Nicolaes Maes

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Self portrait, ca. 1685 Self portrait, by Nicolaes Maes.jpg
Self portrait, ca. 1685

Nicolaes Maes [1] (January 1634 24 December 1693 (buried)) was a Dutch painter known for his genre scenes, portraits, religious compositions and the occasional still life. A pupil of Rembrandt in Amsterdam, he returned to work in his native city Dordrecht for 20 years. In the latter part of his career he returned to Amsterdam where he became the leading portrait painter of his time. [2] Maes contributed to the development of genre painting in the Netherlands and was the most prominent portrait painter working in Amsterdam in the final three decennia of the 17th century. [3]

Netherlands Constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Europe

The Netherlands is a country located mainly in Northwestern Europe. The European portion of the Netherlands consists of twelve separate provinces that border Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, with maritime borders in the North Sea with Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. Together with three island territories in the Caribbean Sea—Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba— it forms a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The official language is Dutch, but a secondary official language in the province of Friesland is West Frisian.

Dordrecht City and municipality in South Holland, Netherlands

Dordrecht, colloquially Dordt, historically in English named Dort, is a city and municipality in the Western Netherlands, located in the province of South Holland. It is the fourth-largest city of the province, with a population of 118,450. The municipality covers the entire Dordrecht Island, also often called Het Eiland van Dordt, bordered by the rivers Oude Maas, Beneden Merwede, Nieuwe Merwede, Hollands Diep, and Dordtsche Kil. Dordrecht is the largest and most important city in the Drechtsteden and is also part of the Randstad, the main conurbation in the Netherlands. Dordrecht is the oldest city in Holland and has a rich history and culture.



Nicolaes Maes was born in Dordrecht as the second son of Gerrit Maes, a prosperous cloth merchant and soap boiler, and Ida Herman Claesdr. He initially trained with a mediocre painter in his hometown. Around 1648 he went to Amsterdam, where he entered Rembrandt's studio. He remained in the studio of Rembrandt for about five years. He had returned to Dordrecht by December 1653. Here he is recorded making marriage arrangements as he posted on 28 December 1653 the bans of his marriage with Adriana Brouwers, the widow of the preacher Arnoldus de Gelder. [4]

Rembrandt 17th-century Dutch painter and printmaker

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was a Dutch draughtsman, painter and printmaker. An innovative and prolific master in three media, he is generally considered one of the greatest visual artists in the history of art and the most important in Dutch art history. Unlike most Dutch masters of the 17th century, Rembrandt's works depict a wide range of style and subject matter, from portraits and self-portraits to landscapes, genre scenes, allegorical and historical scenes, biblical and mythological themes as well as animal studies. His contributions to art came in a period of great wealth and cultural achievement that historians call the Dutch Golden Age, when Dutch art, although in many ways antithetical to the Baroque style that dominated Europe, was extremely prolific and innovative, and gave rise to important new genres. Like many artists of the Dutch Golden Age, such as Jan Vermeer of Delft, Rembrandt was also an avid art collector and dealer.

The eavesdropper Maes Eavesdropper Dordrecht.jpg
The eavesdropper

A picture of 1653 which is signed and dated shows that the artist had established himself as an independent artist by that year. Maes continued to live and work in Dordrecht until 1673. [3] He was clearly successful as attested by the fact that he paid municipal taxes on capital of 3,000 and 4,000 guilders. His high social status is demonstrated by his membership of the local civic guard, in which he reached the rank of lieutenant. [4]

Schutterij Dutch Civic guard

Schutterij refers to a voluntary city guard or citizen militia in the medieval and early modern Netherlands, intended to protect the town or city from attack and act in case of revolt or fire. Their training grounds were often on open spaces within the city, near the city walls, but, when the weather did not allow, inside a church. They are mostly grouped according to their district and to the weapon that they used: bow, crossbow or gun. Together, its members are called a Schuttersgilde, which could be roughly translated as a "shooter's guild". It is now a title applied to ceremonial shooting clubs and to the country's Olympic rifle team.

At the start of his career Maes painted biblical subjects, genre scenes and portraits. [3] From the 1660s he dedicated himself almost exclusively to portrait painting. [2]

Two chattering housewives Two chattering housewives, by Nicolaes Maes.jpg
Two chattering housewives

In the middle or end of the 1650s, Maes traveled to Antwerp where he studied the work of Flemish artists such as Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens. [5] During his stay in Antwerp Maes is said to have paid a visit to Jacob Jordaens' studio and conversed with the artist at length about painting. [4]

Peter Paul Rubens Flemish painter

Sir Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish artist. He is considered the most influential artist of Flemish Baroque tradition. Rubens's highly charged compositions reference erudite aspects of classical and Christian history. His unique and immensely popular Baroque style emphasized movement, color, and sensuality, which followed the immediate, dramatic artistic style promoted in the Counter-Reformation. Rubens specialized in making altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects.

Anthony van Dyck 17th-century Flemish Baroque artist

Sir Anthony van Dyck was a Flemish Baroque artist who became the leading court painter in England after success in the Southern Netherlands and Italy.

Jacob Jordaens 17th-century Flemish painter

Jacob (Jacques) Jordaens was a Flemish painter, draughtsman and tapestry designer known for his history paintings, genre scenes and portraits. After Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck, he was the leading Flemish Baroque painter of his day. Unlike those contemporaries he never travelled abroad to study Italian painting, and his career is marked by an indifference to their intellectual and courtly aspirations. In fact, except for a few short trips to locations in the Low Countries, he remained in Antwerp his entire life. As well as being a successful painter, he was a prominent designer of tapestries. Like Rubens, Jordaens painted altarpieces, mythological, and allegorical scenes, and after 1640—the year Rubens died—he was the most important painter in Antwerp for large-scale commissions and the status of his patrons increased in general. However, he is best known today for his numerous large genre scenes based on proverbs in the manner of his contemporary Jan Brueghel the Elder, depicting The King Drinks and As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young. Jordaens' main artistic influences, besides Rubens and the Brueghel family, were northern Italian painters such as Jacopo Bassano, Paolo Veronese, and Caravaggio.

Maes moved to Amsterdam in 1673 where he resided until his death. The move was likely related to the ready market for portrait specialists after the death of the leading Amsterdam portrait painters Abraham van den Tempel and Bartholomeus van der Helst. [3] The downturn in the art market in Dortrecht and other Dutch cities as a result of the Rampjaar (Disaster Year) of 1672, which was marked by a large-scale invasion of the Dutch Republic by French and other armies, likely also played a role. Maes must have counted on his fashionable portrait paintings to attract the patronage of Amsterdam's larger population of prosperous burghers. [4] His calculation was correct as Maes was so much in demand as a portraitist in Amsterdam that sitters considered it a favour to be given the chance to have the artist paint their portrait. The great number of portraits dating to the 1670s and 1680s are evidence of his success as a society portraitist. [3]

Bartholomeus van der Helst painter from the Northern Netherlands

Bartholomeus van der Helst was a Dutch painter. Considered to be one of the leading portrait painters of the Dutch Golden Age, his elegant portraits gained him the patronage of Amsterdam's elite as well as the Stadtholder's circle. Besides portraits, van der Helst painted a few genre pictures as well as some biblical scenes and mythological subjects.

<i>Rampjaar</i> The year 1672, in Dutch history

In Dutch history, the year 1672 was known as the rampjaar, the "disaster year." That year, following the outbreak of the Franco-Dutch War and the Third Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch Republic was simultaneously attacked by England, France, and the prince-bishops Bernhard von Galen, bishop of Münster, and Maximilian Henry of Bavaria, archbishop of Cologne. The invading armies quickly defeated most of the Dutch States Army and conquered part of the Republic.

Despite his long-term residency in Amsterdam starting from 1673, Maes never became a citizen of Amsterdam. He waited until 1688 to register with the Amsterdam Guild of Saint Luke, only after the municipality had demanded a list of members from the Guild. Maes registeres with the Guild not as a 'burgher' (citizen of Amsterdam) but as a resident. Maes suffered from gout in the final years of his life. His wife Adriana Brouwers was buried in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam on 14 March 1690. Maes died a few years later and on 24 December 1693 he was buried alongside his wife. Maes had achieved financial success as his estate included 11,000 guilders in cash, two houses in Dordrecht and three houses in Amsterdam. [4]

Maes' pupils in Dortrecht included Justus de Gelder who was his stepson, Margaretha van Godewijk, Jacob Moelaert, and Johannes Vollevens. [5]


Maes started his career as a painter of biblical and mythological subjects, genre paintings and portraits during the period from 1653 to c. 1660. He later concentrated almost exclusively on portrait painting. [3]

Portrait of a young nobleman with two dogs in a wooded landscape Nicolaes Maes - Portrait of a young nobleman, three-quarter-length, wearing red with a brown sash, holding a bow and a quiver of arrows, with two dogs in a wooded landscape.jpg
Portrait of a young nobleman with two dogs in a wooded landscape

In his early years as an independent artist in the early 1650s Maes painted a few biblical and mythological scenes. These include the Suffer the little Children to come unto Me (1652/3, London, National Gallery), Vertumnus and Pomona (possibly 1653, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin) and Woman of Samaria at the Well (c. 1653, Russell collection, Amsterdam). Maes' biblical compositions were clearly indebted to his master Rembrandt's models but show at the same time that he was capable of interpreting the bible and the iconographic precedents in an original manner. For instance, in the Dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael (1653, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) Maes portrays the Biblical figure Abraham banishing the handmaiden Hagar along with their son, Ishmael. [6] By showing Hagar's despondency and her son Ishmael's isolated posture the work is one of the most moving renderings of this theme popular with Rembrandt's pupils. [7] Most of Maes' religious compositions are of cabinet size except for the Christ Blessing the Children (National Gallery, London) which depicts lifesize figures. [3]

The virtuous woman Nicolaes Maes - The virtuous woman.jpg
The virtuous woman

During this early period Maes showed himself to be among the most inventive genre painters in the Dutch Republic. He introduced new themes and invented unprecedented expressive poses, gestures and facial expressions. [3] Maes painted various genre scenes set on the domestic doorsteps (for example A young boy receiving alms from an elderly man, 1656, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) and others praising the virtues of good parenting. These works were influential on other Dutch painters such as Jan Steen. [8] Maes applied Rembrandt's stylistic characteristics such as the brushwork and chiaroscuro to domestic scenes that were the favourite subject-matter of Dutch genre artists of his time. His paintings of domestic interiors showing women engaged in household tasks are endowed with a solemn dignity through the play of light and shadow and the limited color palette derived from Rembrandt. Between 1654 and 1658, he created a large number of pictures of spinners, lacemakers and mothers with children that express the contemporary moralistic view of the value of family life and quiet diligence. [3] An example is the Old woman dozing over a book (c. 1656, the Wallace Collection) which depicts a housewife sewing a shirt in a very tidy interior. An open Bible at her side implies that she is also clean and pious in spirit. A little boy at the window may indicate that the composition is a depiction of Proverbs (XXXI, 10-19) about working hard and stretching the hand to the poor and the needy. Maes has thus transformed a simple domestic scene into an evocation of the exercise of dignity and moral uprightness in a true biblical sense. [9]

Maes created some works showing everyday events occurring on the doorstep of a private house such as milkmaids ringing the doorbell or receiving payment or boys asking for alms. Maes was able to bestow on these mundane transactions a solemn dignity. Another theme treated by Maes in the mid-1650s are elderly female figures shown in half or three-quarter length such as an elderly woman saying grace before a simple meal, praying amid vanitas symbols or dozing over a Bible. [3]

Maes' major contribution in the depiction of interior space was to treat domestic interiors not as shallow, three-walled boxes but as suites of rooms. These innovations in the structuring of interior space were likely inspired by the new story element he introduced in genre painting. [3] These inventions had an important influence on Delft genre painters including Johannes Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch in particular in the compositional arrangements of people in interior spaces. Maes' exterior genre scenes may also have been influential on de Hooch's courtyard views. [8]

Old woman dozing over a book An Old Woman Dozing over a Book A25381.jpg
Old woman dozing over a book

In his earlier portraits Maes places his sitters who are typically dressed and presented in an austere manner against a dark background. Maes' mature style was formed during the 1660s and shows the influence of the Flemish style of portraiture created by van Dyck, which had been introduced into the Dutch Republic in the previous decade. From this time onwards, Maes employed staging and accessories often seen in Flemish portraiture. In the 1670s Maes' style further developed to relect the lighter spirit of the times as he places his sitters in elegant gardens painted in light tones and with a free brushstroke. These later portraits emphasize the gestures and poses, as well as the clothes and hairstyles of the models. The stylistic evolution of his portraits shows the influence of developments in Flemish and French portraiture. [2] Maes painted hundreds of portraits during his mature period. These were mostly executed in two standardised formats: the first used a small rectangular canvas to depict a half-length figure within a painted oval in a while the second used a on a larger format to depict a three-quarter-length figure, who would be leaning against a prop such as a column, fountain or rock. The setting was often a terrace or garden against a sunset sky. He also created many group portraits of families or just children shown at full length amidst a landscape. [3] During the 1670s and early 1680s he painted several portraits of children in the guise of mythological figures such as Ganymede, Apollo and Diana, either as single figure or in a family group. [10] He further painted one group portrait of a guild, the Six Governors of the Amsterdam Surgeons' Guild (1680–81, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam). [3]

Selected works

Four children as Ceres, Ganymede, Cherub and Diana Nicolaes Maes - Four Children as Ceres Ganymede Cherub and Diana - 1673.jpg
Four children as Ceres, Ganymede, Cherub and Diana


  1. Variant spellings of name: Nicolaes Maas, Nicolas Maes, Nikolas Maes, Nicolas Maas, Nicolaes Maas, Nicolaas Maas, Nicolaas Maes, Nicholaes Maes, Nicholas Maes
  2. 1 2 3 Nicolaes Maes, Portrait of a man at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Nicolaes Maes at Sphinx Fine Art
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Bakker, Piet. Nicolaes Maes. In The Leiden Collection Catalogue. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. New York
  5. 1 2 Nicolaes Maes at the Netherlands Institute for Art History (in Dutch)
  6. Nicolaes Maes, Dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  7. Nicolaes Maes, The Spanish gypsy at Christie’s
  8. 1 2 Walter A. Liedtke, Michiel Plomp, Axel Rüger, Vermeer and The Delft School, exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum, p. 345
  9. Nicolaes Maes, The virtuous woman at the Wallace Collection
  10. Nicolaes Maes, Pastoral family portrait of four children, personifying mythological figures, including Ganymede, and Diana with a deer, all in a landscape at Sotheby's

Commons-logo.svg Media related to Nicolaes Maes at Wikimedia Commons

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