Who are the family in a painting of 1658 by Jürgen Ovens?

Patrick Larsen, associate researcher at the RKD, is conducting PhD-research into the artist Jürgen Ovens (1623-1678), who originated from northern Germany and became a successful portrait painter in Amsterdam. One of Ovens's family portraits can be seen in the current Rembrandt exhibition at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. Larsen wrote the catalogue entry for this work, and in the latest issue of Amstelodamum he sheds more light on the question of the possible identity of the family shown in the painting.

Rijcklof van Goens

In 1866 Anna Catharina Broen from Amsterdam donated the large family portrait to the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, where it was catalogued as a Hollandse familie. In the 1874 collection catalogue, the work was falsely registered as a portrait of the (future) Governor-General of the Dutch East India Company Rijcklof van Goens and his family. In that very year the Rijksmuseum acquired a painting by Ovens, wrongly titled Rijcklof van Goens and his family, at an auction in Haarlem. Given the strong compositional similarities between the two paintings, it is likely that the identification by the Frans Hals Museum was based on the Rijksmuseum work. The museum in Haarlem continued to stand by its identification until 1924.

1. Jürgen Ovens, Portrait of a couple with six children, possibly the family of Servaes Auxbrebis, 1658, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem
2. Jürgen Ovens, Portrait of a couple with six children [formerly Rijcklof van Goens and his family], c. 1660, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Insolvency inventory of Marcus Broen

Patrick Larsen managed to construct what is possibly the correct identity of the family portrayed in the Haarlem work. It had not previously been noted in the literature that an inventory drawn up in 1681 of the insolvent Amsterdam merchant Marcus Broen, Anna Catharina Broens's great-great-grandfather, describes a family portrait by Ovens: 'A portrait painting of several persons, husband, wife, and children by Ovens' ('Een stuck contrefijtsels van verscheijde persoonasien, man, vrouw, en kinderen van Ovens'), which was valued at 36 guilders. This may well be the work of the Frans Hals Museum. However, the parents depicted in the portrait cannot be Marcus Broen and his wife Sophia Thiens, since in 1658 they had only three children.

Servaes Auxbrebis and his family

From the baptismal registers in the Amsterdam City Archives it seems possible that the family portrait shows Marcus's sister Anna Broen and her husband, the wealthy merchant and sugar refiner Servaes Auxbrebis, with their children Hans (1644), Anna (1646), Sara (1648), Jeronimus (1651), Hester (1655), and Servaes Junior (1657). Unfortunately, the archival documents do not reveal why the picture came to be included in Marcus Broen's insolvency inventory rather than passing to Servaes and Anna's children.

Assuming that the portrait indeed shows the Auxbrebis family, the sitters can be identified as follows: the boy with the falcon at the upper right is the fourteen-year-old Hans; he passed away in 1678 from an injury sustained in a fight in a pub. In the lower left corner his two sisters Anna and Sara walk into the scene hand-in-hand. Their brother Jeronimus holds a flag in his left hand, while their sister Hester is positioned between the parents. Finally, Servaes Junior – who died in a major earthquake in Smyrna in 1688 – can be seen sitting rather awkwardly on his mother’s lap. The commission for the family portrait may well have been prompted by the birth of the little boy, who was named after his father.