Jan Mijtens Portrait of Wolfert van Brederode (1649-1679)
On view in Room 16
Wolfert van Brederode was about fourteen when his portrait was painted by Mijtens, the court painter in The Hague. He came from an old noble family and was a nephew of the stadholder. Wolfert is wearing a roman soldier’s uniform, which is a reference to his military position. Even though he was unusually young, he already led a company of the cavalry.
The ‘trophy frame’ belongs to the painting. It is decorated with all sorts of weaponry, including a cannon, battle drums, a trumpet and helmets.
Wolfert van Brederode is here portrayed in an unusual costume. He wears a tunic under an item of clothing based on a Roman cuirass. Moreover, the strips of cloth applied to his shoulders and the bottom of the breast plate also derive from Roman military garb. The boy holds a battle axe.
At first sight, Wolfert seems to be playing at being a soldier in a truly spectacular uniform. But, much more is going on in this stately portrait of a child. Wolfert was about fourteen years old when he sat to Jan Mijtens. At this young age the boy already had an illustrious military career. When he was seven he had assumed command from his brother of a cavalry company. In 1665 he was sworn in to this position, and in 1673 was eventually appointed colonel of the Brederode regiment. In other words, this costume is not an outfit from the dress-up box, but a solemn reference to the lad’s military exploits.
Of course, in daily life Wolfert did not wear costumes inspired by classical antiquity. The way in which Mijtens portrayed him was called ‘op zijn antycks’ (after the antique). This involved fantasised attire, referring to clothing worn in the distant past. This kind of imaginary clothing did not go out of fashion; the ‘antique’ aura it exuded lent the portrait a certain timelessness. The setting, too, in no way recalls a Dutch landscape. Wolfert and his family lived in The Hague, in the fashionable Korte Voorhout neighbourhood, not a trace of which can be detected in the portrait. Mijtens placed Wolfert in an Italianate landscape. He stands before a rock, as though he is about to enter a cave, while behind him a vista of a sundrenched landscape with a classical building unfolds.
The portrait of Wolfert van Brederode is still mounted in its original frame. This richly ornamented, gilt frame corresponds perfectly with the martial character of this portrait. The frame is embellished with all manner of weapons and arms, such as a cannon, battle drums, a trumpet and helmets. In the lower centre of the frame is a battle axe similar to the one in Wolfert’s hand. All of the elements in the portrait and on the frame bear on Wolfert’s military career and aspirations: there is not a single allusion to his childhood.
(this is a reworked version of a text published in: L. van der Vinde, Children in the Mauritshuis, The Hague 2007, pp. 58-59)
Jan Mijtens (The Hague c. 1614 - 1670 The Hague)
Portrait of Wolfert van Brederode (1649-1679)
On view in
Material and technical details
106.5 x 85.5 cm
lower left, on the tree: JANMijtens F. JANM in ligature
Unknown; transferred, in or before 1841