This stunningly impressive gathering of elegant ladies, gentlemen and children is without any doubt one of Pieter Codde’s absolute masterpieces. It was entirely unknown and its discovery is a spectacular event. The setting is a spacious room adorned with classical pilasters and tapestries showing a landscape. In his depiction of high life genre scenes set in interiors, Codde followed in the footsteps of the pioneering Willem Buytewech. Codde first started painting small companies in the second half of the 1620s but around 1630 switched to more ambitious compositions featuring larger groups of figures. The present signed and dated work is a superior example and epitomizes many of the powerful qualities of Codde’s mature style, such as a more assured technique and a tonal refinement in his use of colour. Moreover, the enhanced elegance in the setting, in the dress and postures of the protagonists and motifs such as the greyhounds lend the scene an aristocratic flavour.
A dancing couple in the centre is one of the compositions’ focal points. The motif of a couple dancing already features in Codde’s earliest dated painting of 1627 (Paris, Louvre, inv. MNR 452), while another dancing party is dated 1633 (Vienna, Akademie der bildenden Künste, inv. 1096) and a third dated painting with a dancing couple is dated 1636 (The Hague, Mauritshuis, inv. 391). The primary subject, however, is not the dancing couple but the family group on the left. Codde rendered these figures as individuals and, indeed, they appear to be portraits. They all look the spectator in the eye and their poses are lively yet portrait-like. Dressed in a kolder and wearing a bandoleer across his breast the pater familias could be an army officer or a member of a militia guard. His son already shows military aspirations as well and wears a halsberg, a dagger and playfully points a pike into the viewer’s direction. The mother is dressed in silvery silks and her four other children are next to her and behind her with their nurse. The dancing lady and three figures at the right are all looking at the spectator too and are probably portraits as well. In line with the idea that the present work was a prestigious commission of a well-to-do family, Codde used a fine flawless oak panel of one piece to paint on.
The faces of the other figures are somewhat generalized and they are certainly not modelled on existing persons. Codde depicted them as characters in a narrative, capturing their witty interaction in a spirited manner. The mingling of full-length portraits of families on cabinet size and genre motifs was first explored by Jan Miense Molenaer, such as the self-portrait with his family (Haarlem, Frans Hals Museum, on loan from RCE, inv. OS 75-332). Codde must have known these works, adopted this approach and brought it to perfection. Images such as the present paved the way for the small-scale family portraits set in genre-like interiors by Gerard ter Borch, Pieter de Hooch and Gabriel Metsu. Codde’s palette is limited to grey, yellow, brown and silvery hues, which makes the blazing red of the boy’s trousers stand out. The scene is executed in a remarkably free manner and wet in wet passages can be admired throughout the picture. In spite of this its spontaneous technique it is certainly a finished work of art.