Masters of Mobility


13.2 Ovens’ Self-Portrait (c. 1652) : between Rembrandt and Van Dyck

Up till now, it has not been possible to determine with certainty whether Ovens painted his self-portrait from circa 1652 in the Hamburger Kunsthalle [3] in Holland or in Northern Germany. The identification of the sitter is based on his likeness of Ovens’ sure self-portrait that forms part of his epitaph in the church of Saint Lawrence in Tönning [4].1 On both self-portraits, Ovens seems to be around 30 years old, so the Hamburg painting was likely created in the first half of the 1650s.2 In 1651, Ovens left Holland for several years. He received privileges from duke Frederick III of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf in the following year, which might have tempted him to paint this self-portrait.3 Therefore, in this essay it is assumed the painting came about in Northern Germany.4

There is a good chance that Ovens based this work (partly) on Rembrandt’s famous etched Self-Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill of 1639 [6] and his related painting from 1640, Self-Portrait at the Age of 34 [5].5 However, whereas Rembrandt’s arm rests on a balustrade, Ovens leans on an imaginary similar structure.6 This, together with the fact that Ovens portrays himself closer to the picture plane than Rembrandt does in his etching, creates a different spatial effect.7 Furthermore, Rembrandt turns his body more towards the viewer than Ovens. As has been stated many times, in creating these self-portraits, Rembrandt drew inspiration from Titian’s Portrait of Gerolamo (?) Barbarigo of circa 1509/10 and Raphael’s Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, executed some five years later, both of which Rembrandt saw in Amsterdam in the collection of Alfonzo Lopez (1572-1649).8

Jürgen Ovens
Self-portrait, c. 1652
canvas, oil paint 64,6 x 55 cm
Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle, inv./ HK-26

Jürgen Ovens
Self-portrait, c. 1652
canvas, oil paint 50 x 40 cm
Tönning, St. Lawrence church

Self portrait at the age of 34, dated 1640
canvas, oil paint 91 x 75 cm
lower right : Rembrandt f 1640
London, National Gallery (London), inv./ NG672

Self portrait leaning on a stone sill, dated 1639
paper, etching, drypoint, 2nd state 206 x 164 mm
upper left : Rembrandt f / 1639
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv./ RP-P-OB-38

Lucas Franchoys (II)
Portrait of Peter Franchoys, c. 1645-1649
copper, oil paint 83 x 67 mm
Paris/London/New York, art dealer Didier Aaron & Cie

Coenraet Waumans after Lucas Franchoys (II)
Portrait of Peter Franchoys, 1649
paper, copper engraving, 1st state 174 x 122 mm
The Hague, RKD – Nederlands Instituut voor Kunstgeschiedenis (Collectie Iconografisch Bureau)

Ovens probably also took similar self-portraits by Govert Flinck [2] and Ferdinand Bol (1616-1680) into account, which were derived from the two Rembrandt self-portraits.9 However, he ‘modernized’ the early 16th-century dress of Rembrandt, Flinck and Bol and left out their beret. As for his self-portrait, Ovens might have been inspired by an engraved portrait depicting the Flemish baroque painter Peter Franchoys (1606-1654) from 1649 as well [8].10 Koenraad Waumans (1619-1661/73) possibly engraved Franchoys’ portrait after an oval miniature by Lucas Franchoys the Younger (1616-1681) [7].11 Remarkably, more than in the portrait print, Peter Franchoys’ facial features in the miniature resemble those of Ovens.

The portrait of Peter Franchoys is visibly influenced by the way in which artists are depicted in the so-called Iconography: a large series of portrait prints of famous men and artists after Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), developed between circa 1632 and 1644.12 In these eloquent, aristocratic portraits, which became extremely popular in Holland and Flanders, a beret and utensils are left out in order to prevent the artist from being considered a ‘mere’ craftsman. Their central motif is the twist of the artist’s head over his shoulder to emphasize his powers of intellect and invention.13 Van Dyck’s virtuosi exhibit a rich variety of gestures in order to emphasize their agility – contrary to Ovens, Franchoys holds his left hand in front of his breast to indicate the creative urge of his mind. The fashionable, expensive black cloak of Franchoys and Ovens is essentially a sign of dignity and was almost always worn by Van Dyck in his self-portraits.14

With his self-portrait, Ovens introduced a novelty in Northern Germany in the early 1650s. In fact, self-portraits by artists were barely known there.15 We may assume that Ovens’ painting remained in private collections in the 17th and 18th centuries. Except for a rather stiff copy of an unknown artist [9], the work does not seem to have been imitated in Ovens’ native region.16 It is no coincidence that a fashion-conscious artist like Ovens based his painting not only on Rembrandt’s self-portraits from 1639 and 1640, but also partly on Van Dyck’s Iconography.

after Jürgen Ovens
Portrait of Jürgen Ovens, c. 1660 or later
canvas, oil paint 65,5 x 53,5 cm
Schleswig, Kulturstiftung des Landes Schleswig-Holstein - Schloss Gottorf, inv./ 1974/1440


1 Pauli 1930/31.

2 Raupp 1984, p. 215 claims, without explanation, that the Hamburg self-portrait was painted before 1650. On his self-portrait in Tönning, Ovens wears the chain that was presented to him by duke Frederick III, which indicates a dating of c. 1652. See Ketelsen et al. 2001, p. 209, note 4. In my opinion, Sumowski 1983-1995, vol. 3 (1983), p. 2235, no. 1542, ill., incorrectly believed the Hamburg self-portrait came about in the early 1660s, based on his comparison with Ovens’ effigy in the Glorification from 1661 (see § 13.5).

3 Through his Hamburg self-portrait, Ovens might have confirmed and celebrated his improved social and financial position and exhibit self-assurance. Of course, he could have created the work in (about) 1650 in Amsterdam, but seemingly there was no special occasion which prompted the artist to portray himself.

4 Th. Ketelsen in Ketelsen/Röver-Kann 2000-2001, vol. 1, p. 62-63, esp. p. 62, also believes that Ovens’ self-portrait was painted shortly after his return to Schleswig-Holstein. Ketelsen et al. 2001, p. 209 claims that the resemblance with the Tönning self-portrait excludes the possibility that the self-portrait in Hamburg was painted in Amsterdam, but that statement is a bit bold. It is recorded that the art lover and lawyer Carl Friedrich Schmidt (c. 1740-1822) from Kiel, Germany owned Ovens’ self-portrait in 1817, but we have no information about the earlier provenance.

5 Ketelsen/Röver-Kann 2000-2001, p. 34; Ketelsen/Röver-Kann 2000-2001, vol. 1, p. 62-63, no. 11, ill. Ketelsen’s proposition that Ovens competed with Rembrandt through the fine, detailed execution of his self-portrait seems a step too far. See The new Hollstein et al. 1993-…., vol. 26, Rembrandt, text II, p. 33-35, no. 171, plates II, p. 88-89, no. 171, ill. for the etching (RKDimages 293367). The 1640 self-portrait belongs to the National Gallery in London (RKDimages 29731). See also Buijsen/Schatborn/Broos 1999-2000, p. 170-175, no. 53-54, ill. Dickey 2016, p. 180-181 notes that Rembrandt’s etching from 1639 and his related painting of 1640 proved to be influential among artists in the Netherlands and abroad: ‘… the widespread impact of Rembrandt’s creative approach to self-portraiture deserves to be further explored’.

6 No research has been conducted on a possible shortening of the bottom of the painting.

7 This is not mentioned in Ketelsen 2000-2001, p. 62 and Ketelsen et al. 2001, p. 208-209.

8 Raphael’s portrait is in the Musée du Louvre, Paris (RKDimages 292531) and the painting of Titian, in the 17th century mistakenly assumed to depict the Renaissance poet Lodovico Ariosto (1474-1533), in the National Gallery in London (RKDimages 281114). Perhaps Ovens saw these works, since he must have been in Amsterdam from at least c. 1638. The influence of these Italian examples is less pronounced in Rembrandt’s self-portrait from 1640, however. The only elements that clearly recall Raphael are the use of colour and the contours of the figure, while the position of the arm appears to be derived from Titian. The entire lower arm, rather than only the elbow, rests on the balustrade. This pose resembles a well-known self-portrait from 1498 by the German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) in Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (RKDimages 297609). Rembrandt’s North-European fashion, outdated for well over a century, was known to him through prints by Lucas van Leyden (1494-1533). As Buijsen/Schatborn/Broos 1999-2000, p. 173-175 explain, the self-portrait from 1640 should therefore not be discussed solely in relation to Italian examples, as is usually done, since it also refers to the painting tradition of the North.

9 Flinck’s self-portrait from 1643 is in the Leiden Collection in New York (RKDimages 204989) [2]; see Van Tuinen 2017, ill. For the self-portraits of Flinck and Ovens: Larsen 2017-2018, p. 184, 198, note 26, figs. 12.1 and 12.2 on p. 182. For Bol’s self-portrait from c. 1647 (RKDimages 279974); De Witt/Van Sloten 2017-2018, p. 50-53, fig. 59 (no. 61); Ekkart 2017-2018, p. 149-150, fig. 190 (no. 61).

10 Peter Franchoys came from a family of artists from Malines in Flanders. Initially, he imitated Rubens, but Van Dyck soon became his most important example. His portrait print was issued as a part of the portrait book of Meyssens 1649 (first published in Antwerp in that year). The engraving was reused in De Bie 1661-1662, p. 153, ill. See also Van Someren 1888-1891, vol. 1 (1888), p. 199-200, no. 211a, p. 200-202, no. 211b, esp. p. 201; idem, vol. 2 (1890), p. 266, no. 1853a, b; Hollstein et al. 1949-2010, vol. 7 [1952], p. 7, no. 7; Raupp 1984, p. 157-160, 215, note 208; Colsoul 1988, p. 117-120; Colsoul 1989, p. 207-208, no. 67, fig. 130 on p. 234; Hollstein et al. 1949-2010, vol. 51 (1998), p. 127, no. 29, ill. on p. 131.

11 RKDimages 58173; Colsoul 1989, p. 208-209, no. 68, fig. 131 on p. 235; Phillips Auctioneers (London), 15-12-1998, lot 44, ill. (as by Lucas Franchoys the Elder [1574-1643]); shown at the European Fine Arts Fair in Maastricht in March 2005 (not in catalogue) by the art dealer Didier Aaron, Inc. (Paris/New York/London). Raupp 1984, p. 215, note 208 states that the portrait engraving is after the miniature, but Colsoul 1989, p. 207, note 12, p. 208, note 18 presumes a now unknown painting served as the model for both the engraving and the miniature. For Waumans: Hollstein et al. 1949-2010, vol. 51 (1998), p. 103-188; E. Duverger and D. Maufort, ‘Koenraad Waumans’, in Depauw/Luijten 1999-2000, p. 389-390.

12 For the 12 editions of the Iconography, published between c. 1632 and 1759: Hollstein et al. 1949-2010, vol. 6 (1952), p. 108. See also Raupp 1984, p. 45-160; Mauquoy-Hendrickx 1991; Luijten 1999-2000. Joannes Meyssens (1612-1670) was one of the publishers who thought selling portrait prints after Van Dyck would be a profitable sideline; his Images can be considered a rival series of the Iconography. See Luijten 1999-2000, p. 87-88; E. Duverger and D. Maufort, ‘Joannes Meyssens’, in Depauw/Luijten 1999-2000, p. 380.

13 For this so-called ‘Van Dyck-Type’: Raupp 1984, p. 208-220.

14 See for instance Self-Portrait with Endymion Porter, c. 1633 (RKDimages 120551); Harvey 1995, p. 116-117; O. Millar in Barnes et al. 2004, p. 432-433, IV.6, ill.

15 Christopher Paudiß (c. 1625/30-1666), an artist probably born in Hamburg who was a pupil of Rembrandt in Amsterdam in the mid-1640s, looks over his shoulder in a self-portrait which he probably painted in Freising, Southern Germany in c. 1665 (RKDimages 269542). See C. Roll in Hahn et al. 2007, p. 214-216, no. 5, ill. Paudiß wears old-fashioned dress and a hat; his self-portrait was inspired by Rembrandt’s etching from 1639. It seems unlikely Paudiß knew Ovens’ self-portrait. Although a 1682 self-portrait by the German artist Michael Willmann (1630-1706) (RKDimages 239367) resembles Ovens’ self-portrait, it will have been based on a Van Dyckian portrait type that he might have seen during a study trip to the Dutch Republic around 1650. There is no proof Willmann ever visited Schleswig-Holstein. See E. Houszka in Klessmann/Steinborn et al. 1994, p. 116-117, no. 19, ill. Sarah Babin recently completed a PhD under the supervision of Andreas Tacke, titled Das deutsche Selbstbildnis im 17. Jahrhundert, in which she demonstrates that German painters strove to rise to the level of their European contemporaries through their self-portraits.

16 RKDimages 249083. Haak 2001, p. 277-278, SB 3, fig. 102 on p. 352 incorrectly considers this harshly executed painting to be by Ovens himself.

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