HELST, Bartholomeus van der
(b. 1613, Haarlem, d. 1670, Amsterdam)

Anna du Pire as Granida

Oil on canvaas, 70 x 58,5 cm
Národní Galerie, Prague

Van der Helst succeeded Rembrandt as the favourite portraitist of the city. Most of his patrons were wealthy members of the regent class, admirals, or military heroes. He painted also portraits in historical guise.

Pastoral costumes were among the favourite historical guises. From the early 1620s, nobles in particular chose to be represented as the protagonists of Italian and Dutch pastoral plays. The ravishing portrait of Anna du Pire indicates the special resources of pastoral portraiture. Du Pire is wrapped in swath of red, blue, and white silk, bedecked with pearls and a red feather headdress. Her décolleté leaves little to the imagination. A respectable woman could be represented in this way only for sound narrative reasons, and they are suggested by the bow and arrows and the shell filled with water. Viewers familiar with the famous play "Granida" (1615) by Pieter Cornelisz Hooft would have recognized these elements as references to its title heroine, a princess lost during the hunt who receives water from an adoring shepherd. The portrait indeed has a shepherd pendant of her husband, the painter himself, and the pair form a romantic marriage set.

Although du Pire's identification with Granida justifies her attire, even for a pastoral portrait this painting teeters on the edge of proper representations of actual people. Because she was van der Helst's wife, probably only he and his intimates, acquainted with his innovative portraiture, had access to her portrait.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.