KEYSER, Thomas de
(b. 1596/97, Amsterdam, d. 1667, Amsterdam)

Constantijn Huygens and his Clerk

Oil on wood, 92,4 x 69,3 cm
National Gallery, London

Thomas de Keyser lived and worked in Amsterdam and from the diary of the sitter, Constantijn Huygens, we know that Huygens was in Amsterdam between 22 February and 27 April 1627, the year on this portrait. It may well be 'my portrait painted shortly before my wedding' (which took place on 6 April 1627) about which Huygens wrote some Latin verses: he was then thirty-one. Two years earlier Huygens, who had previously been at the Dutch embassies in Venice and London, was appointed secretary to the Stadholder Prince Frederick Hendrick of Orange. Among his duties he had to advise the Prince on artistic matters and consequently Huygens is an important figure in the history of the art and architecture of the northern Netherlands in the seventeenth century. He was one of the first to recognize the talent of the young Rembrandt and gave him his most important early commission, a series of paintings of the Passion of Christ for the Prince's Noordeinde Palace in The Hague.

De Keyser shows Huygens as he sits at his desk in his house in The Hague, attended by a servant bringing a message. Behind him hangs a rich tapestry with his coat of arms in the centre of the border at the top: the central panel appears to depict Saint Francis before the Sultan. Above the mantelpiece is a marine painting in the style of Jan Porcellis, whom Huygens admired. On the table is a long-necked lute or chitarrone, referring to his interest in music, as well as books and architectural drawings. (He was a close friend of the great classical Dutch architect, Pieter Post, and with Post's help designed his own house in The Hague). The globes which can be seen beyond the table, indicate his interest in geography and astronomy. Huygens served successive Princes of Orange: he was first councillor and reekenmeester to the Stadholder-King William III until his death in The Hague in 1687.