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Hendrick Cornelisz. van Vliet: Het gezin van Michiel van der Dussen

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image of Oud Holland - Journal for Art of the Low Countries

Since I998 the Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsenhofin Delft owns a family portrait by Hendrick Cornelisz van Vliet. Signed in full and dated I640, the painting shows a wealthy and — in view of the details—Catholic family with five children. It predates Van Vliet's well-known architectural paintings by more than a decade, and is therefore very significant for our knowledge of his early oeuvre. In this article, however, attention is focused on the painting's unusual position in the pictorial and iconographic tradition of the North Netherlandish family portrait. We see a husband and wife with their five children, the sons making music with their father. Contrary to what is frequently stated in the literature, i.e. that music is an important attribute in the depiction of harmonieus family life, music hardly features at all in North Netherlandish family portraits of the first half of the seventeenth century. Highly exceptional in Van Vliet's painting is the circumstance that only the males are making music, as is the choice of instruments. The recorders, popular instruments but unique in the tradition of the group portrait, suggest that the sitters were fond of the instrument and wished to be portrayed while engaged in their favourite pastime. The instrument and the music book of the two sons, combined with the other children's attributes, hint at a representation of the five senses. The daughters are respectively depicted with a pecking parakeet (touch), a basket of fruit (taste) and flowers (smell). In this context the sons' attributes stand for hearing and sight, the two most highly ranked senses. With the aid of details in the painting — the obvious references to Catholic religion, the precise dating of the work and the name 'Michiel' in the piece on the music stand — the sitters have been identified as Michiel van der Dussen and Willemina van Setten with their five children: Cornelis, Otto, Anna, Maria and Elizabeth. This insubstantiates the traditional identification of another painting in the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp as Michiel van der Dussen's family. The Van der Dussens were prominent regents in Delft; however, Michiel's branch of the family was Catholic and thus excluded from holding official executive positions in Delft. They must therefore have been active in other spheres. They are not recorded as having pursued a particular profession; their wealth seems to have accrued from their ownership of property and land. The Van der Dussens are likely to have been of independent means due to the family's erstwhile noble status. Their higher ambitions were confirmed by the marriage of a granddaughter of Michiel van der Dussen to a Baron van Leefdael. This family portrait with its extremely rich imagery, painted in a period when repression of the Catholics in Delft was at its strongest, represents the selfconndence and ambitions of a Catholic family.


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