HALS, Frans
(b. 1580, Antwerpen, d. 1666, Haarlem)

Married Couple in a Garden

c. 1622
Oil on canvas, 140 x 166,5 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

It is assumed by critics that the sitters are Isaac Massa and his wife Beatrix van der Laen. However, it is debated by others. The pose of the recently married couple, leaning against the trunk of a tree, emphasizes the casual air of the portrait. The ivy twining itself around the tree and curling round at the woman's feet, who, in turn, has her hand negligently resting on the man's shoulder, symbolizes the permanence of the marriage. The thistle growing next to the man in the bare patch of ground at the bottom left of the picture may be an allusion to God's word to Adam after the Fall: "Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee." (Genesis 3, 17f.) Thus, the thistle may symbolize labour, itself a consequence of the Fall. In puritanical Calvinist ethics, which had already gained considerable currency in the Netherlands, work was considered a cardinal virtue, and achievement a central aspect of personal conduct.

Frans Hals's work for this bourgeois couple included an Italian landscape background on the right - a sunlit villa, marble statue and spring - whose purpose was to create the impression of elevated rank and dignified elegance. However, the background features are fanciful, bearing no relation whatsoever to the real world of the couple. Rather than the couple's country residence, scrutiny of iconographical details shows the villa to be the temple of Juno, the goddess of marriage, whose attribute was the peacock.