About Jan Victors
Amsterdam 1619 – 1676 Dutch East Indies
Sometimes referred to as “Johannes Victors”.
Painter of religious subjects, of portraits and from 1646 on of genre scenes (street life and tavern scenes).
It is generally accepted that Jan Victors was a pupil of Rembrandt during the second half of the 1630s. There are no 17th century written documents testifying this. The earliest mention of Victors, as one of the best Rembrandt pupils, is from 1722. His earliest dated works are from 1640.
Typical of Jan Victors are his rich colours, his theatrical staging and gestures and his marked linearity.
Active in Amsterdam from 1635 until 1676.
His wife died in 1661, leaving him with seven children.
In 1673 he changed his occupation: he joined the Dutch East Indies Company as “comforter of the sick” (“ziekentrooster”), giving medical and spiritual assistance. In 1676 he travelled to the Dutch East Indies, present-day Indonesia, where he must have died shortly after his arrival in December 1676.
His often grandiose religious paintings, especially the Old Testamentary scenes, carry, just as those by Lambert Jacobsz., a strong moralizing, didactic, Calvinistic message. His interest in religious matters therefore must explain for his final career move as comforter of the sick. According to the Indianapolis Museum of Art his most important patrons for these scenes from the Old Testament included members of the Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam.
Jan Victors was born into the poor family of a carpenter. He was one of ten children. Jan’s half-brother, Jacobus (also known as Jacomo) Victors (1640-1709) was a painter of animal scenes. In his early years he had been active in Italy.
Jan’s son, Victor (1653-1696/1706), was a draughtsman. There are drawings of Australia known, which he also travelled to as a comforter of the sick and as cartographer.
About our painting
The Michaelis collection in Cape Town holds a weaker version of our painting. It is painted on canvas, 94,9 X 78,1 cm. The 1997 catalogue compiled by Hans Fransen tells us of the changing attributions of that painting, from Govaert Flinck, to Jan Victors, Hendrick Heerschop and Johannes van Swinderen. The author states ‘the picture seems closest to Jan Victors’, referring to the portrait of a young Oriental huntsman by Jan Victors, which was published by Sumowski (N° 1789). According to Zafran (1977) and to Sumowski (1983) the sitter might be represented in a biblical role, namely that of Jonathan. This theory has also been given in the catalogue of the Michaelis collection about their version of our painting.
It is thus plausible that our ‘portrait of a man as a Turkish prince’ is actually a so-called ‘portrait historié’, a real portrait of a sitter shown as a ‘historic figure’, in this case as Jonathan.
One has of course to understand, within the 17th century context, the intellectual value of such a portrait, be it as a biblical or as a mythological figure, which surpassed the meagre message of an average portrait.
The biblical figure of Jonathan is described in the Bible, in the Old Testament, in book 1 of Samuel. He was the son of King Saul and a close friend of King David.
It remains of course possible that this portrait was made for a Dutchman who had frequent contacts with the Islamic world, and that this man therefore wanted a portrait disguised as a Turkish nobleman.
Prior to the 17th century what was to become the Dutch Republic had been a rather peripheral region, lying next to its much richer neighbour Flanders. But things changed rapidly: the Dutch managed to gain independence from the Catholic Spanish Habsburg empire, while many Flemish Protestants enriched its society. The world opened up to newly discovered countries and continents, and the Dutch were very eager to do business in all directions of the globe. To this purpose they created the West and the East Indies Company, the world’s first mega-corporations, the richest private companies the world had ever seen.
The Dutch and European societies fell for centuries under the spell of exotic products, such as silk, bird’s feathers, porcelain, coffee, tea, chocolate, pepper, herbs. Cooking, dressing, feasting, making music, everything in Europe was enriched with unusual products from very far away.
Islamic Turkey had for centuries been the hereditary enemy of Christian Europe. It conquered in a relatively short period what was left of the Byzantine empire, present-day Turkey, the islands and coasts of the Eastern Mediterranean and many countries in Europe, Asia and Northern Africa. Next to numerous military confrontations between the East and the West there were of course also diplomatic contacts with the Sublime Porte and commercial ties all over its vast empire.
Back in their home countries these Europeans would love to show off with their knowledge of this very different society. Some would have a portrait painted, such as ours, dressed as a Turk. These are of course not very common. We know for example of other portraits of men, dressed as Turks, with turbans and oriental clothes, by Rembrandt (his “tronies” were in fact not meant as real portraits, but rather as psychological studies) and by Daniel de Koninck (1668 – after 1720).
Later, during the second half of the 18th century, exotically romanticised portraits in Turkish costume of sitters with no evident links with Turkey became fashionable. A famous example is the portrait of Marie Adelaïde de France, fourth daughter of King Louis XV, by Jean-Etienne Liotard, now in the Uffizi Museum in Florence.
Early portraits of real Turks and of other exotic foreigners are rare. Best known are the few official portraits of sultans (for example the 15th century portrait, attributed to Gentile Bellini, of Sultan Mehmed II in the National Gallery in London), besides the Moorish and black slaves that we see in the background of 17th century Dutch family portraits, genre scenes and even still lifes.
Finally why can we be pretty sure the man portrayed in our painting is European, probably Dutch? Because his face does not look Turkish at all, but foremost, because the Turkish moustache is missing …
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is an immensely intriguing, decorative, attractive, exotic 17th century portrait.