100 years ago Vermeer visited SMK in Copenhagen

The world only has few paintings by “Un celebre Peijntre nommé Verme[e]r”, the Delft artist Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675).[1] Pending on scholarly judgements, just 35 or 36 paintings are preserved, and they are all on display in public museums. Based on his professional career that spanned only twenty-two years, a qualified estimate of Vermeer’s complete oeuvre reaches no more than forty works. He left no drawings or preliminary paintings behind.[2]

Archival research and provenance studies are still ongoing in order to understand more about the life and work of Johannes Vermeer. Naturally, an attribution’s authenticity is significantly strengthened if direct links over time to the artist himself can be established. Equally so if an ownership during the artist’s lifetime or soon after his death can be proven.

In the past it was imagined that Vermeer after his untimely death in 1675 was soon forgotten and appeared relatively unknown during the 18th and early 19th centuries until rediscovered by Thoré-Bürger (1807-1869) in 1866 in his article “Van der Meer de Delft” as the ‘sphinx of Delft’.[3] However, research has established that both in his own days and ever since there was a marked for the eloquent painter of first history pieces and later more quiet interior scenes with mundane activities. Private collectors in Delft, The Hague, and Amsterdam possessed his works.[4]

Sometimes Vermeer’s works drew attention under wrong attributions, and in 1742 the Elector of Saxony acquired the Girl Reading at an Open Window as a Rembrandt.[5] The Music Lesson, now in the Queens collection in London, was acquired as a Frans van Mieris (1635-1681) in 1762. Art dealers in Paris praised Vermeer’s works early in the 19th century and he was traded as a pupil or follower of Gabriël Metsu (1629-1667) as well as of Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684). In the late 19th and early 20th century collectors and museums acquired Vermeer’s works as they became discovered and correctly attributed to the Delft painter, who signed less than half of his works and only dated one.

The art historian, artist, and museum director Karl Madsen. Photo: H. Damgaard.

No Danish museum has a painting attributed to or by Vermeer in their collections, however, this could have been different. In 1919 the director of Statens Museum for Kunst, Karl Madsen (1855-1938) had engaged with a Swedish art collector to display his paintings within the museum. It appeared that several of the works were for sale, which caused a rouw in the news press. It offended museum directors and the public opinion and in the journal Social-Demokraten one could read: “…and now the story goes that a Dutch art dealer, who stayed in Copenhagen recently, has given voice of a deal with the [SMK] Director who has offered him space in the Museum, where he intends to open his Shop in the Hammershøi-Gallery!”.[6]

The director proceeded with his plans and in January-February 1920 a collection of old master paintings from the Jewish Dutch art dealer Jacques Goudstikker (1897-1940) from Amsterdam was on display at SMK, the National Gallery in Copenhagen.[7] Among the paintings were works by Frans Hals and Rembrandt, however the highlight was Vermeer’s Young Girl with a Flute, a small panel measuring only 20 × 17,8 cm.[8]

What is noteworthy is that, despite the exhibition catalogue being praised for its beauty, Vermeer’s painting was not mentioned, nor illustrated in the catalogue listing the 65 works on show.[9] Was it added as an extra painting ex-catalogue? Was it important for its provenance having it listed as exhibited at the Danish National Gallery? Today this exhibition is not listed anywhere in the literature on the painting.

Johannes Vermeer, Young Girl with a Flute, 1665-1670. Public domain

Madsen did not hide the fact that the Goudstikker collection was for sale, and he even openly declared his hope that a patron would offer the museum to acquire not only the work by Vermeer, but also works by Van Dyck, Jan Steen, and Frans Hals – unfortunately his aspirations were in vain.[10] Maybe the price of 325.000 guilders was simply too much [today app. € 2 million]. Otherwise SMK now would have had Vermeer’s Girl with a Flute on permanent display – and not merely on a brief visit in 1920, a visit that does not figure in the exhibition history of the painting.

Reviewing the provenance history of the painting, it has been established that it was once part of the Pieter van Ruijven collection in Delft. Later in 1696 it was on sale in Amsterdam. It went to ‘s-Hertogenbosch and from 1876-1911 it went to Brussels. Briefly it was in Paris in 1911. Augustus Janssen in Amsterdam possessed the painting 1919-1921. Apparently commissioned to Goudstikker, the Girl with a Flute already in 1919 was part of the exhibition La Collection Goudstikker d’Amsterdam in the Pulchri Studio in The Hague, as cat.no. 131 with an illustration.[11] It was shortly after that the prolific art dealer Goudstikker had it on show at SMK in Copenhagen in 1920 ex-catalogue.[12]

The exhibition catalogue / Newspaper review, 22 February 1920.

During the exhibition at SMK, a newspaper prints a picture of Vermeer’s Young Girl with a Flute with the text that the most precious painting in the exhibition is the one by Vermeer. The review concludes that “It would indeed be a national achievement if one of our art-loving tycoons would secure our Gallery with such an artwork”.[13]

During the exhibition at SMK the following assessment of the painting was published: “The costliest portrait in the exhibition is no doubt Johannes Vermeer van Delft’s young ‘Girl with the Flute’. Although the painting has not gone unharmed through life, it is characteristic of the master. It has, to its fullest extent, this extraordinary, opulent atmosphere which characterizes his art. And its colours show his characteristic, saturated harmony. The basic tone is achieved by the young girl’s blue-grey coat, and it is emphasized by her Chinese-like hat, in which various coloured stripes – brown, yellowish, and white tones – are the most prominent. However, the best in shape and colour is the young girl’s left arm and hand. In the rendering of both soft and prominent contours, in the perception of the softness of the carnation, Vermeer unfolds all his peculiarities. Unfortunately, the perception is harmed in different ways. The colours of the scarf and the white fur coat are heavily yellowed, and a less fortunate restoration of the left upper lip and nose tip seems quite disturbing”.[14]

Later the same year, the Young Girl with a Flute was on show in Stockholm and in Kristiania (Oslo) where the Goudstikker exhibition, equally to the Copenhagen venue, was comprising 65 paintings announced in the Norwegian newspaper Morgenbladet.[15] A Danish newspaper wrote that the very small painting, the size of only three columns in their newspaper, in Norway was for sale for the very high amount of DKK 600.000. It was argued that the painting had a wonderful sense of completion, but also highlighted the fact, as the article continued, that “…only very few paintings by Vermeer are known… and out of these the ‘Lady with the Flute’ is regarded as one of the most famous”.[16]

It appears peculiar that Vermeer’s painting was not included in all of the catalogues at all the venues of the Goudstikker exhibitions, however, in the Rotterdam presentation in May 1920 it was indeed.[17] In the following year, it was again exhibited in a public museum like the SMK, this time on loan to the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.[18] Shortly after it was acquired by M. Knoedler & Co. of New York, who in 1923 sold the painting to Joseph Early Widener (1871-1943). In his private ownership, the Young Girl with a Flute hung at Lynnewood Hall, a Neoclassical Revival mansion in Pennsylvania. Widener was a wealthy American art collector and, as a founding benefactor of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, he bequeathed the painting in 1942.[19]

It is noteworthy that museum director Karl Madsen’s Dutch counterpart, art historian and former director of the Mauritshuis, Abraham Bredius (1855-1946), who privately had acquired Vermeer’s Allegory of Faith, in 1928 sold it to an American collector for $ 300.000 [today app. € 2.4 million].[20] The painting had been on loan to the Mauritshuis for almost 25 years, and to the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, for another five. Bredius had acquired the painting in 1899 for less than 700 guilders.[21] Although Bredius allegedly never liked his purchase, which he in 1907 called “a large unpleasant Vermeer”, one cannot help speculate if having the painting exhibited in the Mauritshuis and in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen would have boosted its value? Could Goudstikker’s presentation of the Young Girl with a Flute at the Danish National Gallery in 1920 have had such an intention? But why then, wasn’t it in the catalogue? Or did Goudstikker anticipate that Karl Madsen indeed would have been able to convince a benefactor to include the Young Girl with a Flute in the Danish national collection?


* This article is dedicated to the memory of my late colleague Ben Broos (1944-2019), head curator at the Mauritshuis 1986-2001.

[1] B. Broos, Un celebre Peijntre nommé Verme[e]r, in Johannes Vermeer, exh.cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C./Royal cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis, The Hague (1995-1996), pp. 47-65.

[2] http://www.essentialvermeer.com/how_many_vermeers.html

[3] W. Bürger (Etienne Joseph Theophile Thore), ‘’Van der Meer de Delft’, in Gazette des Beaux-Arts 21: 297-330, 458-470, 542-575.

[4] Just to mention the most important, Pieter van Ruijven and his wife Maria Knuijt left 500 guilders, a considerable amount, to Vermeer in their last will and testament. This kind of a bequest is very unusual and testifies a close relationship between Vermeer and Van Ruijven that went beyond the usual of patron-painter. It would seem that in his lifetime, the rich Delft burger had bought a sizable share of Vermeer’s artistic output, most likely, more than half.

[5] https://gemaeldegalerie.skd.museum/en/research/vermeer/the-acquisition-of-the-painting/

[6] V. Villadsen, Statens Museum for Kunst 1827-1952. Copenhagen 1998, p. 216: ”Og nu hører man, at en Hollandsk kunsthandler, som for nogen tid siden opholdt sig her, har ladet sig forlyde med, at Kunstmuseets Direktør ogsaa har tilsagt ham Lokaler i Museet, hvor han altsaa agter at aabne sin Butik i Hammershøisalen”, Soc-Dem, 11-09-1919.

[7] This took place only shortly after another show in The Hague the previous year: La Collection Goudstikker d’Amsterdam, Pulchri Studio, no. 131 and ill.

[8] Catalogue de la collection Goudstikker d’Amsterdam exposée dans le Statens Museum for Kunst. Janvier-fevbrier 1920, Harlem/Utrecht. See also V. Villadsen, o.c., ref.s 77, 78, 79.

[9] Berlingske Tidende, 19 January 1920, p. 5.

[10] V. Villadsen, o.c., p. 216.

[11] Catalogue de la collection Goudstikker d’Amsterdam : exposée dans les localités du Schilderkundig Genootschap “Pulchri Studio”, Lange Voorhout 15, La Haye, November 1919.

[12] A newspaper article mentions that Goudstikker recently acquired the Janssens-collection, including the “…enchanting portrait of a lady by Vermeer…”. Berlingske Tidende, 19 January 1920, p. 9.

[13] Berlingske Tidende, 22 January 1920, p. 5.

[14]Udstillingens kostbareste Portræt er dog utvivlsomt Johannes Vermeers van Delfts af den unge Pige med Fløjten. Skønt det ikke er gået uskadt gennem Tilværelsen, er det dog særdeles karakteristisk for Mesteren. Det har i fuldt Maal dette underlige, livsfrodige, som særtegner hans Kunst. Og dets Farver danner den for ham egne, mættede Harmoni. Grundtonen anslås her af den unge Piges blågraa Kaabe, og den understreges af hendes kineseragtige Hat, i hvis forskellige farvede Striber brune, gullige og hvide Toner er de mest fremtrædende. Bedst i Form og Farve er dog den unge Piges venstre Arm og Haand. I Gengivelsen af dens baade vege og faste Linier, i Opfattelsen af Karnationens delikate Blødhed udfolder Vermeer sig i hele sin Ejendommelighed. Desværre skæmmes Helheden paa forskellig Vis. Halstørklædet og Pelsværkets hvide Farver er stærkt eftergulnet, og en mindre heldig Restauration af venstre Overlæbe og Næsetip virker ret forstyrrende”, Berlingske Tidende, 5 February 1920, p. 3.

[15] Morgenbladet, 3 April 1920, p. 5.

[16] Social-Demokraten, 21 April 1920, p. 4.

[17] May 1920: Catalogue de la collection Goudstikker d’Amsterdam exposée dans les localités de la Rotterdamsche Kunstkring, cat.no. 19. with illustration.

[18] B. Broos, o.c., p. 207 and ref. 30: Algemeen Handelsblad, 20 April 1921, Evening Edition, 3rd section, p. 9: “Het ‘Meisje met de fluit’ van Vermeer uit de verzameling Goudstikker, dat eenigen tijd als bruikleen in de Oude Pinacotheek te München is geweest, werd, naar men ons mededeelt, naar Amerika verkocht.”

[19] Girl with a Flute,c. 1665–1670. Oil on panel, 20 x 17.8 cm. (7 7/8 x 7 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
acc. no. 1942.9.98. The painting is currently rejected by Albert Blankert; Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. ascribes it as “attributed to Johannes Vermeer.” Most all other scholars accept it as authentic. See also Cat. Johannes Vermeer (1995-1996), pp. 204-208.

[20] Johannes Vermeer, Allegory if the Catholic Faith, c. 1670-72. Oil on canvas, 114,3 x 88,9 cm. The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931. The Metropolitan Museum, New York.

[21] B. Broos, o.c., p. 194-195.

Who’s hiding 17th century Antwerp Brands?

Without considerable speculation, it is difficult to understand why someone would deliberately want to scratch away evidence of an Antwerp brand on the reverse of a 17th century panel. This is nevertheless what has happened to an oak panel intended for painting but which at some point became used for a marouflage (a technique for affixing a canvas painting to a rigid support) for a Portrait of a Man, possibly painted by Giulio Campi (1500 – 1572).[1]


Giulio Campi (?), Portrait of a Man. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, inv. NM 200. Photo: Cecilia Heisser, NM.
Detail of the centre of the panel with, to the right, the cloverleaf signature of Michiel Claessens.

A detail of the centre-part of the reverse of the panel reveals later criss-cross scratches labouring to remove completely an Antwerp coat of arms that was branded into the wood. Only small remains of the carbonised timer from the hot iron can be observed. The brand (possibly iron no 3, in use 1618-1626) was a sign of approval of the good quality of the panel made by a member of the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke.[2]

To the right of the scratching one observes a small cloverleaf (turned 90° to the left) stamped into the timber. This small leaf is the acknowledged house-mark used by the Antwerp panel maker Michiel Claessens (active 1590-1637).

Due to the marks we can now safely establish that the oak panel used for the marouflage was produced in Antwerp, more than a thousand kilometres North of the Italian Po Plain where the portrait may have been conceived and painted on a canvas sometime during second half of the 16th century. However, when was the painting marouflaged and did this take place in Italy or in the Netherlands? Why scratch away the Antwerp brand but leave the clover leaf of the panel maker intact?

At the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm further examination of the painting will in due course reveal more about its provenance, materiality and history.[3]


The above painting is, however, not unique in having a removed or obscured Antwerp Brand on the back. Two paintings at the SMK display the same fate – and again without a plausible explanation.

Jan Lievens’ (1607-1674) Self-portrait in Profile is one such.[4] It is signed ‘IL’ in ligature. The painting was copied a number of times by assistants or followers.[5] At least one of these copies seems to have occurred simultaneously with the master’s work painted shortly after his arrival in Antwerp in the mid 1630’s.

Jan Lievens, Self-Portrait in Profile. Statens Museum for Kunst, inv. KMSsp413. Photo: J. Skou-Hansen, SMK.

During examination, it appeared that Lievens’ autograph version on the back had a white patch of paint applied only at the centre of the panel. The paint seemed to cover-up a now hardly distinguishable monogram by an Antwerp panel maker.

Details of the back before and after cleaning of the white paint.

After removal of the overpaint, we could not only validate the monogram as that of Guilliam Gabron (1586-1674), but moreover that he used his second punch (datable 1626-1658) to ‘sign’ this panel. Secondly, also the completely obscured Antwerp Brand (no. 4) emerged under the white paint. This particular brand was in use 1619–1638.[6]

The answer as to why the maker’s mark and the Antwerp Brand were overpainted is hard to imagine. Did this happen in order to avoid confusing any 18th century collector about the attribution to Lievens? Would the presence of the Antwerp brand on the back of the Dutch master’s self-portrait cause confusion?

As mentioned, Lievens’ Self-portrait at the SMK was copied multiple times.[7] One of these, identically signed ‘IL’, appears to have both Gabron’s monogram and the exact identical Antwerp brand on the reverse.[8] In this case, the mark and brand were not painted over. The two panels therefore seem to have been produced by not only the same panel maker but also they were both part of the same batch that were approved and branded in the same session by the assay master of the Guild.[9] Subsequently Lievens executed his Self-portrait – which then was copied by another hand on the twin panel.

The dating of this self-portrait has been debated and it has been suggested that Lievens stayed in Antwerp as soon as 1625-26.[10] As Gabron’s second punch, stamped into the reverse, seems introduced in 1626, Lievens could have brought the two panels with him to Leiden. However, a dendrochronological examination suggests that the panel was available only after 1633.[11] As Lievens between 1632 and 1634 temporarily resided in London, the open question would be if the London art marked would have Antwerp panels ready for painting – just as was the case in Paris?[12]

Another possibility may be that this self-portrait by Lievens – and its copy – may be the earliest evidence we have of Lievens admitting an assistant in his Antwerp studio shortly after his arrival from London. We may even speculate that the assistant could have been the fifteen year old Hans van den Wyngaerde. On the 1st of March 1636, the notary Ghijsberti drafted a contract between Lievens and the young apprentice who was to receive training for the coming six years.[13]

If this suggestion is convincing, we may then assume that Lievens’ Self-portrait and its copy were both painted between March 1636 and sometime in 1638, the year in which the use of the Antwerp brand no. 4 seems to run out of use for branding panels. However, the riddle about why someone in the past tried to erase or obscure the presence of panel makers’ stamps and Antwerp brands on an unpainted panel-backing for an Italian portrait of the 16th century and on a Dutch master’s self-portrait of the 17th century still remains to find a plausible explanation…


[1] NM, inv. No. NM 200. Oil on canvas on panel, 72 × 54 cm. The painting is currently under examination by Sarah Ferrari and Martin Olin et al. within the ongoing research project on Italian Paintings at the Nationalmuseum, which aims to continue the catalogue raisonné. The first volume was published in 2015. See the online catalogue here: http://collection.nationalmuseum.se/eMP/eMuseumPlus?service=ExternalInterface&module=exhibition&objectId=3692&viewType=detailView

[2] J. van Damme, ‘De Antwerpse tafereelmakers en hun merken. Identificatie en betekenis’, in Jaarboek Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerpen 1990, p. 193-236.

[3] Italienskt Måleri I Nationalmuseum: Marknad, Musealisering, Materialitet / Italian Paintings At The Nationalmuseum: Market, Musealization, And Materiality. Further information on the project will soon be made available on the Nationalmuseum website.

[4] The painting is mentioned in the Danish Royal Collection, Kunetkammeret, already in 1737. SMK, inv. KMSsp413.

[5] The portrait is strikingly close to J.G. van Vliet’s etching/engraving after Rembrandt, Bust of a man in a gorget and cap with feather. Signed in the plate RHL. v Rijn. jn. 1631. JG v. vliet fecit. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. nr. PK-P-OB-33.369. An almost identical painting in reverse show a Profile of a man with feathered cap and long wavy hair. Monogrammed lower left RHL. Oil on panel, 23.8 x 18 cm. Germany, private collection. See more here: http://www.garyschwartzarthistorian.nl/323-the-r-k-czy-identity/.

[6] Jørgen Wadum, ‘The Antwerp Brand on Paintings on Panels’, in Looking Through Paintings, ed. E. Hermens, 11, pp. 179-198. Archetype Publications Ltd., 1998, p. 186, fig. 8, as brand no. 4.

[7] A cradled copy on panel, 51,2 × 37.8 cm, is in Weimar (Thüringen), Schlossmuseum Weimar, inv./cat. no. G 59.

[8] Sale Christie’s Amsterdam, 9 May 2000, lot 87, as from a private collection in Stuttgart. The painting is known to the author and currently in a private collection.

[9] See the Blog: https://jorgenwadum.com/2019/10/27/apostles-and-panels-in-the-dozens-thats-the-rule/

[10] B. Schnackenburg in cat. The Mystery of the Young Rembrandt, by E. van de Wetering & B. Schnackenburg et al., Staatlische Museen Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister & Museum Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam, 2001-02, p. 111. See also L. Bøgh Rønberg in cat. Rembrandt? The Master and his Workshop, by L. Bøgh Rønberg et al., SMK, 2006, pp, 212-213.

[11] Dendrochronological examination by P. Klein suggest most plausible availability after 1633. See https://rkd.nl/explore/technical/5006546.

[12] A. Koopstra, ‘De Antwerpse ‘witter ende paneelmaker’ Melchior de Bout (werkzaam 1625/26-1658): leverancier van ‘ready-made’ panelen voor de Parijse markt’, in Oud Holland, Vol. 123, nr. 2 (2010), pp. 108-124. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/003067212X13397495480826

[13] For Hans van den Wyngaerde, see: K. de Clippel, ‘Adriaen Brouwer, portrait painter: new identifications and an iconographic novelty’, Simiolus, vol.  30 (2003), pp. 199-200. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3780916?seq=1. I am grateful to Piet Bakker for this reference.

A Star of a panel maker

Was it a star that lead the shepherds to discover a newborn in a stable more than 2000 years ago, then another star is tantalising us on the reverse of Antwerp panel paintings from the 17th century. My first encounter with this particular star, finely crafted with its six points, goes back to 1984 when I examined the unique Winter Room at Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen.[1]


The six-pointed star was found stamped into the reverse of a Winter landscape with skaters and sledges on the ice, tentatively attributed to Salomon van Ruysdael (c. 1600-1670). Next to the small star is the Antwerp brand of a design that appear to have been introduced c. 1638.[2]

We know of several dozens of panels ornated with the six-pointed star, the large part painted by Antwerp artists like Hendrik van Balen, Frans Francken II, David Teniers II, P.P. Rubens etc. The earliest dated painting with the star on the reverse is a Music Making Party in an Inn attributed to Anthonie Palamedesz. (1602-1673), signed D. […] 1619. Other paintings with the star on the back are dated from 1621 and well into the 1650’s.

When we look at the Leiden-born artist Jan Lievens we know of his Antwerp sojourn (1635-1644) where he painted a Landscape with Tobias and the Angel, dated 1640-1644.[3] Naturally he would acquire his panel by a local panel maker so no surprise to find the six-pointed star on the back of this work.

What becomes striking when looking at the entire group of artists who purchased panels by the Star-maker is that – like Salomon van Ruysdael – they are not all Antwerp residents. Although born in Mechelen, Balthasar Huys (c. 1590-1652) settled in Rotterdam possibly as early as 1628 and that is where he in 1650 signed and dated a Still Life with Flowers and Fish.[4] From approximately the same year we find the star on the reverse of A Guardsroom with an Officer, allegedly painted by Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684) in Delft.

Further, the Danish Court painter Karel van Mander III (1609-1670) a created a series of images representing the five senses. An old man wearing glasses (sight) is signed ‘K.V.Mander 1639’ and the pendent (hearing) is depicting and old woman with a flute – and she on the back has the six-pointed star struck into the wood of the panel that was painted in Copenhagen.[5]

A preliminary conclusion on the activities of the panel maker using the fine six-pointed star as his trademark is that he was active in Antwerp 1619 through 1650’s or beyond. Like his colleague Melchior de Bout, who delivered ready-made panels for the Paris art marked,[6] also the panels marked by the six-pointed star appear partly produced for the export marked. His panels were allegedly available for artists in both the Dutch Republic and as far away as in Denmark.

Like the star from two thousand years ago, the one on the back of panel paintings produced in Antwerp in the 17th century has had an influence on the art marked still to be fully understood.


[1] https://rkd.nl/explore/images/242177

[2] J. Wadum, ‘The Antwerp Brand on Paintings on Panels’, in E. Hermens (red.), Looking Through Paintings. The Study of Painting Techniques and Materials in Support of Art Historical Research. Leids Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 11 (1998), pp. 179-198, fig. 18.

[3] National Gallery, London, inv. NG72

[4] Formerly (1996) with Jack Kilgore, New York.

[5] Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, inv. KMSsp799 & KMSsp800.

[6] A. Koopstra, ’De Antwerpse ’witter ende paneelmaker’ Melchior de Bout (werkzaam 1625/26-1658): leverancier van ’ready-made’ panelen voor de Parijse markt’, in Oud Holland (123) nr. 3 (2010), pp. 108-124.


4/M/M – a North Netherlandish panel maker

Information on the activities of North Netherlandish panel makers is scant. Some evidence on one of these anonymous panel makers is presented below. It will become obvious that a focused research into the organisation and activities of panel makers in the Seven Provinces is urgent. The forthcoming Marks on Art database at the RKD will rely on this. [1]
A mark found several times on the reverse of North Netherlandish panels may be interpreted as composed of the cipher ‘4’ with below the two letters ‘M’ on top of each other: 4/M/M.


Artists using panels with this mark stamped or branded into the reverse are Herman Saftleven II (Christ Preaching from a Boat, dated 1642). Also the Rotterdam artist Jacob Lois (c. 1620-1676) painted on a panel marked with an identical monogram when he in 1647 signed his Baptism of Christ. Ten years earlier his city companion Jan Daemen Cool (1589-1660) painted a Portrait of a 36-year-old lady in 1632 on a 4/M/M-panel, so far the the panel maker’s earliest.

Also Simon Jacobsz de Vlieger (1600/1601-1653), Wybrand de Geest (1592-1661), Hendrick van Anthonissen (1605-1656), and Barend Avercamp (1612-1679) painted on boards provided by the same panel maker.

Finally, Bartholomeus van der Helst, born in Haarlem 1613 but moved to Amsterdam in 1636 where he practiced his art until his death in 1670. Here he portrayed Samuel van Lansbergen and his wife Maria Pietersdr. de Leest. Both paintings are signed and dated ‘1646’, and the panel used for the man is showing the panel maker’s monogram struck four times into the back, on the panel of his wife it’s only found once. [2] Another Portrait of an elderly lady with a ruff, aged 62 was painted by van der Helst in 1648, and the panel equally marked 4/M/M.

From the above it becomes apparent that all the artists are practising their art i the Northern Netherlands. Their panels are all machine sawn (contrary to the large majority of the Flemish panels that remained hand sawn), and were painted within a limited range of years from 1632 through 1648. However, the panels were not painted by artists working in the same city or region but as far apart as Leeuwarden in the north via Kampen, Zutphen, Amsterdam, and Utrecht down to Rotterdam in the south.

Was the panel maker with the enigmatic 4/M/M-monogram a Fleming that had fled to the North?

One such was the Antwerp frame maker Reynier Roovaert who in 1638 got permission to open a shop in Amsterdam where he would sell ‘all sorts of frames and panels, both of oak and other sorts of wood, including standard-sizes, to painters and other customers’. [3] We do not know if Roovaert issued a house-mark on his frames or panels, but we do know of several makers’ monograms on North Netherlandish panels that so far have no name associated to them. [4]

Further research into the frame and panel makers’ of the Seven Provinces would clarify their activities and practices and in this way add significant information about the complexity of the huge art market of the Netherlands in the seventeenth century.


[1] New MARKS ON ART database under construction. For more see here.

[2] Both oil on panel, 68 × 58 cm. Rijksmuseum, inv. SK-A-143, SK-A-144. The panel of the woman is dendrochronologically dated to after 1639 (P. Klein). Thanks to G. Tauber and M. van den Bichelaer, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, for drawing my attention to the marks; Oct.-Dec. 2019.

[3] ’alderley soorten van lysten ende panelen te mogen maken, zoo van Eycken als ander hout ende alsoo dosijnwerck aen de schilders ende anderen te vercopen’, J.G. van Dillen, Bronnen tot de geschiedenis van het bedrijfsleven en het gildewezen van Amsterdam, 3 dln., Den Haag 1929, 1933 en 1974, pp. 176-177, nr. 340. See also P.J.J. van Thiel & C.J. de Bruyn Kops, Prijst de Lijst, De Holælandse schilderijenlijst in de seventiende eeuw, Rijksmuseum 1984.

[4] You may download my poster Documenting North Netherlandish 17th Century Panel Makers’ House Marks (ICOM-CC 2014) here.

Hans van Haecht, panel maker and art dealer

Detail from the reverse of Jacob de Backer (Antwerp circa 1555–1585/90) The Baptism of Christ. Dorotheum, 22.10.2019

At the recent October Old Master auction at Dorotheum in Vienna, a Baptism of Christ, oil on panel, 75.5 x 107.5 cm, by Jacob de Backer (Antwerp c. 1555-1585/90) was presented as lot no. 18. The painting is dated to the 1580’s. [1]  

On the back is a stamp with what looks like an encircled St. Andrew’s cross with an additional horizontal crossbar. This mark, measuring about 20 mm across, is rarely found on panels and we only know of a few examples. One is on a painting depicting Our Lady in the Carmelite Convent in Sens (Yonne), and the other on a panel (reused more than a century after its fabrication) now kept in the National Museum in Gdańsk.[2] 

At current, we have no firm evidence of who of the many Antwerp panel makers was using this particular design for his stamp. However, on the list from 1617 the house-mark next to the name of Hans Van Haecht is drawn as a triple cross.[3] Hans Van Haecht came out of a large dynasty of painters, panel makers, carpenters and art dealers.[4] Although he is mostly known as an art dealer bills concerning deliverance of panels are known as well. He was active as a panel maker in Antwerp 1589-1621.

Further, we know of several seemingly identical marks to the one on De Backer’s panel, but they are all only half the size and appear on apparently later panels (?). Additionally we in at least two cases have observed the triple-cross written in red chalk on the back of panels.

More on all this on a forthcoming occasion …


    [1] Luuk Pijl and Nils Büttner has individually confirmed the attribution, provenance and dating of the present painting.

    [2] M. Schuster-Gawłowska, ‘Guild Marks on the Backs of Flemish Panel Paintings. An Attempt at Systematization and Documentation’, in Studia i Materiały wydziału konserwacji dzieł sztuki Akademii sztuk pięknych w Krakowie, Tom II, 1992, pp. 64-65.

    [3] Jan Van Damme, ‘De Antwerpse tafereelmak­ers en hun merken. Identificatie en betekenis’, in Jaarboek voor het Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerpen 1990, p. 195.

    [4] J. Van Roey, ‘Het Antwerpse geslacht Van Haecht (Verha­echt). Tafereelmakers, Schilders, Kunsthandelaers’, in Miscellanea Josef Duverger, vol. I, Gent 1968, p. 216-230.