Peter Paul Rubens, Gaspard Gevartius, KMSKA.


The art of portraiture is very diverse and consists of a manifold of types and formats: typically ranging from intimate to public, from hand-held to monumentally large, from an individual to a group and from a bust to a portrait. The nature of the portrait is dependent upon the identity and the intention of the one being portrayed. The context in which the portrayed person is found, often paired with specific attributes, says something about his social position. Luxury items tell us that it is someone who is monetarily powerful, and a certain preference of taste underlines a certain status. In the scholarly portraits that Rubens makes of Jan Gaspard Gevartius, books and a bust of Marcus Aurelius point towards his intellectual level.

Attributes can also point to a category of trade or association such as in Cornelis de Vos's Abraham Grapheus. The man bears the silver plates of the Antwerp Saint Luke guild.

In some cases portraits are made for private goals. Family portraits that sometimes come in a series, underline the virtue of marriage and the family as the most important core value. Such a portrait is a vehicle for self-promotion, such as in the portraits of the Vekemans family by Cornelis de Vos. Self-portraits are exceptionally popular by some artists, such as Rubens and van Dyck. An exceptionally intimate portrait that was not to leave the domestic circle is the naked portrait of the second wife of Rubens, Hélène Fourment or The Fur (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna).

In other cases, there are portraits that more or less have a public aim to them. Here we consider the state portrait or the horseman portrait in which rulers are seated upon a horse so as to be immortalised. In the Netherlands, the sculptured portrait bust is a prestigious genre. François Duquesnoy (1597-1643) and Artus Quellinus I (1609-1668) are the most brilliant examples. An example of a sculptured portrait of a powerful person is Quellinus' Luis de Benavides Carillo, Marquis of Caracena, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands.

In imitation of the 15th-century tradition, retables with portraits of the patrons appear on the side panels. In tomb sculpture, sometimes the deceased is sculptured in his entirety, such as the Tomb of Monseigneur Antonius Triest.

Matthias Depoorter