On the market for the first time in almost 90 years, this portrait is an exquisite octagonal work on copper by Thomas de Keyser. In the 1620s, De Keyser was the preeminent portrait painter in Amsterdam and one of the highly successful artists with whom Rembrandt would later compete upon his arrival to the city in 1631. From a family of prominent Amsterdam architects and masons that included his father Hendrick, De Keyser trained as a painter. Perhaps taught by Cornelis van der Voort, he excelled with small-scale works on copper like this one, which became highly sought-after among the burgeoning merchant class in Amsterdam. This present work is monogrammed and dated 1627, the period during which De Keyser was at the height of his artistic powers.
This portrait displays a stylish gentleman in a brown doublet and exuberant ruff. Through delicate brushstrokes, De Keyser created subtle lines around the eyes of the man and a small cleft in the nose, producing a highly specified sitter. Extolling this painting and another similar work by De Keyser, Ann Jensen Adams posits Amsterdam portraitist Werner van der Valckert as a likely inspiration, writing, 'We can almost feel the starch of the collars which would silently crunch between our fingertips were we to touch them, the smooth silk of their jackets, and the softness of skin lined ever so finely with exposure and age' (Adams, op. cit., pp. 68-69). This full style of collar, often made of batiste or cambric, was popular among young men in the period 1615-1635. In this case the ruff is a mark of technical genius, as its many layers of fabric are rendered in a detailed manner through finely wrought brushstrokes that extend past the sitter's jawline, creating a dynamic frame for the sitter's face.
S.A.C. Dudok van Heel has suggested that the portrait depicts the artist Pieter Lastman, teacher of Rembrandt (Dudok van Heel, op. cit., pp. 54-55). Van Heel bases this hypothesis, which is not universally accepted, on the inventory of Lastman's collection from 1632, which includes a portrait of the artist in an octagonal frame. Regardless of the sitter's precise identity, he most likely came from De Keyser's circle of wealthy patrons in Amsterdam. Through his marriage to Machtelt Andries in 1626, a year before the date of this portrait, De Keyser gained access to an exclusive clientele through the gold- and silver-smithing family of his wife and produced multiple pictures of his new in-laws and their milieu. Moreover, the same year as the present work he painted Constantijn Huygens, secretary to the Prince of Orange (National Gallery, London).
The illustrious provenance of this portrait spans Europe and the United States. In the nineteenth century, it counted among the fine group of Old Master paintings belonging to Henri-Louis Bischoffsheim that hung in Bute House, London. In 1927, it was purchased from Frederick Muller in Amsterdam by Gerard d'Aquin.