Nicolaes Eliasz. Pickenoy was the preeminent portrait painter in Amsterdam prior to Rembrandt’s arrival there in 1631, and the two were inextricably linked in Amsterdam’s artistic milieu in the second quarter of the seventeenth century. Between 1639 and 1645 they were neighbours on Amsterdam’s fashionable Sint Anthonisbreestraat. At times, they also shared patrons. A year after Rembrandt completed his famed Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632; The Hague, Mauritshuis), the doctor sat for a bust-length portrait by Pickenoy (Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum). Similarly, both artists found favour with the wealthy de Graeff family – among the most powerful and politically connected in Amsterdam – with Pickenoy having depicted Cornelis in a full-length portrait of 1636 (Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie) and Rembrandt portraying his younger brother Andries three years later in similar format (Kassel, Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister).
Pickenoy’s social connections to Amsterdam’s elite likewise earned him prestigious commissions to depict the syndics of the city’s wine merchants guild, the regents of its Spinhuis and no fewer than five civic guard portraits. His most successful civic guard portrait was painted for the company of Jan Claesz. van Vlooswijck – one of seven monumental group portraits, among which was Rembrandt’s Night Watch (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum), that were commissioned for the newly constructed great hall of the Kloveniersdoelen (the arquebusiers’ civic guard headquarters) in Amsterdam. Despite his success as a portrait painter (and, in a handful of instances, a painter of large-scale historical subjects), Pickenoy appears to have died in relative obscurity sometime between 1650 and 1656, the year in which his wife was described in an archival document as a ‘widow’.
The present pair of portraits, among the finest in private hands, testify to Pickenoy’s consummate abilities as a portrait painter. The sitters are shown at three-quarter-length following a format popularised in the second decade of the seventeenth century by Cornelis van der Voort, with whom Pickenoy probably trained. Likely commissioned to commemorate the couple’s marriage, the man places his right hand over his heart as a sign of avowal. While such a device is seldom encountered in Pickenoy’s work, the young woman’s pose largely parallels that of one of Pickenoy’s undisputed masterpieces, the Portrait of a young woman of 1632 (Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum). However, in the present painting, Pickenoy removed the pair of richly embroidered gloves from the woman’s slightly raised proper left hand. In doing so, she now appears to gesture toward her betrothed, a change that heightens the interaction between the sitters. As with Pickenoy’s finest paintings, here he freely indulged his penchant for depicting the tactile qualities of the textiles. Due to the pair’s impeccable state of preservation, his minute rendering of the openwork lace of the man’s flat collar and the sumptuous brocade of the woman’s dress can be appreciated in mesmerising detail.