THOMAS DE KEYSER (Amsterdam 1596/97 – 1667 Amsterdam)

Thomas de Keyser

Thomas de Keyser (Amsterdam 1596/97 – 1667 Amsterdam)

The Penitent Magdalen

Oil on panel, 41.3 x 34.5 cm (16.3 x 13.6 inch); presented in an ebonised frame with gilt slip of 17th-century model

~ Anonymous sale, Galerie Fischer, Luzern, 21/25 November 1950, lot 2301.
~ Private collection, Switzerland


The present recently rediscovered painting is a valuable addition to the small corpus of religious paintings by Thomas de Keyser, the leading Amsterdam portraitist in the years before the establishment of Rembrandt in the city.

Thomas was de son of the great Dutch architect and sculptor Hendrick de Keyser (1565–1621).1 In 1591, Hendrick moved from Utrecht to Amsterdam, where Thomas must have been born. His brothers, Pieter, Willem and Hendrick II were all sculptors, as was his cousin, Huybrecht Keyser, while Thomas’s sister Maria married the English sculptor and architect Nicholas Stone. Thomas studied architecture with his father for two years, beginning in January 1616. It is not known with whom he was apprenticed as a painter, but the most likely candidate is the Amsterdam portraitist Cornelis van der Voort. De Keyser is considered the most inventive portraitist in Amsterdam during the 1620s and 1630s, up until Rembrandt established his studio in the town and instantly became the leading portrait painter.

De Keyser is mostly known for small-scale full-length portraits, such as the much admired Portrait of Constantijn Huygens and his Clerk in the National Gallery in London, dated 1627 (fig.).2 In 1632, De Keyser completed a large civid guard picture, The Company of Captain Allaert Cloeck and Lieutenant Lucas Jacobsz Rotgans,3 and the following year a similar impressive work, The Company of Captain Jacob Symonsz de Vries and Lieutenant Dirck de Graeff, in the Rijksmuseum and Amsterdam Museum respectively.4

During the 1640s, De Keyser was less active as a portraitist, and, like his brother Pieter and his brother-in-law in London, became a dealer in marble and other building stone. It has been noted that many of De Keyser’s portraits from this period represent colleague artists rather than patrician figures in Amsterdam, presumably from his circle of friends.

In addition to his portraits, De Keyser also painted a small number of religious works, of which this is a notable example. Some of these works bear dates in the 1630s. Our well preserved painting can for instance be compared to the artist’s Portrait of a Family in the Guise of the Family of Tobias of 1633 (fig.).5 It can also be compared to the Portrait of a Girl as Flora with a Shepherd Playing a Flute, dated 1637 (fig.).6 These works with religious content were presumably made for Catholic patrons, who exercised their religion in secret, although tolerated by the official Protestant authorities. Free from the restraints of portraiture, De Keyser was at his most original and spontaneous in some of these paintings. Our painting is also likely to date to the 1630s.

We are grateful to Professor Ann Jensen Adams for accepting De Keyser’s authorship.7

1. For the artist, see Ann Jensen Adams, The Paintings of Thomas de Keyser (1596/7-1667): A study of portraiture in seventeenth-century Amsterdam, Cambridge, 1985 and Walter Liedtke, Dutch paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven/London 2007, pp. 393-94.
2. Oil on panel, 92.4 x 69.3 cm, inv. no. 212; Christopher Brown, Flemish Paintings, London 1987, pp. 215-17, plate 184.
3. Oil on canvas, 220 x 351 cm, inv. no. SK-C-381; P.J.J. van Thiel, All the paintings of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam: a completely illustrated catalogue, Amsterdam 1976, p. 319, repr.
4. Oil on canvas, 198 x 604 cm, inv. no. SA7354; N. Middelkoop, Kopstukken: Amsterdammers geportretteerd 1600-1800, Bussum 2002, cat. no. 72, repr.
5. Oil on panel, 49.2 x 76.8 cm, Christie’s, New York, 4 June 2014, lot 31, repr.; Jensen Adams, op. cit., I-II, pp. 407-409; III-IV, no. 47.
6. Oil on panel, 91.8 x 71.7 cm, Christie’s, New York, 25 January 2023, lot 41; Jensen Adams, op. cit., II, pp. 409-410; III and IV, p. 126, no. 70, fig. 70.
7. Email correspondence, 7 June 2023.