An Unknown Danish Militiaman

Pieter Isaacsz
1568 – 1625

An Unknown Danish Militiaman

Painted circa 1610-15

Oil on Canvas: 38 3/4 x 30 1/2 inches, 101.5 x 72.8 cm


  • Private Collection, USA.

This beautiful and newly discovered portrait, painted with a remarkably assured technique, can be attributed with some confidence to the Danish born painter Pieter Isaacsz. [1] It can be dated on stylistic grounds and fashion to the years around 1600 whilst the artist was working in Amsterdam, where he was to forge his reputation as a painter of large scale group portraits of the local militiamen such as The Company of Captain Jacob Hoyngh amd Lieutenant Wybrand Appelman (1596, Amsterdam Historisch Museum) and The Company of Captain Gillis Jansz. Valckenier and Lieutenant Pieter Jacobsz. Bas (1599, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)[2].

Apart from the great sensitivity with which the artist has captured the sitter’s fine features, and the bravura with which differing textures and materials of the costume are conveyed, perhaps the greatest virtuosity is found in the brilliantly detailed weapons and sword belt. The exceptionally fine rapier and its companion dagger would have been made in Italy and are both exquisitely decorated and embellished with gold. They are of the very highest quality and they would have been highly expensive to purchase. Their cost would have lain not merely in the precious metal employed in their decoration, but in the many hours of skilled and patient labour to create them. The ornamental and figurative designs used would have been inspired by the Mannerist pattern-books of the late 16th century, and skillfully adapted to the flowing forms of the elegant hilts and pommels of both the rapier and matching dagger. Such weaponry were prized as much pieces of masculine jewellery as weapons, and the emphasis given to them clearly reflects the sitter’s wealth and status.

Below the fine (silk) ruff the sitter wears a protective steel gorget over an a padded defensive jacket called a gambeson or arming doublet, that is fastened by a gold or brass chain. Then drapped over his left shoulder is a red silk sash elaborately embroidered with gold and blue thread and at his side is depicted a pot helmet with a decorated rib. [3]

[1] We are grateful to Dr Steffen Heiberg, former director of Frederiksborg Castle, Juliette Roding of Leiden University, and Dr. Sabine Craft-Giepmans of the RKD for their assistance in the attribution and research.

[2] Our sitter may well have been depicted in one or other of these two paintings, however the latter in particular is in such poor condition and has been so heavily abraided and repainted that any comparative identification is impossible.

[3] We are grateful to Peter Finer for his assistance with the armour.

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