The present picture belongs to a group of similarly sized full-length portraits, executed in the late 1620s and early 1630s that illustrate de Keyser's great contribution to the development of Dutch portrait painting in the second quarter of the seventeenth century. In these works the artist shows small full-length figures in rich interiors, informally posed with lively gestures, looking out of the picture directly at the viewer. This highly original formula was established in the Portrait of Constantijn Huygens and his assistant of 1627 in the National Gallery, London, and seems to have been an immediate success. As noted by Jensen Adams (op. cit., p. 97), de Keyser used the attributes of courtly painting in England and France as his point of departure for the composition of these pictures, adapting those influences for portraits of the urban patriciate in Amsterdam, whom he depicts with objects that refer to their own interests. This novel format contrasted with the static formal approach adopted by Mierevelt and Pickenoy in their standard three-quarter-length portraits.
The evolution of this portrait style coincided with de Keyser's social elevation achieved by his marriage in 1626 to Machtel Andries, the niece of the Amsterdam goldsmith Loef Fredericks whose portrait in the Mauritshuis, The Hague, he painted in that year. His marriage introduced de Keyser to a new social circle which provided him with a rich source of patronage in the years around 1630. His familiarity with the confraternity of goldsmiths is further affirmed by three group portraits of them: one undated (present whereabouts unknown), and two from 1627, formerly in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg (destroyed in World War II), and the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio (Jensen Adams, op. cit., nos. 16, 17 and 18).
The identity of the prosperous goldsmith who sat for this portrait has been much discussed. It seems likely that the painting is either of the great silversmith Christian van Vianen (1600-1667), son of Adam and nephew of Paul van Vianen, or the lesser known, Simon Andries Valkenaer (1609-1672). He holds in his right hand an engraved hexagonal salt-cellar while, behind him, is a magnificent auricular salt-cellar in the then latest fashion. The similarities between the base of the auricular salt and one of the designs published by Christian van Vianen in 1650, in Modelles Artificiels are striking and the selection of two entirely different forms of salt-cellar in contrasting styles is surely significant (fig. 1).
As observed by Ydema (loc. cit.), the same carpet used for the present work, recurs in the Portrait of a Scholar, dated 1631, in the Mauritshuis, The Hague, and the pair of Portraits of a Lady and a Gentleman, also from 1631, in the Statens Museum, Copenhagen.
Under the supposition that the sitter is Chrisian van Vianen, it has been suggested that the hexagonal salt-cellar was made by his father, while the auricular example is his own work conceived in the very latest fashion (see J.R. ter Molen, Van Vianen, een Utrechtse familie van zilversmeden met een internationale faam, 1984, I, p 38). Engraved hexagonal salts of this type are usually dated to the early seventeenth century, and in one case, as late as circa 1620 (see the example illustrated by J.W. Frederiks, Dutch silver, II, The Hague, 1958, p. 62, no. 176, pl. 53, and that in the Rothschild- Rosebery Collection; Mentmore sale, Sotheby's, London, 11 February 1999, lot 50). It should be pointed out, however, that the dating of both these examples is largely based on their similarity to the hexagonal salt in the present work, dated 1630. Both salts could well have been made in reality some thirty years earlier. Certainly the engraving on the example illustrated by Frederiks has close affinities to that on various Antwerp cutlery handles dateable to the very end of the siixteenth century (see catalogue of the exhibition, Zilver uit de Gouden eeuw van Antwerpen, Antwerp, 1988, nos. 91-96). An alternative explanation that would account for the appearance of two such stylistically contrasting pieces may be that they allude to the silversmith's ability both as a chaser and engraver.
Another clue to the identity of the sitter may lie in Thomas de Keyser's group portrait of The Amsterdam Silversmith's Guild, dated 1627, formerly in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg, (destroyed in World War II; fig. 2). A ewer made by Adam in memory of his brother and commissioned by the Guild in 1614 is prominently displayed in the picture. This ewer is widely regarded as Adam's auricular masterpiece and was acquired by the Rijksmuseum following its sale at Christie's, Laren, 19 October 1976 (see fig. 3). The seated figure third from the left has been identified by a number of authorities as Adam van Vianen who died the year the picture was painted, and in whose honour it has been suggested it was commissioned. This seated figure and that in the portrait etched in Modelles Artificiels, by Theodoor van Kessel, after John Smith, of Adam van Vianen are very similar indeed (fig. 4).
Furthermore, Professor Th. H. Lunsingh Scheurleer has observed the strong similarity between the young man standing in the centre of The Amsterdam Silversmith's Guild and the sitter in the present portrait (see Christie's Laren, 16 October 1976, lot 544, footnote). The standing figure, with his right hand around his supposed father's shoulder and holding in his left the cover of Adam van Vianen's ewer appears to be an addition painted by another artist. This is indicated by the slightly awkward composition. Indeed the picture would appear to be much more balanced without the standing figure. It may also be the case, although this has not previously been noted, that the ewer itself held, somewhat casually upside down, by the figure on the right is yet a further addition.
The 1938 catalogue of the Strasbourg Museum mentions a barely visible inscription giving the date of the addition. This date has been variously deciphered as 1635, 1636 or 1638. Beside the date is the age of the sitter and this has been read as either 26 or 29. The standing figure, however, appears to be at least in his mid thirties. It is possible that the artist who added this figure has given the age of the sitter as it was in 1627, when de Keyser signed and dated the rest of the painting and when Christian would indeed have been 26 or 27. Assuming this picture does indeed incorporate both Christian and Adam it can be seen as homage to the three van Vianens with Paul alluded to by the appearance of the ewer made in his memory.
In 1995, however, Ann Jensen Adams suggested entirely different identifications for both the figures in The Amsterdam Silversmith's Guild, which she renamed Portrait of Six Gold and Silversmiths, and the sitter in the present portrait (Ann Jensen Adams,Shop Talk, Studies in Honor of Seymour Slive,Cambridge MS, 1995 pp.28-32). In her view the picture is a friendship portrait and posthumous tribute to Andries Fredericsz (1566-1627) an Amsterdam silversmith and Thomas de Keyser's father-in-law. The standing figure, which she also accepts is the same person as the subject of the present portrait, is, she suggests, Andries Fredericks' son, Simon Andries Valckenaer (1609-1672).
In some ways this identification is more satisfactory as both father and son were Amsterdam, not Utrecht, goldsmiths and the various dates on the paintings fit better. Between 1599 and 1625, the elder Andries was assay master of the Amsterdam silversmith's guild on seven occasions and its dean six times. His son, who was Thomas de Keyser's brother-in-law, became a master in 1630, the year of this picture and would indeed have been 29 years old assuming his portrait was added to the group of silversmiths in the year 1638. This was the year when he was first elected as guild dean.
The identification of the sitter as Simon Valckenaer is then certainly plausible. However, it should be noted that he is recorded as a maker of engraved beakers and coffin shields and is certainly not noted for great auricular silver (K.A. Citroen, Amsterdam Silversmiths and their Marks, Amsterdam, 1975 p. 194 no. 999). Given the similarity between the auricular salt and that in Christian van Vianen's design, it seems perhaps more likely that it is indeed this goldsmith that is portrayed in this brilliant portrait, a view that is shareed by Johann ter Molen.
Like his contemporary Beriah Botfield, Edward Vernon Utterson was a notable book collector. They were both members of the Roxburghe club, of which Botfield was treasurer, and it would seem likely that they were acquaintances. Educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge, Utterson became a barrister at Lincoln's Inn in 1802, and was one of the six clerks in chancery between 1815-42. He kept his library at his house, Beldornie Tower, on the Isle of Wight, from where he issued reprints and facsimile of many of his original tracts by means of his own private press. His book collection was dispersed in two seperate sales; the first was held during his lifetime and took eight days, between 19-27 April 1852; the second took place posthumously and lasted seven days between 20-27 March 1857. His pictures, which numbered around forty, were sold along with his other possessions over the course of a four day sale at Christie's in 1857.
According to his 1848 catalogue, Beriah Botfield had in his collection another portrait by de Keyser - a 'Portrait of a Gentleman or Cotton Merchant of Holland, seated at a Table. From the Collection of R. Simmons, Esq.'. This picture does not re-appear in the 1863 version of the catalogue and is now apparently untraced. However, it's previous owner - R. Simmons, was probably Richard Simmons, the owner of de Keyser's Portrait of Constantijn Huygens, which he bought in 1821 and bequeathed to the National Gallery in 1847. It is not inconceivable that they are the same picture. Botfield may have understood, at around the time his catalogue was going to press, that he had secured the Huygens portrait for himself prior to the bequest. His description of the sitter as a cotton merchant is somewhat unlikely but he is shown conducting some sort of transaction with another figure and his true identity was not recognised until 1915 (F. Schmidt-Degener, Onze Kunst, 1915, XXVII, pp. 113). If this was the case, Botfield had to wait some ten years before he was able to replace it with a picture of comparable quality by the artist.