Masters of Mobility


13.5 A Self-Portrait in Assistenza

Christian Albrecht valued glorifying allegories and history paintings even more than his father, duke Frederick III. In 1661, he ordered the large Glorification of Duke Christian Albrecht [26].1 Ovens included a small self-portrait in the bottom right corner.2 His facial features and wig resemble those of his Hamburg self-portrait (§ 13.2), and light up between two soldiers who are dressed in black and have turned their back towards the viewer. Self-assured, Ovens placed himself right beneath the feet of the young sovereign. Despite the fact that Ovens looks out of the picture and does not witness the event going on behind him, he is nevertheless part of the scene; thus his inclusion could be considered, albeit somewhat freely, as a self-portrait in assistenza.3 The painting stages the beginning of the reign of the duke. It was the first work that Ovens created for the new ruler. He had received privileges from duke Frederick III, which Christian Albrecht renewed two years after the completion of the Glorification. Including Ovens’ self-portrait served both parties well: the duke could tighten his bonds with Ovens and Ovens showed his allegiance to the ducal court and proved he was the privileged painter of Christian Albrecht. Ovens was a well-known artist in 1661. His self-portrait incorporated into such a scene would have been recognizable and was one of the painting’s special attractions.4

The self-portrait was probably included on Ovens’ own initiative, since he must have been familiar with comparable examples in the Dutch Republic.5 Although by the 15th century it was no longer unusual in several parts of Europe to find artists’ self-portraits incorporated into their compositions, this formula had probably not been applied in Schleswig-Holstein before.6 Flinck, with whom Ovens was well acquainted, could have pointed out to him that his militia piece Civic Guardsmen of the Company of District 1 under the Command of Captain Joan Huydecoper and Lieutenant Frans van Waveren [27] from 1648 contains a self-portrait in the upper left, immediately above his client Huydecoper (1599-1661).7 Flinck positioned himself behind two guardsmen and thus only depicted his face, just like Ovens did. Together with the fact that both artists stand somewhat isolated from the central scene this makes them minor, non-acting figures in the overall composition.

Jürgen Ovens
The glorification of duke Christian Albrecht, dated 1661
canvas, oil paint 350 x 338 cm
lower left : J. Ovens f. 1661
Fyn (island), private collection Erholm Gods

Govert Flinck
Civic Guardsmen of the Company of District 1 under the Command of Captain Joan Huydecoper and Lieutenant Frans van Waveren, dated 1648
canvas, oil paint 265 x 513 cm
lower left : Flinck f. 1648
Amsterdam, Amsterdam Museum, inv./ SA 7318

Jürgen Ovens
Gottorf peace party. The Gottorf ducal family in a peace allegory., dated 1652
canvas, oil paint, grisaille 64 x 94 cm
bottom left of the middle : J. Ovens.f. / Ao. 1652.
Hillerød, The National Museum of History Frederiksborg Castle, inv./ A 4355

Perhaps Ovens was inspired by Rembrandt as well, whose presence is suspected in numerous (primarily history) pieces, some of which he might have known.8 With the exception of the Glorification however, it is not certain that Ovens himself appears in one of his paintings with multiple figures. Köster, not wholly convincing, claims that Ovens incorporated a self-portrait in the left back of the small Gottorf peace party [28], behind the bearded old man at the left in Justice [29] and at the right behind the black man in the history painting Dithmarschen surrenders to Duke Adolf I of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf, Frederick II of Denmark and John II of Schleswig-Holstein-Hadersleben in 1559.9 In these works the supposed face of Ovens is either barely, or only partly visible. The difference between an intentional self-portrait and a chance resemblance is often hard to draw. Köster obviously does not recognize different types of self-representation. De Jongh, on the other hand, distinguishes six categories of self-portraits.10 He would classify the two above-mentioned men on Justice and on Dithmarschen under his fourth category: the representation of a figure that partly bears the facial features of the artist.

Jürgen Ovens
Justice (Justitia), c. 1665
canvas, oil paint 167 x 127 cm
lower center : J. Ovens. f.
Flensburg, Städtisches Museum Flensburg, inv./ 18113


1 Köster 2017, p. 173-177, fig. 169, p. 390-391, G150, ill. Although Ovens resided in Amsterdam from 1657 until 1663 and was mentioned as a ‘Contrafaietern in Amsterdam’ (Portraitist in Amsterdam) in the account books of the dukes of Gottorf in August 1661, he could in the meantime have travelled to Schleswig-Holstein to execute the painting. See Köster 2017, p. 174, 312, note 946, p. 332, Qu. II.B.1.1661 (right column).

2 For a close-up illustration of this self-portrait: Schlüter-Göttsche 1978, fig. 24.

3 Köster 2017, p. 176 mistakingly states that Ovens looks directly at the viewer.

4 This idea is also found in Houbraken 1718-1721, vol. 2 (1719), p. 178-179: ‘Certainly when the [painters’] own likenesses were included in the depictions of the old historical scenes, the literate art-lovers would have enjoyed finding them there’.

5 Perhaps Olearius (see above) came up with this idea. As far as known, there is no documentation concerning the commission and the genesis of the Glorification. As counsellor of Christian Albrecht, Olearius will have determined the contents of the painting in consultation with the duke. See Köster 2017, p. 174. A self-portrait of an artist from the Low Countries in the lower right corner of a multi-figured work has not been found, but of course this is also dependent on the composition.

6 Manuth 1999, p. 41.

7 De Bruyn Kops 1965, p. 25-26, fig. 7; A. van Suchtelen, ‘Govert Flinck. Self Portrait Aged 24, 1639’, in White/Buvelot 1999-2000, p. 243-244, no. 93, fig. 93a; Kok 2017-2018, p. 66, fig. 79.

8 Buijsen/Schatborn/Broos 1999-2000, p. 88. Although there are no sources to support this, Martin 1923/24 and Haverkamp-Begemann 1982, p. 81, note 28 have identified Rembrandt in the Night Watch in a single eye beneath a beret; RKDimages 3063.

9 Köster 2017, p. 71-72, fig. 47, p. 388-389, G143, ill.; p. 225-227, fig. 220, p. 363, G33, ill.; p. 191-193, fig. 183, p. 392, G157, ill. With regard to Justice, Köster does not go into the fact why the seemingly blindfolded Ovens would have depicted himself in this context and in such an unflattering way.

10 De Jongh 1991, p. 13-15.

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