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Jacques de Gheyn II, Dutch, 1565-1629: Young Man Writing at a Table (The Artist’s Son), c. 1605-10 

With pen in hand and draw­ing instru­ments on the table, the artist’s son sits in a thought­ful pose. Above the sweep­ing mark on the page, he has writ­ten JD Gheyn in,” the name he shares with his father. The abbre­vi­a­tion in” stands for inven­tor” and indi­cates the author of a design. In this instance, it clev­er­ly reveals Jacques de Gheyn II as both the draw­ing’s cre­ator as well as the maker of his son. Although the sheet depict­ed is signed, it remains incom­plete, sug­gest­ing the per­se­ver­ance and patience required dur­ing this early stage of invention.

Jacques de Gheyn II was one of the most pro­lif­ic and eclec­tic drafts­men of his day, whose works con­tin­ue to fas­ci­nate for their range of iconog­ra­phy and fre­quent­ly open-ended poten­tial for inter­pre­ta­tion.1

This draw­ing gives every appear­ance of being a strik­ing­ly casu­al por­trait of the artist’s only child, Jacques de Gheyn III (1596 – 1641), who would go on to become a noted artist in his own right and his father’s clos­est fol­low­er.2

Despite its osten­si­ble sim­plic­i­ty, how­ev­er, one can find lay­ers of mean­ing in this draw­ing that are in keep­ing with De Gheyn’s obvi­ous wit.

The young man leans intent­ly over a small table with an inkwell and a selec­tion of pens as he con­tem­plates a sheet of paper on which he has evi­dent­ly just writ­ten JDGheyn in. This is a form of sig­na­ture that both father and son used on their art­works. In this case it serves as a clever means for the father to sign the sheet, which he does upside down to make it appear as if his son had just signed it.3

The abbre­vi­a­tion in.” for inven­tor was a stan­dard suf­fix at the time, used to des­ig­nate the artist as the spe­cif­ic cre­ator of the design. It was espe­cial­ly used by print­mak­ers (painters more fre­quent­ly signed with a form of fecit, or made it”) to clar­i­fy who orig­i­nal­ly drew or paint­ed the image. Since the sit­ter’s father trained and worked as an engraver for the first half of his early career (before turn­ing to paint­ing), its use would appear per­fect­ly con­ven­tion­al at first glance. There is a delight­ful irony, how­ev­er, that must have sure­ly been inten­tion­al: the father did not just cre­ate this infor­mal por­trait of his son, he was also his son’s inven­tor,” both in the sense of artis­tic birth and in the sense of being actu­al prog­e­ny. At the same time, by show­ing his son in a cre­ative moment, De Gheyn also acknowl­edged his off­spring’s own con­sid­er­able cre­ative impuls­es and tal­ent, which were rec­og­nized at an early age in the writ­ings of his father’s good friend, Con­stan­ti­jn Huy­gens I (1596 – 1687).4

This draw­ing belonged to the noted col­lec­tor and art his­to­ri­an I. Q. van Regteren Alte­na (1899 – 1980), whose three-vol­ume mono­graph on the De Gheyn fam­i­ly remains the stan­dard study of the artists.5

This par­tic­u­lar sheet must have held spe­cial impor­tance to the great schol­ar of the life and art of both father and son. Van Regteren Alte­na appears to have been the first to sug­gest that De Gheyn depict­ed his son in this draw­ing.6

This is a good sup­po­si­tion, though incon­tro­vert­ible con­fir­ma­tion of his iden­ti­ty through com­par­isons with other known or sup­posed like­ness­es is elu­sive.7

Some of Van Regteren Alte­na’s other iden­ti­fi­ca­tions of the younger De Gheyn in his father’s draw­ings have right­ly been crit­i­cized.8

The only secure like­ness of the son actu­al­ly comes from the hand of Rem­brandt, who appears to have been a friend of his, and who paint­ed the small por­trait now in the Dul­wich Pic­ture Gallery dated 1632 when he would have been around thir­ty-six years old Fig. 3.1.9

Rembrandt, Portrait of Jacques de Gheyn III
Fig. 3.1

Rem­brandt, Por­trait of Jacques de Gheyn III, 1632. Oil on panel, 29.9 × 24.9 cm. Lon­don, Dul­wich Pic­ture Gallery, inv. no. dpg99.

Despite the age dif­fer­ence, the com­par­i­son of like­ness­es seems to hold up well enough. This paint­ing was sub­ject­ed to relent­less (and one assumes light­heart­ed) mock­ing, how­ev­er, by Con­tan­ti­jn Huy­gens for its lack of resem­blance to the younger De Gheyn. In one of the few sur­viv­ing instances of a joc­u­lar response to a paint­ing by a major Dutch artist at the time, Huy­gens com­posed no fewer than eight Latin epi­grams teas­ing the painter he so admired (“This is the hand of Rem­brandt, the face of De Gheyn; look in won­der, read­er, it also is not the face of De Gheyn”).10

In the end, per­haps the best argu­ment that the draw­ing indeed depicts the artist’s son is the nature of the com­po­si­tion itself: the sig­na­ture faces inward, and the wit holds up.

If the young man in the draw­ing is his son, and in his early to mid-teens, then we can date the sheet to around 1605 – 10.11

De Gheyn exe­cut­ed most of his draw­ings with pen and ink, though in this work he demon­strates a great facil­i­ty with chalk, which he seems to have employed for less for­mal draw­ings, and which he used here with flour­ish and a broad range of stroke.12

Although signed, we can spec­u­late that it would have nev­er­the­less remained in the fam­i­ly since the sig­na­ture is, in a real sense, inte­gral to the con­cept of the com­po­si­tion. Van Regteren Alte­na sur­mised that De Gheyn found inspi­ra­tion in both tech­nique and com­po­si­tion in a draw­ing by Lucas van Ley­den (1494 – 1533) from around 1512 plau­si­bly known to him Fig. 3.2.13

Lucas van Leyden, Man Drawing or Writing
Fig. 3.2

Lucas van Ley­den, Man Draw­ing or Writ­ing, c. 1512. Black chalk on paper, 272 × 272 mm. Lon­don, British Muse­um, inv. no. 1892.8.4.16.

The man in Lucas’s sheet appears to be draw­ing rather than writ­ing (although pre­vi­ous schol­ar­ship empha­sizes the lat­ter).14

Such com­po­si­tion­al sim­i­lar­i­ty might pure­ly be coin­ci­den­tal, but Lucas did enjoy an enor­mous­ly high rep­u­ta­tion among Dutch artists of the early sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry, and De Gheyn also copied some of his prints.15

Aside from the theme of an artist and his prog­e­ny, there are also rea­sons to sus­pect a deep­er, more alle­gor­i­cal mean­ing behind this drawing.16 Hints of such a pos­si­bil­i­ty have been noted in other draw­ings by De Gheyn, such as Berlin’s Moth­er and Child Look­ing at Pic­tures Fig. 3.3.17

Jacques de Gheyn II, Woman and Child with a Picture Book
Fig. 3.3

Jacques de Gheyn II, Woman and Child with a Pic­ture Book, c. 1600 – 05. Pen and brown ink with brown wash on paper, 137 × 148 mm. Berlin, Kupfer­stichk­abi­nett, inv. no. KdZ 2680.

While strik­ing as a pro­sa­ic genre sub­ject, Hes­sel Miede­ma assert­ed that the Berlin draw­ing’s main pur­pose was actu­al­ly to alle­go­rize the process of learn­ing.18

In Aris­totelian thought, learn­ing is the prod­uct of instruc­tion, prac­tice, and nat­ur­al apti­tude, all three of which can fea­si­bly be locat­ed with­in the image: the moth­er (a source of nat­ur­al apti­tude) offers instruc­tion, and the boy, although too young for prac­tice, faces the scat­tered writ­ing imple­ments that imply his future endeav­ors in this regard.19

Anoth­er draw­ing by De Gheyn, even more clear­ly alle­gor­i­cal, depicts a young man with writ­ing imple­ments ges­tur­ing toward a can­dle or lamp (also just vis­i­ble in the Berlin draw­ing), which are tra­di­tion­al sym­bols of study and prac­tice Fig. 3.4.20

Jacques de Gheyn II, Young Man at a Table with a Candle
Fig. 3.4

Jacques de Gheyn II, Young Man at a Table with a Can­dle, c. 1610 – 12. Pen and brown ink on paper, 135 × 103 mm. New Haven, Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Art Gallery, inv. no. 1961.63.79.

While the loose­ly sketched back­ground in the present sheet does not offer a clear con­sid­er­a­tion of his cham­ber or sur­round­ings, one does at least detect the sem­blance of a can­dle or lamp emit­ting light in the back­ground on the right, from a source on a shelf just over the sit­ter’s shoul­der. With the artist’s hand sup­port­ing his head, and his eyes seem­ing­ly unfo­cused, De Gheyn here arguably rep­re­sents a mind engaged in the cre­ative process, and there­fore emblema­tizes the prac­tice required for those in the appren­tice stage to attain mas­tery. There is an ineluctable irony in the fact that the sheet before him appears empty (but for a long diag­o­nal flour­ish) and yet has been signed inven­it, as if the pro­duc­tion was complete.

A dif­fer­ent sort of irony can be found in the auto­bi­og­ra­phy of Con­stan­ti­jn Huy­gens, who wrote how dis­ap­point­ed he was that the younger De Gheyn wast­ed hours in idle­ness instead of using his aston­ish­ing tal­ent as an adorn­ment to his father­land.” Huy­gens sin­gled out his draw­ing abil­i­ty in par­tic­u­lar: “[De Gheyn] has already, although he has not yet left his boy­hood behind him, fur­nished such bril­liant evi­dence of his tal­ents, both in draw­ing with the pen and [chalk] cray­on, and to some extent also in paint­ing, that to the amaze­ment of his con­tem­po­raries he already equals the great mas­ters…” but, Huy­gens con­tin­ues, I am unable to con­ceal my vex­a­tion at it being pos­si­ble for these begin­nings, through indif­fer­ence, to result in so very little.…Until now I believed that Pover­ty alone could stand in the way of tal­ent, but now it is also choked by too much pros­per­i­ty.“21

Huy­gen­s’s notion that Jacques de Gheyn III was a spoiled child should per­haps be taken with a grain of salt, but, what­ev­er the case, his inter­est in mak­ing art indeed dropped pre­cip­i­tous­ly after the death of his father in 1629. He ulti­mate­ly left behind only a small hand­ful of paint­ings, draw­ings, and prints.

End Notes

  1. For Jacques de Gheyn II, see espe­cial­ly Van Regteren Alte­na 1983; as well as Van Regteren Alte­na 1936 (the trade edi­tion of his dis­ser­ta­tion from 1935, trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish); Jud­son 1973; Paris 1985; and Rot­ter­dam & Wash­ing­ton 1985 – 86.

  2. For Jacques de Gheyn III, see espe­cial­ly Van Regteren Alte­na 1983.

  3. For other exam­ples of sign­ing” inscrip­tions, see Kuret­sky 2017, 6, and fig. 5 for the present sheet (incor­rect­ly described as signed with IDGheyn III in. instead of IDGheyn in.).

  4. Van Regteren Alte­na 1983, vol. 1, 159 – 60.

  5. Van Regteren Alte­na 1983.

  6. Van Regteren Alte­na 1983, vol. 2, 107, no. 674 (“A boy, prob­a­bly J. de Gheyn III, seat­ed at a table”); though see the entry by Jeroen Giltaij in Rot­ter­dam, Paris & Brus­sels 1976 – 77, 34, no. 59, who also iden­ti­fies the young man as the artist’s son for the exhi­bi­tion of Van Regteren Alte­na’s col­lec­tion, a sug­ges­tion that appears to have orig­i­nat­ed from the owner.

  7. For other like­ness­es of Jacques de Gheyn III iden­ti­fied by Van Regteren Alte­na in the cor­pus of his father’s draw­ings, see the Fam­i­ly Por­trait in the Fon­da­tion Cus­to­dia, Paris (Van Regteren Alte­na 1983, vol. 2, 106, no. 669; the idea reject­ed in Boon 1992, vol. 1, 174 – 76, no. 93; see also C. van Has­selt in Paris 1985, 58 – 61, no. 22); and the Por­trait of a Boy in the Rijksmu­se­um, Ams­ter­dam (Van Regteren Alte­na 1983, 107, no. 673; A. W. F. M. Meij in Rot­ter­dam & Wash­ing­ton 1985 – 86, 53, no. 33; Boon 1978, vol. 1, 80, no. 228).

  8. See Schapel­houman 1988, 265 – 66, in a review of Van Regteren Alte­na 1983.

  9. For Rem­brandt’s paint­ing, see Rem­brandt Cor­pus, vol. 2, 219 – 24, no. A56; Jonker & Bergvelt 2016, 162 – 64, no. DPG99; and Van de Weter­ing 2017, vol. 1, 514, no. 68, vol. 2, pl. 68.

  10. These epi­grams, writ­ten in Latin by Huy­gens in 1633, can be found in trans­la­tion in Bruyn et al. 1986 (Cor­pus vol. 2), 223, under no. A56.

  11. A date of circa 1609 – 10 pro­posed by Van Regteren Alte­na is based on the appar­ent age of the sit­ter as fif­teen or six­teen years old, if indeed he is Jacques de Gheyn III. Accept­ing the lat­ter sup­po­si­tion, we might broad­en the date range slight­ly to a few years on either side of 1610.

  12. See also the black chalk stud­ies in the Teylers Muse­um; Bley­erveld & Veld­man 2016, 63 – 65, nos. 46 – 47 (with also the sug­ges­tion that chalk might be used for more infor­mal works”); and Van Regteren Alte­na 1983, vol. 2, nos. 691 – 92.

  13. Van Regteren Alte­na 1983, vol. 2, 107 – 08, no. 674; men­tioned also by J. Giltaij in Rot­ter­dam, Paris & Brus­sels 1976 – 77, 34 – 35, no. 59.

  14. For the draw­ing by Lucas van Ley­den, see the entry by W. Kloek in Lei­den 2011, 296, no. 89; and Kloek 1978, 442, no. 6.

  15. See, for exam­ple, Van Regteren Alte­na 1983, vol. 2, nos. 1041 – 44.

  16. This ques­tion was first raised in the entry on the present sheet by J. A. Poot in Rot­ter­dam & Wash­ing­ton 1985 – 86, 67, no. 58.

  17. For this draw­ing, see Bock & Rosen­berg 1930, vol. 1, 30, no. 2680, vol. 2, pl. 23; and Holm Bev­ers in Berlin 2011 – 12, 22 – 23, no. 2.

  18. See Miede­ma 1975.

  19. Idem.

  20. For this draw­ing, see Haverkamp Bege­mann & Logan 1970, 207 – 08, no. 379, who point­ed out the alle­gor­i­cal impli­ca­tions; and Miede­ma 1975, 12 (and fig. 4), who sug­gest­ed that it may have belonged to a series with the Berlin draw­ing, though this sug­ges­tion seems less plau­si­ble than De Gheyn sim­ply repeat­ing an inter­est in alle­go­riz­ing the sub­ject of draw­ing on sep­a­rate occasions.

  21. Cited and trans­lat­ed in Van Regteren Alte­na 1983, vol. 1, 159 – 60.