1634-1693 | Dutch
Portrait of a Noble Lady
Signed and dated "N MAE / 1691" (lower right)
Oil on canvas
A masterful example of 17th-century Dutch portraiture, this magnificent oil on canvas comes alive with luminous color, dramatic contrast and extraordinary detail. The work was composed by Nicolaes Maes, an artist widely regarded as the most prominent portrait painter of his era in Amsterdam. Fashionably styled, Portrait of a Noble Lady exemplifies the mature style of Maes, executed with the same artistry and attention to detail he imparted on his most important private commissions.
This work by Maes comes from the second half of his career and follows in the rich tradition of the great Flemish Baroque painters Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. Like these artists, Maes excels at not only capturing his subjects with a technical perfection but also their inherent elegance and grace. The sitter is draped in luxurious white and red silks and pearls, underscoring the importance and prosperity of his wealthy clientele. She is placed against a dark backdrop, enabling a striking chiaroscuro effect characteristic of the artist’s portraits.
Maes’s immense talent for detail and composition is clearly evident. In both palette and proportion, it embodies the somewhat austere style preferred by the artist, which emphasized a painstaking study of the costumes, hairstyles and accessories of his subjects. Such elaborate and highly detailed costuming in portraiture was a fashionable way to show one's wealth in the 17th century, particularly among the emerging class of wealthy merchants. Similar works by the painter can be found in the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), National Gallery (London), National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) and Philadelphia Museum of Art, among others.
Nicolaes Maes was born in Dordrecht in 1634 to a prosperous cloth merchant. Around 1848, he moved to Amsterdam to study under Rembrandt for several years before returning to his native Dordrecht, where he established himself as a painter of genre scenes and portraits. In the 1650s, Maes traveled to Antwerp where he studied the work of Flemish artists such as Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens, after which he dedicated his career almost entirely to portraiture. Also at this time, he abandoned his more Rembrandtesque early style, opting instead for a lighter, cooler palette with shadows of grays and blacks rather than brownish tones, as seen in the present work. For the last two decades of his life, he resided again in Amsterdam, swiftly becoming the premier portrait painter for Dutch high society.
The painting is registered in the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD), The Hague, as an authenticated work by Nicolaes Maes.
Canvas: 24 5/8" high x 19 3/4" wide
Frame: 36" high x 31 1/4" wide