Happy family news from the Mauritshuis: more than a century after they were roughly separated at auction, Elisabeth Bellinghausen was reunited with her fiancé Jakob Omphalius. With the purchase of the portrait of Jakob, the Hague museum completes a diptych dating from circa 1538 by the German Renaissance painter Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder.
This fulfills an old wish of Ariane van Suchtelen. The curator of the Mauritshuis had been looking halfway at the portrait of Jacob for about twenty years.
The portrait of Elisabeth, owned by the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, has been on long-term loan to the Mauritshuis since 1951. Elisabeth hung there alone, and for a long time no one knew who her fiancé was and where his portrait was.
After archival research, in which the coat of arms on the back of the portrait of Elisabeth played a role, Van Suchtelen discovered in 2004 that the prominent Cologne lawyer and scholar Jakob Omphalius was Elisabeth’s fiancée. Moreover, Van Suchtelen found an old black and white photo of his portrait.
Without the Mauritshuis noticing it, the portrait of Jacob was offered in May 2019 as a ‘portrait of an unknown man’ at the small Parisian auction house Baron Ribeyre. Galerie De Jonckheere from Geneva bought it, without knowing who the man was. A curator from a German museum pointed out a portrait to a curator in the Rijksmuseum, who in turn informed the Mauritshuis. With the support of various funds, the Hague museum then managed to reunite the engaged couple.
Sprig of bittersweet
That they are engagement portraits is evident from the bittersweet branch that Elisabeth holds – in Cologne portraits the attribute of unmarried couples. Elisabeth’s braids also point to the time of engagement: married women wore their braids under their caps. Elisabeth and the presumably considerably older Jacob married in 1539 and had 13 children. After his death, Elisabeth married again.
Bartholomäus Bruyn (1493-1555) portrayed an entire generation of Cologne notables. Characteristic for his portraits, says Van Suchtelen, are the lifelike detailing of faces and hands, the clear use of color and the attention to the meticulous representation of costumes and props.
The reunited diptych will be on display in the Mauritshuis for three months from Wednesday. Then the portrait of Jacob will undergo a restoration.