(b. 1629, Leiden, d. 1667, Amsterdam)
Portrait of the Artist with His Wife Isabella de Wolff in a Tavern1661
Oil on oak panel, 36 x 31 cm
Dressed in their finery the couple sit side by side in a room, which is revealed by numerous items and the woman at the blackboard to be in a tavern. The man and his wife are illuminated by an unseen light source from the front left. The man is laughing and puts his left arm around the young woman's shoulders, a gesture echoed by her arm as she hands him some berries. He raises a flute glass in his right hand to her health, while she looks straight ahead rather stiffly. Beside the couple a table is laid with a silver pot, some dried fish and a small loaf of bread, but the way it has been truncated at one end gives it the look of a stage prop. The rear of the tavern is in shadow, so that all that may be distinguished is the incidental figure chalking up orders in front of the fireplace, a narrow shelf, and an empty birdcage hanging above. The room opens up to the rear at the right, giving a view of a sunny courtyard in which a market stall has been erected.
Although the painting was for many years known simply as The Lovers at Breakfast, the two protagonists, quite different in type, have been identified as the artist and Isabella de Wolff, whom he married in 1658 and who was a niece of the painter Pieter de Grebber.
The iconography of the painting distinguishes it as part of a painting tradition well-known to the educated contemporary viewer: the carousing, feasting couple, the ambience of the tavern with the landlady at the blackboard, the highly significant bread and fish still-life on the table. All of these elements point to the subject of the 'prodigal son regaling with the harlots in the inn'. This Biblical parable, much loved and widespread in seventeenth-century Dutch painting, was understood as an admonition against a life of sin and vice. A link between the Biblical story and an artist's self-portrait was not, however, completely unusual. Rembrandt, for instance, had depicted himself in a similar pose some twenty years earlier, in his Self-portrait with Saskia in the Scene from the Prodigal Son, which is also in the Dresden collection.