Gerson Digital : Germany I


2.8 Portrait Painters and the Court in Berlin

In Berlin the Great Elector first employed a number of Dutch portrait painters, who especially had to paint portraits of himself and his spouse, actually in countless repetitions that were presented to befriended courts. Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656) received large commissions, although he never was in Berlin. In 1647 he delivered a total of 36 pictures, both full-length and bust-length portraits. From the invoice it is clear that not all of them were ‘originals’! Altogether he demanded 2,624 Thaler.1 Already the year before the electoral couple had bestowed their portraits painted by Honthorst upon Johan Maurits, who still was commander of the Wesel Fortress. At a later date the Berlin court employed the artist once more, but the payments did not always go so smoothly (invoices from 1654 and 1660). The fact that the Great Elector especially chose Honthorst was not very surprising. Possibly he got acquainted with him during his stay in the Netherlands, since Honthorst also painted some things for his aunt, the Countess Palatine. Honthorst will not have been a stranger to the Elector’s wife either, as he worked for the court in The Hague too. It is said that at her instigation his younger brother Willem was called to Berlin in 1646.

Willem van Honthorst (c. 1604-1666) received a fixed salary as a court painter and also payments for his portraits, which meant in this case that his heirs, due to the poor finances of the Elector, only received a part of the outstanding amounts. Willem worked almost his whole life in Berlin. Only in 1664 he returned to Holland, where he died two years later. Even today a whole series of his paintings is found in the Prussian castles. For Oranienburg Castle he made a ‘foundation painting’ [1].2 His works are barely distinguishable from those of his brother, in particular when the Honthorst workshop was largely involved, which was the case here.3

During the first twenty years of the Elector’s reign the Honthorst workshop determined the style of the official court portraits, to which local artists had to submit. One of these is for instance Mathias Czwiczek (c. 1601-1654). The father of the Great Elector already appointed him as his court painter in Königsberg [now Kalingrad, Russia] and sent him for his education to England, France and the Netherlands. The portraits he painted of his employer and his spouse in the 1640s (Königsberg, Montbijou) [2-3] entirely meet the type and style of Honthorstian prototypes, only they are harsher and colder, more or less like good studio repetitions.4

attributed to Willem van Honthorst
Allegory on the building of Schloss Oranienburg, c. 1650-1660
canvas, oil paint 350 x 400 cm
Oranienburg, Kreismuseum im Schloss Oranienburg

Mathias Czwiczek
Double-portrait of Friedrich Wilhelm van Brandenburg (1620-1688) and Louise Henriëtte van Oranje-Nassau (1627-1667), 1649
unknown, oil paint ? x ? cm
Berlin (Charlottenburg), Schloss Charlottenburg

Mathias Czwiczek
Glorification of Elisabeth Charlotte van de Palts, electress of Brandenburg as the queen of Sheba, c. 1649
panel, oil paint 33 x 44,5 cm
lower center : M: Czwiczek H. pinx.
Oranienburg, Schlossmuseum Oranienburg

Michael Conrad Hirt (1613-1671) was in the service of the Brandenburg court from 1645 until 1663.5 It is said that his portraits look rather Netherlandish.6 A symbolic painting in the cathedral of Stendal is supposed to show the style of a pupil of Rembrandt [4].7 His son Adriaen Heinrich (1640-after 1678) succeeded him some years later as court painter in Berlin, while he was working himself in the south of Germany.8

On his trips to the Netherlands the Elector took the opportunity to have his portrait painted by other artists, painters that he could not attract to his court. So he sat for Govert Flinck (1615-1660) and Pieter Nason (1612-1688/90), who both made several portraits of him [5-6], as well as of Johan Maurits [7]. We already considered Nason’s portrait of the ‘master of the knights’ in Sonnenburg castle [§2.7]. Flinck was born in Cleves and created a Solomon's prayer for wisdom in 1659 [8].9 The Elector stayed in this residence from November 1665 until November 1666.

Michael Conrad Hirt (I)
Ten allegories of Eternity, dated 1653
? x ? cm
: Michael Cunrat Hirt Ser. Elect. Brand. pictor aulicus pin. 1653
Stendal, Dom St. Nikolaus (Stendal)

Pieter Nason
Portrait of Friedrich Wilhelm van Brandenburg (1620-1688), 1666 (dated)
canvas, oil paint 119,5 x 94 cm
lower right : PNason.f/1666
Sotheby's (London (England)) 2004-07-08, nr. 209

Govert Flinck
Portrait of Friedrich Wilhelm von Brandenburg (1620-1688), dated 1652
canvas, oil paint 94,7 x 72,7 cm
center right : G. Flinck / 1652
Berlin (Charlottenburg), Schloss Charlottenburg, inv./ GK I 997

Pieter Nason
Portrait of Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen (1604-1679), 1663 (dated)
canvas, oil paint 115 x 90 cm
lower left : PNason 1663 [PN ineen]
Olsztyn, Muzeum Warmii i Mazur, inv./ MNO 134 OMO

Govert Flinck
Solomon prays for wisdom (1 Kings 3: 4-15), 1658/1659
canvas, oil paint 113,9 x 101,8 cm
Greenville (South Carolina), Bob Jones University Museum & Gallery

Besides Flinck and Nason, Johannes Mijtens (c. 1614-1670) painted Friedrich Wilhelm’s portrait at that time as well [9].10 From his hand also hails the representation of Great Elector’s wedding (1646, now in the museum in Rennes) [10] and several pictures of the Elector’s family and other relatives.11 During another occasion Adriaen Hanneman (c. 1604-1671) must have painted the portrait of the Elector that passed into the possession of Henriette Catharina of Anhalt-Dessau, probably as a gift of the sitter to his sister-in-law [11].12 The sons of the Elector, Prince Karl Emil and Friedrich, were portrayed once in Utrecht by a certain Janson (= Cornelis Janson van Ceulen the Younger [1634-1715]?).13 A large part of these works ended up in Berlin, where they were proudly displayed as models of Dutch portraiture.

Johannes Mijtens
Portrait of Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg (1620-1688), Louise Henriette of Oranje-Nassau (1627-1667)and their children, c. 1666
canvas, oil paint 336,8 x 275,3 cm
center right : JANMijtens Fe.
Oranienburg, Schlossmuseum Oranienburg, inv./ GK I 1019

Johannes Mijtens
The wedding of Friedrich Wilhelm Elector of Brandenburg with Louise Henriette of Orange in 1646, dated 1646
panel, oil paint 58 x 74 cm
Rennes, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes

Adriaen Hanneman
Portrait of Friedrich Wilhelm van Brandenburg (1620-1688), 1659 (?)
canvas, oil paint ? x ? cm
Dessau (Saksen-Anhalt), Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie - Schloss Georgium, inv./ 1384

The actual successors of Honthorst at the court were the painters Nicolaes Willingh (c. 1640-1678) [12] and his pupil Robbert Duval (1649-1732), who moved to Berlin together in 1667. Duval only stayed a few years, Willingh became a court painter and held this position until his death.

Jacques Vaillant (1643-1693) arrived five years later. His portraits of the Great Elector, his wife (Königsberg Castle, Monbijou, Charlottenburg) and other relatives [13-15],14 as well as his mythological scenes (Narcissus of 1671 in Schwedt an der Oder) [16] show him as a fine painter in the style of Godefridus Schalcken and Frans van Mieris. He also had to train Friedrich von Cussé, the black servant of the Electress, as a painter, for which he received 100 Thaler a year. For the same salary his brother Andries Vaillant (1655-1693) [17] had the more honourable [sic!] assignment to teach the princes.15 Adam de Clerck (c. 1645-1705) came to Berlin as a court painter in 1678, where he died in 1705 as a professor of the academy.16 In 1681 he painted a portrait of the Elector that was sent to France,17 others were preserved in print [18].

Nicolaes Willingh
Fortune Teller, after 1667
canvas, oil paint 117,5 x 117,5 cm
Oranienburg, Schlossmuseum Oranienburg, inv./ GK I 5401

Jacques Vaillant
Portrait of Dorothea Sophie von Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, second wife of Friedrich Wilhelm von Brandenburg (1636-1689), 1685
canvas, oil paint ? x ? cm
Whereabouts unknown

attributed to Adam de Clerck or possibly Jacques Vaillant
Portrait of Friedrich Wilhelm van Brandenburg (1620-1688), after 1672
canvas, oil paint 122 x 100 cm
Kaliningrad, Königsberger Schloss (Museum), inv./ GK I 1357

Jacques Vaillant
Narcissus, gazing in a fountain, falls in love with his own reflection, dated 1671
canvas, oil paint ? x ? cm
lower right : J. Vaillant / fecit 1671
Schwedt an der Oder, Schlossmuseum Schwedt, inv./ GK I 7285

Jacques Vaillant
Portrait of Eleonore Juliane of Brandenburg-Ansbach (1663-1724) and one of her children
canvas, oil paint ? x ? cm
Berlin (Charlottenburg), Schloss Charlottenburg, inv./ I 3289

Andries Vaillant after Jacques Vaillant
Portait of Friedrich Wilhelm, Elector of Brandenburg (1620-1688)
paper, engraving 311 x 183 mm
lower center : DER DURCHLELLCHTIGSTE GROSMACHTIGSTE Fürst und Herr, Herr FRIDERICH WILHELM Marggraf zu Brandenburg, des Heyl: Rom Reichs Ertz Cämmerer und Churfurst in Preussen, zu Magdeburg Julich, Cleve, Berge, Stettin, Pommern, der Cassuben und Wenden, auch in Schlessien zu Crossen und Schwibus Hertzog, Burggraf zu Nürnberg, Fürst zu Halberstadt. Minden und Camin, Graf zu Hohen Zollen, der Marck und Ravensberg, Herr zu Ravenstein aüch de Lande Lauëburg und Butow
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv./ RP-P-1911-4474

Samuel Blesendorf after Adam de Clerck
Portrait of Friedrich Wilhelm Elector of Brandenburg (1620-1688), c. 1678-1681
paper ? x ? mm
lower left : A. Clerck pinxit
Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

From the later Dutch portrait painters, whose activity partly falls already in the governmental period of King Friedrich I, we mention also Laurens Eppenhoff (active 1685-1689), a Dutch enamel worker who had to copy the originals of Abraham Romandon († 1687) ‘in a small scale in enamel’;18 furthermore the completely unknown J. van Groningen (drawing of c. 1680 in London) [19] and Jan van Sweel (active 1673-1676), nephew and pupil of Jan de Baen, who sent him to Berlin in 1676, while he himself rather wanted to stay in the Netherlands.19

However, Jan de Baen (1633-1702) did come to Cleves several times, where Johan Maurits was very favourable to him [20]. In 1676 the Elector paid him a visit, ordered portraits of himself and his wife [21], but he did not succeed in attracting the artist to Berlin.20 His successor was able to acquire a portrait of Johan Maurits by De Baen that had been returned to the painter after the death of the stadholder.21 De Baen’s portraits of the Duke of Celle and the Prince of Brandenburg-Ansbach also must have originated in Holland.22 Theodorus Netscher (1661-1728) apparently started a portrait of Friedrich I, which he never bothered to finish.23

J. van Groningen
Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg and his wife on horseback in front of a town, c. 1680
paper, grey wash ? x ? mm
verso : J. van Groningen
London (England), British Museum, inv./ 1846,0509.212

Jan de Baen
Portrait of Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen (1604-1679), ca. 1668-1670
canvas, oil paint 153 x 118 cm
Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, inv./ 281

Jan de Baen
Portrait of Dorothea of Brandenburg, born von Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (1636–1689), dated 1675
canvas, oil paint ? x ? cm
Potsdam (Germany), Schloss Caputh, inv./ GK I 3008


1 [Van Leeuwen 2017] Seidel 1890, p. 145-146, Galland 1893, p. 189. Gerson wrongly states 49 pictures and 2,646 Thaler (corrected here).

2 [Gerson 1942/1983] Which is very unlikely, since she followed her husband to Berlin in 1647. Willem van Honthorst was appointed as a court painter on 7 January 1647.

3 [Gerson 1942/1983] Image in Boeck 1938.

4 [Van Leeuwen 2017] Gerard was the director and artistic leader of the business cooperation of the brothers; Willem was the production chief who did much of the daily coordination in the workshop with its many assistants (Ekkart 2012, p. 77-78). Is seems the workshop in Berlin worked more or less as a branch of the family business. Not many of works bear Willem’s signature. An exception is a portrait of a lady of 1649 in the National Museum in Warsaw, clearly signed ’WHonthorst.1649.’ (RKDimages 149858, Juszczak/Małachowicz 2013, p. 243-244, no. 155, ill.).

5 [Gerson 1942/1983] Images in Rohde 1938.[Van Leeuwen 2017] World War II turned Königsberg Castle (now (Kaliningrad, Russia) into a ruin, which was demolished by the USSR in 1968. Also Monbijou castle in Berlin was heavily damaged in the war and demolished in 1959. About the history of Monbijou castle: Kemper 2005. [Van Leeuwen 2017] See also § 2.13.

6 [Van Leeuwen 2017] The dates Gerson gives (quoted from Thieme/Becker 1907-1953, vol. 17 [1924], p. 145) differ strongly from the biographical dates given in Saur (Saur 1992-, vol. 73 [2012], p. 365). In the text the new dates are given (as is done systematically).

7 [Van Leeuwen 2017] In Saur (see previous note) this is explained by the influence of Hirt’s teacher Heinrich Bollandt (1578-1653), who was probably trained in Antwerp.

8 [Gerson 1942/1983] A portrait of a lady in Roudnice Castle is closer to the style of Netscher. [Van Leeuwen 2017] The quote about the style of the Rembrandt pupil is derived from Thieme/Becker and seems complete nonsense. Saur also mentions Ten allegories of Eternity in the St. Nikolaus cathedral in Stendal, but leaves out the comment on its style (if it has any).

9 [Van Leeuwen 2017] Here we have some confusion with members of the Hirt family of painters.

10 [Gerson 1942/1983] Houbraken 1718-1721, vol. 2, p. 22-26; Hofstede de Groot 1893, p. 122. [Van Leeuwen 2017] Flinck donated the painting to the town hall of Cleves shortly before his death. It surfaced on an auction early 20th century, where it was bought by the Bob Jones University (Goossens/Gottwald/Kok et al. 2015, no. 27).

11 [Van Leeuwen 1017] Bauer 2006, p. 269-270, no. A 145, fig. xxiv (color) and fig. 145.

12 [Gerson 1942/1983] About the painting in Rennes: Mulder 1937. [Van Leeuwen 2017] Bauer 2006, p. 242-244, no. A 120, ill. 120.

13 [Gerson 1942/1983] See p. 236 [= § 2.14].

14 [Van Leeuwen 2017] Gerson derived this information from Galland 1893, p. 92. In June 1666, during a short visit of the Elector’s family to a small town in Utrecht, an artist from Utrecht named ‘Janson’ painted both the Princes Elect in small format. Galland suggested the name of Janson van Ceulen II, which is quite plausible, since he is also known to have painted portrait miniatures.

15 [Van Leeuwen 2017] See note 139. The painting in Königsberg is missing since 1945 and attributed now to Adam de Clerck (Bartoschek/Vogtherr 2004, p. 121)

16 [Van Leeuwen 2017] Seidel 1890, p. 127.

17 [Van Leeuwen 2017] Many portraits attributed to Adam de Clerck in

18 [Van Leeuwen 2017] Saur 1992-, vol. 19 (1998), p. 520. The painting of 1681 is not identified.

19 [Van Leeuwen 2017] ‘ins Kleine en Emaille’ (Thieme/Becker 1907-1953, vol. 10 [1914], p. 584).

20 [Gerson 1942/1983] According to Houbraken 1718-1721, vol. 2, p. 312. Bredius found a document that proves the painter was already active in Berlin in 1673 (Seidel 1890, p. 131). [Van Leeuwen 2017] Here Gerson was reading too much in the facts: we don’t know if Van Sweel was happy to leave for Berlin or not, anyway, he did so right after his engagement to Catharina van Hove on 26 August 1673 in The Hague. On 25 August the next year his bride reminded him of his promise through a notary (Thieme/Becker 1907-1953, vol. 32 [1938], p. 347).

21 [Gerson 1942/1983] Houbraken 1718-1721, vol. 2, p. 303-327, esp. p. 312.

22 [Gerson 1942/1983] Houbraken 1718-1721, vol. 2, p. 303-327, esp. p. 313. [Van Leeuwen 2017] According to Houbraken, De Baen’s daughter sold the portrait for 400 Rix-dollars to the King of Prussia when he visited The Hague in 1702, shortly after her father’s death.

23 [Van Leeuwen 2017] Hofstede de Groot 1893, p. 92, 95. Gerson erronously states Ansbach-Bayreuth instead of Ansbach-Brandenburg. Houbraken 1718-1721, vol. 2, p. 323.

24 [Gerson 1942/1983] Weyerman 1729-1769, vol. 4, p. 144-145. [Van Leeuwen 2017] Earlier on his father Casper Netscher (1684-1684) painted Ludwig Margrave of Brandenburg (1666-1687) (RKDimages 271806) and the double portrait of Johann Friedrich Markgraf von Brandenburg-Anspach (1654-1686) and Eleonore Erdmuthe Luise von Sachsen-Eisenach (1662-1696) (RKDimages 279441), probably also during a stay of the sitters in The Hague.

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