On June 24th, 1616, birth of Ferdinand Bol, celebrity-portrait painter of the Dutch Golden Age. Bol married himself into the Amsterdam high society of merchants and the Dutch Admiralty with their naval heroes. Always being compared to Rembrandt, Bol went his own way and became very successful and famous. His style of painting is less “emotional” than Rembrandt’s, but more “polished” and pleasing towards his audience. When Bol died he had been retired for years already and been living in one of the biggest Amsterdam canal houses. He was the painter-to-go-to for a portrait that would give the sitter eternal remembrance and make them surpass their earthly existence.
In 1667 Bol painted a portrait of Michiel Adriaenszn de Ruyter (1607 – 1676), Admiral of the Dutch fleet and winner of sea battles all over the world. De Ruyter was loved by his sailors and admired by the government of the then Dutch Republic. And on the occasion of his 1666 victory against the British at the Four Days Battle on the North Sea, the Dutch Admiralty decided that Michiel’s portrait should hang in the six local headquarters of the Dutch Admiralties. And those six copies had to be painted by Ferdinand Bol. It was the Admiralty who ordered the portraits, but Michiel de Ruyter had to pay for it himself.
The portrait shows Michiel de Ruyter as Admiral and Chief Commander of the Dutch Fleet, conqueror of the world and man of great dignity, discipline and decisiveness. His flagship “De Zeven Provincien” (Seven Provinces) is in the background. The portrait is seen from a low perspective, which adds to the image of power of Michiel de Ruyter. No emotions are shown. This is a state portrait and depicts Michiel de Ruyter as he wanted to be remembered.
Ferdinand Bol is a master in inventing an image of the one portrayed. And with much success. Everyone remembers Michiel de Ruyter as the one depicted in Bol’s portrait. This is how one believes Michiel de Ruyter looked like. It’s an idealized portrait, but so well known that our communal memory believes this is Michiel de Ruyter.
When we look at portraits in general we should be careful with believing what we are seeing. When looking at this portrait of Michiel Adriaenszn de Ruyter, we need to realize that this is not the real Michiel de Ruyter. No, this is a portrait of Michiel de Ruyter. By Bol!