This portrait forms one of a pair in the Royal Collection, however the images are not universally accepted as that of the artist, Joos van Cleve, and his second wife, Katlijne van Mispelteeren. This difficulty partly stems from the fact that they were identified by Abraham Van der Doort in 1639/40 as depicting ‘Sotton Cleve’ and his wife. Van der Doort seems to be confusing Joos with his son Cornelis (1520-67), known as ‘Sotto’ or ‘foolish’ Cleve, apparently because he went mad towards the end of his life. Others made the same mistake, writing as if Joos, not Cornelis, were ‘Sotto’ Cleve.
The most striking aspect of the panels is the arrangement of the hands. The man addresses his wife and is spreading his fingers as if to reinforce a point. This rhetorical gesture is mirrored in Katlijne van Mispelteeren, with a more passive, contained placement of the hands gently laid one above the other and holding a rosary. Consequently the two portraits are perfectly balanced, conveying a sense of harmony and understanding between the couple.
The background of both paintings is plain green and both figures are dressed in dark, sober garments, the black of the man’s hat complementing the starched whiteness of the woman’s headpiece. The artist experiments with illusionistic conceits by including strong shadows behind the sitters. These not only unite the two by indicating that they are lit from the same source, they are also employed to trick the viewer by throwing shadows of the picture frames onto the background, blurring the boundaries of reality and fiction.
Catalogue entry adapted from Bruegel to Rubens: Masters of Flemish Painting, London, 2007
ProvenanceAcquired by Charles I in 1636
- People involved
- Physical properties
Portrait of the artist's wife, previously entitled