oil op panel (oak, a single leaf): tondo 22.4 cm in diameter
signed center right: SPRE[…]
collection label on the reverse: ‘116’
"*" indicates required fields
Much like his close contemporary, Gerrit Dou, Van Spreeuwen was one of a few fijnschilders (fine painters) in Leiden influenced by Rembrandt. Van Spreeuwen painted history subjects and allegories as well as genre scenes, but almost always employed a seventeenth-century interior setting. Just a few dozen works by Van Spreeuwen are known today, and the present painting is certainly one of the finer extant examples his portraiture.
Unfortunately very little is known about Van Spreeuwen’s life and clientele, as his name does not appear in Houbraken or Weyerman, but is found in an anonymous eighteenth-century manuscript with biographies of Leiden painters, according to which he was a “discipel” (pupil) of Dou in 1643. The veracity of this comment has been questioned.
Nevertheless, there are some indications that Van Spreeuwen’s “biographer” was probably not entirely mistaken and that in 1643 Van Spreeuwen may have been a workshop assistant for Dou.
A possible term of employment with Dou would also explain why he never joined the Guild of Saint Luke. Jacob van Spreeuwen was the son of Cornelis Joris van Spreeuwen, a baker on the Noordeinde. His name (and the bakery) are mentioned in the deed of purchase of Dou’s house on the Corte Vest. The properties were adjacent to each other, which also means that Van Spreeuwen lived less than 20 meters from the inn of Isaac de Jouderville and close to Rembrandt.
In 1622, Jacob’s father became the owner of three properties on the Kort Rapenburg, presumably just across from Dou’s parents. The four painters thus grew up together in an area slightly larger than two soccer fields, and three of them (Rembrandt, Jouderville, and Dou) maintained their close relationships. In addition, Van Spreeuwen was the brother-in-law of Arent van Dam, who was potentially also active in Dou’s studio. It is thus hard to imagine that Van Spreeuwen was not one of Dou’s assistants.
This portrait definitely shows the influence of Rembrandt on Van Spreeuwen. The sitter is unknown, but is shown wearing a beret and a gorget, a piece of armour protecting the throat and/or the upper part of the chest.