REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn
(b. 1606, Leiden, d. 1669, Amsterdam)

Frederik Rihel on Horseback

Oil on canvas, 295 x 241 cm
National Gallery, London

Catalogue number: Bredius 255.

This life-size equestrian portrait of Frederik Rihel (1621-1681), an Amsterdam Lutheran merchant, is exceptional in Rembrandt's oeuvre. (it is one of only two known Dutch painting of the kind.) The horse and rider in the painting are executing a levade, an exceedingly difficult movement. Paintings of this type would normally have depicted only royalty or high nobility. The great prototype was Titian's portrait of Charles V on horseback in the Prado, which inspired Velázquez, Rubens and van Dyck in paintings of Spanish and English kings. The ability to perform a levade not only displayed mastery over the horse, it was also symbolic of the ability to rule.

Rihel was a native of Strasbourg who came to Amsterdam as a boy to work in the famous Bartolotti banking house. By the time he was thirty he had advanced to a responsible post in the firm, and after the death of Guillelmo Bartolotti in 1658 he took over the reins on behalf of the widow.