An Unknown Young Girl with a Sheep

Dirck Dircksz. Santvoort
(c. 1610 - 1680)

An Unknown Young Girl with a Sheep

Painted circa 1650

Oil on panel: 42 ½ x 30 ¾ in. (108.2 x 78.3cm.)


Private collection, England, c.1910; thence by descent until

Bonhams, London, 6 July 2011, lot 125 (as ‘Attributed to Jacob Gerritsz. Cuyp);

The Weiss Gallery, 2011 - 2012;

Private collection, France, until 2018.

This enchanting portrait of a young girl tenderly feeding her sheep can be dated on the basis of costume to circa 1650’s.  In our portrait, the child gazes at the viewer, wide-eyed and innocent, as though emerging from a fairytale wood as a shepherdess guarding her flock. Accessories were often used inventively in children’s portraiture; here the lamb turns the young girl into a shepherdess and also alludes to St. Agnes. The picture can be viewed as an extension of the pastoral portrait, which reflects the growing interest in rural life, evident in Dutch literature and art from the beginning of the seventeenth century.[1] It is possible that the sitter’s family might have wanted to express a love of outdoor life, but most likely the lamb serves to emphasise the innocence and virtuous living of the child.

Our young girl wears a white bodice with an intricately rendered double row of lace down the front, echoed at her neckline, where the two rows of lace line the round-shoulder collar. Her gold bracelets and precious ring are a key indication of the family’s wealth, and although her dress appears simple, the costly fabrics and lace were often more expensive than jewels. The skirt is raised all around to reveal her embroidered underskirt, a sign that we are looking at a young girl and not a boy.[2]

Dirk Santvoort was the son of the painter Dirck Pietersz. Bontepaert under whom he and his elder brother (the landscape painter Pieter Pietersz. Santvoort) almost certainly studied. In 1636 he became a master of the Guild of Saint Luke in Amsterdam. And was soon to become one of the leading portrait painters in Amsterdam during the mid 17th century, particularly specialising in the portraiture of children. The earliest signed portrait of a child is the Portrait of Willem van Loon in the Museum van Loon, Amsterdam, which is dated 1636, and there exist no dated pictures after 1645. Therefore, it would seem most likely that the present portrait was painted during the early 1640's, particularly when the dress is compared to that of the Portraits of Marinus and Clara Alewijn (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam dated 1644) where the children are also depicted as pastoral figures.


[1] J. B. Bedaux & R. Ekkart, Pride and Joy: Children’s Portraits in the Netherlands 1500-1700, Ludion Press 2000, p.134 & 160.

[2] J. B. Bedaux & R. Ekkart, Pride and Joy: Children’s Portraits in the Netherlands 1500-1700, Ludion Press 2000, p.79. Young boys were also dressed in skirts and so it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether we are looking at a boy or a girl.

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