The identities of the sitters in this remarkable group portrait of three craftsmen by Thomas de Keyser remain elusive. Three options as to their professions seem likely: they might be syndics of a guild (presumably the Goldsmiths'), unidentified honorary members or members of a club of Goodmen (experts consulted as independent connoisseurs by guilds). At present, there are too many gaps in our knowledge of this group of professionals to assume any identification to be absolutely certain. However, comparison might be made with two similar paintings by de Keyser: The Syndics of the Amsterdam Goldsmiths' Guild (Toledo, Ohio, Museum of Art) and the Portrait of six Goldsmiths (formerly Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts; destroyed by fire in 1944). Two figures in the present work closely resemble sitters in the above-mentioned portraits: that in the centre to the second man on the right of the Toledo portrait; that on the left to the figure on the left in the Strasbourg painting.
The Toledo portrait is believed to have been commissioned by the Goldsmiths' Guild towards the end of 1626, nine years before the present work, and most likely represents the syndics for that year. The aforementioned man in the Toledo painting could easily be a younger representation of the central figure in the present lot - who, it is assumed from the nautilus cup that he carries, is a gold- or silversmith: although the shape of his beard has been altered and his face shows signs of age, the eyes, nose and cheekbones are his most prominent features and strongly resemble those of the younger man. Frustratingly, he is the only person in the Toledo portrait whose identity is unknown; the others, from left to right, are Loeff Vredericx (1590-1668), Jacob le Merchier (dates unknown) and Jacob Everts de Wolf (1577-1627).
A possible suggestion as to the identity of the central figure in the present work can, however, be deduced from the date ('1631/AETAs. E 53.') inscribed above him, which gives a date of birth of circa 1578. The catalogue of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg, records a member of the Goldsmiths' (and Silversmiths') Guild, named on the list of Syndics, with a date of birth of 1578/9: Pieter de Konink. The list of Syndics, kept in the Municipal Archives of Amsterdam, gives the date of entry into the Guild for each member and records for how many years he had been active in the profession; thus one can establish that by 1635, when this painting was signed, Pieter de Konink had been a silversmith for twenty-seven years and member of the Guild since 1611.
The figure on the left in the present painting is depicted holding a statue, probably made of wax, which could be a maquette for an ornament destined for a tazza or another silver object. It is uncertain whether the makers of such statues were considered sculptors or silversmiths (sculptors had a free profession and did not have to belong to a guild, although sometimes they were registered as members of a painters' guild); it would seem very likely, however, that he is here represented in some connection with the Goldsmiths' Guild. His face - with its features, grey beard, receding hairline and stern nose and brow - is so similar to that of the corresponding sitter in the lost Strasbourg group portrait that there is little doubt that the same man is represented; his identity, however, remains unsure.
The inscription 'AETAs SUE 50' on the lower left gives a date of birth of 1585. This provides several possibilities. Of those, the best known is Anthoni Tavart, who appears on the above-mentioned list of Syndics and was born before 1592 (in the Strasbourg catalogue the name is spelled 'Savart'); the list records that he was a contemporary of Pieter de Konink, having become a member of the Guild in 1612. By 1635 he would have worked as a silversmith for 29 years. However, the Strasbourg catalogue states Tavart died on 3 March 1633 and it seems unlikely that de Keyser took the likeness from an earlier portrait and not from life; a tentative explanation is that the sitter passed away before the painting had been completed - a possibility raised by the earlier datings against the other two sitters. Several other names can be proposed; these are taken from the list of Syndics but are not mentioned in K.A. Citroen's Dutch Goldsmiths' and Silversmith's marks and names prior to 1812 (1975). Among these are Joost Hendrickse (a member of the Guild since 1608), Crijn Joosten (a member since 1610) and Lambrecht Bolderman. Nothing to date is known of these other than that they were contemporaries of de Koninck.
The final sitter is possibly holding a coin; the profession of coin makers was, as for sculptors, a free profession, and no records can be traced for these craftsmen. It has been suggested that he is holding a so-called toets steen (a test stone); such stones were used by silver- and goldsmiths to test the probity of their materials. A slight resemblance between the man on the right in both the Toledo painting and the present lot seems to be accidental. The gentleman in the Toledo painting is known to be Jacob Everts de Wolf. According to the date of '1632/AET.42' on the lower right of the present lot, this man must have been born in circa 1590; this does not match De Wolf's year of birth, as recorded in Citroen, of 1577. The only silversmith listed by Citroen whose date of birth is 1590 is Jan van Loo I (1590-1659) who entered the profession in 1619. His name however does not occur on the list of Syndics.