Previously unpublished, this impressive double portrait is a significant addition to the oeuvre of Gerard van Honthorst, a leading painter of the mid-seventeenth century, who spent much of his life working for the ruling classes of Holland at The Hague. Honthorst painted only a few full-length double portraits during his illustrious career, and these typically depict his most distinguished and significant patrons. The sitters were formerly identified as George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham (1628-1687) and his wife Mary Fairfax (1638-1704). This identification, however, is problematic. Though the young duke spent several years of the Interregnum on the Continent from 1651, he returned to England in 1657, the year of his marriage. This would necessitate dating the present work to that year and consequently after Honthorst’s death. While the sitters have yet to be identified with certainty, it is possible to suggest that the portrait may depict Christian Albrecht zu Dohna (1621-1677), and his wife Sophie Dorothea of Brederode-Vianen (1620-1678). Comparison with later portraits of the couple by Honthorst and his studio provide a number of close parallels in the features of both sitters (especially when the later date of these works is considered; see J.R. Judson and R.E.O. Ekkart, Gerard van Honthorst 1592-1656, Doornspijk, 1999, pp. 290, no. 399 and 293-4, no. 409, pls. 291 and 304). Another portrait, by an artist working in the circle of Pieter Nason, of Sophia Dorothea (private collection) likewise shares a striking number of similarities with the female sitter in the present portrait. The couple are known to have been part of the social and courtly circles in which the painter moved and other members of their families sat on numerous occasions to the artist.
Christian Albrecht zu Dohna had been educated by Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange (1584-1647), husband of Amalia von Solms, two of Honthorst’s most significant patrons for whom he worked in The Hague. Zu Dohna joined the Dutch army serving initially as an ensign in 1635, before his promotion as Cavalry Captain in 1641 and as Colonel in 1647. He later served as a General in the army of the Elector of Brandenburg. In 1644, he married Sophie Dorothea of Brederode-Vianen, daughter of the Governor of Den Bosch and a Field Marshall in the Dutch army. This impressive double portrait can perhaps be dated to around the time of the couple’s marriage and the wife’s gesture of tying a blue sash around her husband’s arm may have been designed to indicate their recent union, sealed with a love-knot. Aside from identification through later portraits, the male sitter’s cavalry uniform perhaps similarly can be used to further indicate his identity as Dohna, who was serving in the Dutch cavalry at the time of his marriage.