see also Jenny Graham, Inventing Van Eyck. The Remaking of an Artist for the Modern Age, Berg, Oxford, 2007. Although De Vos’s portraits exhibit a new fluency of painting style and spontaneity in their depiction of children, this was combined with a simplicity free from rhetoric that harked back to earlier masters. It is noteworthy that another De Vos portrait was in the collection of ornithologist John Guille Millais (1865–1931), son of the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais (1829–1896).9 ‘Portrait of a Husband and Wife, from the Collection of the late J. G. Millais, sold by order of Raoul Millais, Christie’s 25 Nov. 1960, lot 63’ (Witt Library Archive, Courtauld Institute of Art, London, boxes 2398, 2399). Little-known and not exhibited since 1894, the work has yet to appear in the De Vos literature. Its emergence will enrich appreciation of his oeuvre at many levels: his talent for depicting human relationships and children; the high level of technical accomplishment evident in his mature works; and his place in the evolution of portraiture towards more subtle psychological expression.

Mother and child in the context of the NGV collection and seventeenth-century portrait conventions

Just as the painter was embedded in a complex social and artistic network, so does the work belong to a robust portrait tradition that flourished amid the expanding private wealth of early seventeenth-century Antwerp. It provides a fascinating and enlightening link between the important portraits already held by the NGV. Emphasising dignity and decorum, De Vos’s Mother and child builds on the prevailing portrait vocabulary formulated in the sixteenth century that is demonstrated in the NGV’s severely elegant Portrait of a lady, c.1555–60, by the Dutch artist Antonis Mor, and the equally austere but benign Portrait of a lady, c.1640, by an unknown Netherlandish painter.10 For Mor, see Ursula Hoff, European Paintings before 1800 in the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1995, pp. 195–6; for The Netherlands, see ibid., pp. 304–5.

Yet De Vos’s Mother and child contrasts with the more self-conscious, conventional and meticulously painted depictions by the popular Dutch portraitist Thomas de Keyser, such as the portrait of Frederick van Velthuysen and his wife, Josina, 1636.11 For De Keyser, see ibid., pp. 177–8. Instead, the distinctive unabashed intimacy created by De Vos’s close observation of facial expression anticipates the subtle emotional dimensions represented in Gerard Ter Borch’s refined Lady with a fan of c.1660 and the psychological realism of Rembrandt’s Portrait of a white-haired man, 1667.12 For Ter Borch, see ibid., pp. 18–19; for Rembrandt, see ibid., pp. 232–4.

The De Vos portrait also transforms the depiction of the subject through a new liveliness in the paint surface and refined brushstroke; aspects that reflect the creative impact of his workshop collaborations with the most innovative artists of the day. Rubens and Van Dyck had invigorated the scope of portraiture through dynamic gesture, informal settings and vigorously applied brushwork. Both the NGV’s genial portrait of Louis XIII of France, 1622, by Rubens and the tense portrait of Philip Herbert, fourth Earl of Pembroke, 1634, by Van Dyck are notable examples of the new complexity of facial expression facilitated by animated painterly qualities.13 For Rubens, see ibid., pp. 257–8; for Van Dyck, see ibid., pp. 94–5. Indeed, Mother and child is an intriguing demonstration of the influence of Van Dyck’s newly articulate and flattering portrait style. His portrait of De Vos’s sister (fig. 3) in particular provided the template for a number of De Vos’s portraits, such as the Portrait of a lady (fig. 5).14 See discussion in Hedley (n5), Van Dyck at the Wallace Collection, pp. 26–7. However, compared with the solidity and enamelled surface of this earlier work, the 1624 portrait sparkles with deftly worked brushstrokes, characteristic of his evolving emphasis on a painterly finish. A fluid and transparent technique and softer, more tactile effects are especially evident in his subjects’ complexions, such as the skin around the child’s mouth, and in eyes that are moist and shining.15 This development in De Vos’s technique can be compared to that in his few extant drawings (see Katlijne van der Stighelen, ‘Cornelis de Vos as a draughtsman’, Master Drawings, XXVII, 1989, pp. 322–40).

  

One of the closest comparisons is with Van Dyck’s full-length double portrait, presumed to be of Susanna Fourment and her daughter (fig. 6).16 See Arthur K. Wheelock, Susan J. Barnes & J. S. Held (eds), Van Dyck Paintings, National Gallery of Art, Washington/London, 1991, pp. 135–7. Instead of the grandeur of the full-length depiction with its architectural backdrop, however, De Vos’s portrait brings the subjects closer to the viewer with a correspondingly intimate effect. It is characteristic of De Vos’s portraits that they establish a spatial and emotional continuity with the viewer, illustrated, for example, in Self-portrait of the artist with his wife, Suzanne Cock, and their children (fig. 7) in which the frieze-like promenade is so close to the picture surface that the figures appear almost to march into the viewer’s space. With modest smiles and charming gestures, both children and adults invite the viewer to participate in their family cavalcade.

De Vos’s patrons were drawn largely from the Antwerp bourgeoisie rather than the aristocracy.17 See Peter C. Sutton, ‘Introduction: Painting in the age of Rubens’, in The Age of Rubens, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1993, pp. 53–4; see also Van der Stighelen, ‘“Bounty from Heaven”, The Counter-Reformation and childlikeness in the Southern Netherlands’, in Jan-Baptist Bedaux & Rudi Ekkart (eds), Pride and Joy. Children’s Portraits in the Netherlands 1500–1700, Harry M. Abrams, New York, 2001, pp. 39–40. As a result, he was less constrained by the need to magnify his sitters through rhetorical gestures and courtly graces. Rather, their relationships are depicted in sensitive hand gestures often deployed in a complex counterpoint: giving, receiving, touching, reassuring. His sitters exude solid, amiable, quiet confidence, and their accomplishments are reflected in their lavish dress and expensively decorated interiors. Most likely the Melbourne Mother and child was destined to become part of a grand interior. Monumental family portraits were often hung in large ground-floor rooms in wealthy Antwerp homes where they presented a model of familial concord and virtue as well as material wealth to visitors.18 See Sutton, p. 377.

De Vos’s outstanding powers of observation were already apparent in his powerfully modelled and memorable depiction of the Antwerp guild’s courier Abraham Grapheus, 1620 (Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp), whose aged, expressive face made him a popular choice as a model for several artists.19 ibid., p. 53, fig. 56. De Vos’s subjects in the Mother and child portrait are more vulnerable and requiring of sensitivity. Yet, despite her modest demeanour, the mother in De Vos’s portrait darts a frank gaze at the viewer with acuity as disarming as her bashfulness. Her elegance is expressed in her delicate, attenuated hands, while the inner radiance of her character is conveyed through the creamy skin of her face made palpable by a pale blue vein detectable on her left temple. These qualities of refinement and grace are reinforced and amplified in her clothing. Even without her winsome smile, fetching glance and the presence of her child, De Vos’s portrait would exude a warm glow through the sheer lustre of rich fabrics, well-wrought jewellery and the gleaming pearls in her earrings, hair brooch, bracelet and tiara. She wears a splendid bodice embroidered in gold thread with scalloped edges, less severely geometric than that in comparable examples, such as Portrait of a lady (fig. 5) or Portrait of the artist and his family (fig. 8). Her magnificent ruff, soon to fade from fashion,20 See Emilie E. S. Gordenker, Van Dyck and the Representation of Dress in Seventeenth-Century Portraiture, Brepols, Turnhout, Belgium, 2001, pp. 30, 99 n.19. defies the awkwardness of its physiognomic imposition with the eloquence of its three-dimensional construction. With deep folds and crisp embroidered edges, it quivers like an unfolding flower about her face. The delicate transparency of the ruff matches the feathery lace of the elegant scalloped cuffs. The mother’s beautifully worked red gloves, embroidered with floral motifs in gold, are highlighted against the extensive black damask of her dress. Her child may be a boy or a girl as both wore gowns in their early years.21 See Saskia Kuus, ‘Children’s costume in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’, in Bedaux & Ekkart (eds), p. 78. The chain worn across the chest may, however, indicate that this is a boy. Referring to a Netherlandish portrait of two-year-old twins of 1630, Kuus writes that ‘the chain worn angled across the chest appears in many boys’ portraits … and is therefore often viewed in the literature as purely a boys’ jewel. There is, however, a 1634 portrait of a little girl wearing a triple chain at an angle across her chest’ (pp. 79–80). The child’s gauzy white hail-spot gown and the shiny baubles of the cherries provide a lively contrast to the rich darkness of tones dominating the work. The animation of all these elements depends on De Vos’s outstanding ability to convey their material intensity and clarity.

Aside from the overt assertion of material prosperity and social rank, these details of dress also carried redeeming symbolism. Art historians have long emphasised and debated the extent to which the subjects of Netherlandish art are injected with meaning beyond their sheer physical presence, be they everyday or elevated.22 See, for example, Jan-Baptist Bedaux, The Reality of Symbols. Studies in the Iconology of Netherlandish Art 1400–1800, Gary Schwartz, SDU, The Hague, 1990. In De Vos’s Mother and child the prominence of pearls testifies to the purity of the woman,23 See Eddy de Jongh, ‘Pearls of virtue and pearls of vice’, Simiolus, 8, no. 2, 1975–76, pp. 69–97. the cherries and the embroidered gloves with their floral motifs are symbols of virtue and fertility,24 See Aileen Ribeiro, Fashion and Fiction. Dress in Art and Literature in Stuart England, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2005, pp. 72–8. and the large gold cross asserts her Catholic faith at a time of religious conflict throughout Europe.

Mother and child relationship

The incorporation of relaxed and warm human affection characterises De Vos portraits.25 Writing in the late nineteenth century, A. J. Wauters observed: ‘His sitters are endowed with such a powerful appearance of life, such an amiable character of frankness and communicative friendliness-that one involuntarily loves the models as well as the painter’ (The Flemish School of Painting, Cassell, London, 1885, pp. 275–6). His empathetic regard for children, depicting them with assertive personalities and playful energy, was recognised in his day through numerous commissions for portraits featuring children as part of a family group and, remarkably, on their own, as in his captivating depiction of his daughter in Magdalena de Vos (fig. 9).26 Katlijne van der Stighelen writes that around 1623 ‘Cornelius de Vos was becoming a leading painter of children’s portraits for the Antwerp bourgeoisie … The fact that [he] painted some ten children’s portraits in the space of about five years, beginning in the early 1620s, places him in the avant-garde of bourgeois children’s portraiture. He was the only Southern Netherlandish master to specialise in the portrayal of children’ (Pride and Joy, p. 38). Referring to De Vos’s portrait of the artist’s daughter Magdalena de Vos (fig. 8), Saskia Kuus writes: ‘Life-sized portraits of individual children from a non-aristocratic background were still unusual in Flanders at the beginning of the seventeenth century’ (ibid., p. 138). In the portrait of his two eldest children, Magdalena and Jan-Baptist De Vos (fig. 10), he portrays them not from a distance but brought forward in a way continuous with the viewer’s space. Both are seated: Jan-Baptist invites the viewer in, looking back over his shoulder while Magdalena leans forward, her feet appearing from beneath her skirt, her legs outstretched and showing off the soles of her shoes in charming abandon.

  

In Portrait of the artist and his family (fig. 8), the children stand close to their father, one playfully twisting about and showing off a bunch of grapes, the other solemnly resting a hand on her mother’s knee as if to confirm a pact of familial harmony. One of the most memorable examples of De Vos’s depiction of children in unaffected attitudes is his portrait of his daughter Susanna de Vos seated in a high chair, 1627, Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, which was reproduced in prints in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.27 See Kuus, p. 142.

Indeed, Mother and child is a subtle but significant document in the history of the depiction of childhood. With arms resting on the mother’s lap, this self-possessed child addresses the viewer with disarming perspicacity. The brow is modelled with delicate shadows in a way that implies thought, the cheeks are rosy, and the lips smile with even more candour than the mother’s. A pert bow and a bonnet do little to control the silky blonde wisps and curly locks of hair escaping from underneath, a telling contrast to the severity of the woman’s hair. Dressed in a white gown with plain flat collar, gold chain and lace cuffs, the child presents a pure, innocent and playful counterpoint to the adult, appropriately toying with a bunch of cherries. Held between two hands, they symbolise paradise, youth and fleeting momentary pleasures, providing a note of deeper meaning beneath the sensuousness of the work’s surface.28 See Jan-Baptist Bedaux, ‘Fruit and fertility: fruit symbolism in Netherlandish portraiture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’, in Simiolus, no. 17, 1987, pp. 150–68; see also discussion of ambiguous meanings of children’s toys and games, in Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches. An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age, Collins, London, 1987, pp. 503–16. De Vos includes fruit as symbolic attributes for his sitters in several other portraits, such as that of his two daughters in Berlin in which they hold up a peach and a bunch of cherries (fig. 10), in his individual portrait of his daughter Magdalena (fig. 9), and in the portrait of Anthony Reyniers and his family, 1631 (Philadelphia Museum of Art), in which the eldest daughter carries peaches and cherries on her lap as a symbol of fertility as well as youth, while she presents a heart-shaped peach to the family as a token of the love between them.29 See Guy C. Bauman & Walter Liedtke, Flemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections in North America, Fonds Mercator, Antwerp, 1992, p. 267; see also Sutton, pp. 375; illus. 376.

In the Melbourne portrait De Vos gives heightened importance to the tender relationship between mother and child through the sensitive interlacing of hands. Instead of simply clutching hands as often depicted in contemporary portraits, this mother gently and protectively rests her right hand upon those of her child who is still able to freely play with the cherries. In response, the child’s arm encircles his mother’s without clinging. It is an image of sheltering and nurturing rather than of control. The work closely compares with several other depictions by De Vos, in particular the Portrait of a lady with her daughter (fig. 11), in which the child is both lively and dependent, nestling into the reassuring enclosure of the mother’s figure.30 For comparable hand gestures, see Cornelis de Vos, Portrait of a woman with her young son and two daughters, c.1626–30, Paris, in Katlijne van der Stighelen, De Portretten van Cornelis de Vos (1584/5–1651): Een Kritische Catalogus, Brussels, 1990, no. 54. Thus, while the work reaffirms the disciplined quietude deemed appropriate for women and children, in its sheer appreciation of their relationship and the child’s confident independence, it plays a part in expanding the range of human feelings depicted by art. De Vos’s painting lays the groundwork for the emancipations for both women and children that were to ensue in the eighteenth century.31 See discussion by Jan-Baptist Bedaux who argues against the view that children were not valued before the early modern period (‘Introduction’, Pride and Joy, pp. 11–21); see also Jennifer J. Popiel, Rousseau’s Daughters: Domesticity, Education, and Autonomy in Modern France, Durham, New Hampshire, 2008; Hugh Cunningham, Children and Childhood in Western Society Since 1500, Pearson Longman, New York, 2005, pp. 41–80.

It is most likely that there was a companion piece for the Mother and child portrait which depicted the husband and father, as in the pair attributed to De Vos, c.1635, in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.32 Compare also with Van Dyck’s pendant paintings of husband and wife, A woman and her daughter, 1628–29, and A man with his son, 1628–29, Musée du Louvre. In conventional marital portraiture, the husband and wife were often depicted separately, with an emphasis on their individual attributes rather than their relationship, yet Katlijne van der Stighelen has discussed how De Vos’s family portraits document changing attitudes towards the family. While late-sixteenth-century portraits commonly depicted the extended family, the Melbourne work, with its focus on mother and child and an implied accompanying father, signals the increasingly independent status of the nuclear family in the first half of the seventeenth century.33 See Van der Stighelen, Pride and Joy, pp. 33, 35–6. De Vos’s numerous portraits that concentrate on husband, wife and children testify to the new-found cohesion and power of this primary social grouping.

At first sight the Mother and child portrait is a splendid assertion of material wealth and possessions, all the more brilliant because of its pristine condition; an example of the artist’s work at the height of his powers. More than this, though, it is a celebration of the material world to be enjoyed by all viewers through the power of art: the gleam of a pearl, the glint of gold thread, the delicacy of lace, the luxurious jewel-like depth of colour. But far richer than these is its celebration of its human subjects, who, despite their age difference, make equal claim on the viewer as candid, amused and perceptive individuals; whose relationship is protective and empathetic and who, from the point of view of almost four hundred years ago, remind us of the daily flourishing of civilized human behaviour and affection.

Vivien Gaston, Honorary Research Fellow, School of Culture and Communications, University of Melbourne (in 2010)

Notes

I wish to thank Ted Gott, Laurie Benson, Sophie Matthiesson, Alison Inglis and Claudio Bozzi for their generous assistance in writing this article.

   1     See Marjorie E. Wieseman, ‘Cornelis de Vos’, in Peter C. Sutton, The Age of Rubens, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1993, p. 374. On becoming a citizen of Antwerp in 1616, De Vos was listed as an art dealer.

   2     ibid., p. 377. Portraiture remained his focus although he also undertook subject paintings and religious works. Between 1636 and 1638 he travelled to Spain to assist Rubens with decorations for Philip IV’s hunting lodge at Torre de la Parada, near Madrid. De Vos died in Antwerp on 9 May 1651.

   3     Carl Villis, NGV conservator of European paintings before 1800, writes: ‘The painting appears in excellent condition for a work of its age and type … The paint is applied with brushy yet carefully modelled strokes in the faces and hands of the sitters and crisp, pastose highlights in the jewellery and decorative elements of the sitter’s garments … The paint and ground layers are very well preserved. There is very little evidence of physical instability or mechanical damage; two repaired losses at the top left of the painting are the only notable areas of paint loss’ ‘Brief condition report’, paintings conservation department, NGV, 3 February, 2009: Cornelis de Vos, Mother and child).

   4     See Denys Sutton, ‘Aspects of British collecting: Part IV’, Apollo, vol. CXXIII, no. 282, August 1985, p. 122.

   5     See Jo Hedley, Van Dyck at the Wallace Collection, Wallace Collection, London, 1999, pp.142–3.

   6     1883, Royal Academy, London, A lady and child, no. 165, loaned by Charles Butler; 1894, Royal Academy, London, Lady and child, no. 123, loaned by Charles Butler (see Algernon Graves, A Century of Loan Exhibitions 1813–1912, Kingsmead Reprints, Bath, 1970, vol. I, p. 279). A label for the 1883 exhibition on the frame’s reverse identifies the subject as ‘Rubens’ first wife and child’, reflecting the woman’s facial similarity to members of the Fourment family, especially Susanna Fourment, the sister of Rubens’s second, not first, wife, Hélène Fourment. The identity of the sitter in this work is currently unknown.

   7     See Sutton, p. 122. The bulk of his collection was dispersed in posthumous sales at Christie’s, 22–24 May 1911. Other works from the Butler Collection include such masterpieces as Giovanni Bellini’s Saint Jerome reading, 1505 (National Gallery of Art, Washington); Giovanni di Paolo’s Baptism of Christ, c.1454 (National Gallery, London); and Antonio Vivarini’s Death of the Virgin, 1485 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.)

   8     See Leonée Ormond, ‘Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the old masters’, Yearbook of English Studies, vol. 36, 2006, pp. 158–9. Having visited Antwerp, Rossetti wrote that Bruges had the advantages of ‘a quantity of first rate architecture and very little or no Rubens’ (p. 159); see also Jenny Graham, Inventing Van Eyck. The Remaking of an Artist for the Modern Age, Berg, Oxford, 2007.

   9     ‘Portrait of a Husband and Wife, from the Collection of the late J. G. Millais, sold by order of Raoul Millais, Christie’s 25 Nov. 1960, lot 63’ (Witt Library Archive, Courtauld Institute of Art, London, boxes 2398, 2399).

10     For Mor, see Ursula Hoff, European Paintings before 1800 in the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1995, pp. 195–6; for The Netherlands, see ibid., pp. 304–5.

11     For De Keyser, see ibid., pp. 177–8.

12     For Ter Borch, see ibid., pp. 18–19; for Rembrandt, see ibid., pp. 232–4.

13     For Rubens, see ibid., pp. 257–8; for Van Dyck, see ibid., pp. 94–5.

14     See discussion in Hedley (n5), Van Dyck at the Wallace Collection, pp. 26–7.

15     This development in De Vos’s technique can be compared to that in his few extant drawings (see Katlijne van der Stighelen, ‘Cornelis de Vos as a draughtsman’, Master Drawings, XXVII, 1989, pp. 322–40).

16     See Arthur K. Wheelock, Susan J. Barnes & J. S. Held (eds), Van Dyck Paintings, National Gallery of Art, Washington/London, 1991, pp. 135–7.

17     See Peter C. Sutton, ‘Introduction: Painting in the age of Rubens’, in The Age of Rubens, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1993, pp. 53–4; see also Van der Stighelen, ‘“Bounty from Heaven”, The Counter-Reformation and childlikeness in the Southern Netherlands’, in Jan-Baptist Bedaux & Rudi Ekkart (eds), Pride and Joy. Children’s Portraits in the Netherlands 1500–1700, Harry M. Abrams, New York, 2001, pp. 39–40.

18     See Sutton, p. 377.

19     ibid., p. 53, fig. 56.

20     See Emilie E. S. Gordenker, Van Dyck and the Representation of Dress in Seventeenth-Century Portraiture, Brepols, Turnhout, Belgium, 2001, pp. 30, 99 n.19.

21     See Saskia Kuus, ‘Children’s costume in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’, in Bedaux & Ekkart (eds), p. 78. The chain worn across the chest may, however, indicate that this is a boy. Referring to a Netherlandish portrait of two-year-old twins of 1630, Kuus writes that ‘the chain worn angled across the chest appears in many boys’ portraits … and is therefore often viewed in the literature as purely a boys’ jewel. There is, however, a 1634 portrait of a little girl wearing a triple chain at an angle across her chest’ (pp. 79–80).

22     See, for example, Jan-Baptist Bedaux, The Reality of Symbols. Studies in the Iconology of Netherlandish Art 1400–1800, Gary Schwartz, SDU, The Hague, 1990.

23     See Eddy de Jongh, ‘Pearls of virtue and pearls of vice’, Simiolus, 8, no. 2, 1975–76, pp. 69–97.

24     See Aileen Ribeiro, Fashion and Fiction. Dress in Art and Literature in Stuart England, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2005, pp. 72–8.

25     Writing in the late nineteenth century, A. J. Wauters observed: ‘His sitters are endowed with such a powerful appearance of life, such an amiable character of frankness and communicative friendliness-that one involuntarily loves the models as well as the painter’ (The Flemish School of Painting, Cassell, London, 1885, pp. 275–6).

26     Katlijne van der Stighelen writes that around 1623 ‘Cornelius de Vos was becoming a leading painter of children’s portraits for the Antwerp bourgeoisie … The fact that [he] painted some ten children’s portraits in the space of about five years, beginning in the early 1620s, places him in the avant-garde of bourgeois children’s portraiture. He was the only Southern Netherlandish master to specialise in the portrayal of children’ (Pride and Joy, p. 38). Referring to De Vos’s portrait of the artist’s daughter Magdalena de Vos (fig. 8), Saskia Kuus writes: ‘Life-sized portraits of individual children from a non-aristocratic background were still unusual in Flanders at the beginning of the seventeenth century’ (ibid., p. 138).

27     See Kuus, p. 142.

28     See Jan-Baptist Bedaux, ‘Fruit and fertility: fruit symbolism in Netherlandish portraiture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’, in Simiolus, no. 17, 1987, pp. 150–68; see also discussion of ambiguous meanings of children’s toys and games, in Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches. An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age, Collins, London, 1987, pp. 503–16.

29     See Guy C. Bauman & Walter Liedtke, Flemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections in North America, Fonds Mercator, Antwerp, 1992, p. 267; see also Sutton, pp. 375; illus. 376.

30     For comparable hand gestures, see Cornelis de Vos, Portrait of a woman with her young son and two daughters, c.1626–30, Paris, in Katlijne van der Stighelen, De Portretten van Cornelis de Vos (1584/5–1651): Een Kritische Catalogus, Brussels, 1990, no. 54.

31     See discussion by Jan-Baptist Bedaux who argues against the view that children were not valued before the early modern period (‘Introduction’, Pride and Joy, pp. 11–21); see also Jennifer J. Popiel, Rousseau’s Daughters: Domesticity, Education, and Autonomy in Modern France, Durham, New Hampshire, 2008; Hugh Cunningham, Children and Childhood in Western Society Since 1500, Pearson Longman, New York, 2005, pp. 41–80.

32     Compare also with Van Dyck’s pendant paintings of husband and wife, A woman and her daughter, 1628–29, and A man with his son, 1628–29, Musée du Louvre.

33     See Van der Stighelen, Pride and Joy, pp. 33, 35–6.

 

Selected further reading in addition to works already cited

Greindl, E. ‘Einige besondere Wesenszüge der Bildnisse des Cornelis de Vos’, Pantheon, XXIII, 1939, pp. 109–14.

————-, Corneille de Vos: Portraitiste flamand (1584–1651), Editions de la Librairie Encyclopédique, Brussels, 1944.

Czobor, A. ‘An oil sketch by Cornelis de Vos’, Burlington Magazine, vol. CIX, no. 771, June 1967, pp. 351–5.

Müller Hofstede, J. ‘Drei neue Historienbilder des Cornelis de Vos’, Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, vol. XXIII, 1972, pp. 291–302.

Muls, J. Cornelis de Vos: Schilder van Hulst, Antwerp, 1933.

Van der Stighelen, Katlijne. ‘The provenance and impact of Anthony van Dyck’s portraits of Frans Snyders and Margaretha de Vos in the Frick Collection’, Hoogsteder–Naumann Mercury, vol. V, 1987, pp. 37–47.

Vlieghe, H. ‘Oelskizzen von Cornelis de Vos’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Oelskizze vom 16. bis zum 18. Jahrhundert, Brunswick, 1984, pp. 59–70.