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

Jan Six

c. 1654
Oil on canvas, 112 x 102 cm
Six Collection, Amsterdam

Catalogue number: Bredius 276.

Jan Six, the subject of this remarkable portrait which is among the greatest painted by Rembrandt, was a friend and patron of the artist. Six (1618-1700) came from a noble Huguenot family which had fled to Amsterdam from Saint Omer in France at the end of the sixteenth century and amassed a fortune in the textile trade and from silk dyeing. Six was involved in the family business until he entered civic politics in Amsterdam, serving as burgomaster of the city in 1691. Passionately interested in the arts, particularly poetry, Six was a member of the so-called Muiderkring (Muiden circle) which gathered around Pieter Cornelisz. Hooft, and he published volumes of poetry and plays. He was an avid collector of works of art - Dutch and Italian masters, antique sculpture, engraved gems - and travelled widely, including an extended trip to Italy in 1640.

Six owned a number of paintings by Rembrandt, among them the grisaille Preaching of John the Baptist (Berlin, Gemäldegalerie). Their relationship was, however, one of friendship rather than simply that of patron and artist. Rembrandt etched the title page for Six's tragedy Medea and made two drawings for his Album Amicorum in 165Z.

This portrait, which is still owned by a direct descendant of the sitter, also Jan Six, captures the moment as Six pauses while putting on his gloves just before leaving the house. The hands, gloves and red cloak are painted very broadly in powerful strokes with a loaded brush, but the face, with its marvellous expression of momentary abstraction, has been heavily and precisely worked and reworked. It is one of Rembrandt's most sensitive and effective portraits and a remarkable tribute to the friendship between the two men. Three years later Rembrandt etched a portrait of Six standing at his window reading, with books and manuscripts in the foreground and a painting hanging on the wall: it is a study of Six as poet and collector.

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