Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen I

London, 1593 – Utrecht, 1661


Portrait of a Young Lady


Signed 'Cornelius Jonson van Ceulen fecit' and dated ‘1654’, right middle
Oil on canvas
H. 85 cm. W. 71.5 cm


Collection Emil Goldschmidt, Frankfurt am Main;
Auction Rudolph Lepke Kunst-Auctions-Haus, Berlin, 27 April, 1909, as lot 70 (with ill.); 
Private collection; 
Auction Christie’s London, 13 March, 1935, as lot 13;
With Kunsthandel P. de Boer, Amsterdam, 1976
Private collection, Belgium


28e Oude Kunst- en Antiekbeurs der Vereeniging van Handelaren in Oude Kunst in Nederland, Museum Het Prinsenhof, Delft, 14 October/3 November 1976 



This signed and dated half-length portrait is a characteristic example of Cornelius Jonson van Ceulen’s (1) portrait paintings from the 1650s, in which he combines his typical subtle, liquid touch with the cool and unassuming restraint of Northern Dutch portraiture. In the many portraits produced by the London born artist during his later Dutch period, Jonson van Ceulen brought his personal style to its greatest perfection. The portraits painted in the 1650s are considered to be among his finest, characterised by an elegance and grandeur reminiscent of Sir Anthony van Dyck, coupled with an expert rendering of physiognomy and facial expression.

The young Lady is depicted sitting and half-turned away from the spectator, looking out of the picture. Employing a palette consisting predominantly of black and white, Jonson van Ceulen creates wonderful shapes and textures. The Lady, dressed in the Dutch fashion of the mid 1650s, wearing a striking black tipmuts bonnet (2) and a black gown adorned with a horizontal white collar and cylinder-shaped cuffs. She is seated in front of a typical idiosyncratic grey silk drapery. Jonson van Ceulen’s preference for plain, dark backgrounds makes this portrait all the more dramatic, enhancing the sitter’s pearly skin, soft hair and sober costume. In fact, the tout ensemble is black and white, from the hair decoration and jewellery to the dress itself. Notable are the Lady’s hands, painted with superb virtuously, clearly demonstrating the influence of Van Dyck. Placed against the deep black of the Lady’s dress, Jonson van Ceulen applies delicate shadows where she folds her soft hands. Subtle highlights pick up the shimmering light on her skin and cuffs. With only a few strokes and a minimum of colours the artist effectively rendered both texture and volume.

The identity of the sitter is not known, but she is probably a member from the rich mercantile classes or the wealthy urban citizenry, rather than from the aristocracy, which was virtually absent in the Dutch Republic. She must have been a married woman, since it was the custom in the Northern Netherlands to wear one's wedding ring on the right index finger, as she does. The elaborate ring worn on the left hand demonstrates her wealth, yet is depicted in a casual and sober way, in correspondence with the Calvinist aversion of displaying wealth.


Artist's biography

Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen was born in London in 1593 to Flemish émigré parents, who fled the Low Countries to escape religious persecution. His grandfather Peter Jansen originally came from Cologne, hence the family name ‘van Ceulen’ (3). His parents were part of the great influx of Protestants from the Netherlands into England, fleeing the religious persecution that followed the Spanish conquest of Flanders and the fall of Antwerp. On 14 October 1593 Jonson van Ceulen was baptised in the Dutch Church at Austin Friars (Edmond 1978-1980, p. 88). There is no record of his training or work in England and Waterhouse conjectures that Jonson may have studied in Holland (4). It is plausible that he was trained in the Northern Netherlands, perhaps in the studios of Arnoldus van Ravesteyn or Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt, whose works are comparable in composition and smooth execution. However, Collins Baker suggests that Marcus Gheeraerts II was his master in London (5). In any case, in circa 1618 Jonson van Ceulen set up as a portrait painter in London. His earliest known works are dated 1619. There is evidence that Jonson van Ceulen collaborated with his Dutch born contemporary Daniel Mytens I, who is also believed to have studied with Mierevelt, and an early association between the two in his studio seems very plausible. In 1621 Jonson van Ceulen painted a copy of Mytens’s Portrait of Charles I (6). It was under Mytens’s aegis that Jonson van Ceulen gained Court patronage. Among his earliest works is for instance a portrait of the King’s cousin Lady Elizabeth Stuart (7). The artist is recorded living in Blackfriars – the district of London popular with artists, especially immigrants from the Low Countries – in 1622, when he married his wife Elizabeth Beck.

In the late 1620s and early 1630s, Jonson van Ceulen was at the height of his popularity, painting the nobility and gentry in a style that is “reserved but sympathetic and with exceptional attention to the detail’’ (8). In 1623, he painted his first three-quarter length portrait, of Baron Coventry (9). In December 1632, he was appointed ‘his Majesty’s servant in ye quality of Picture drawer’ to Charles I and Jonson van Ceulen worked on Royal commissions throughout the 1630s. Yet Van Dyck’s second visit to Britain in April 1632 turned portrait fashion in a more flamboyant direction. This had an undeniable effect on Jonson van Ceulen’s patronage at the Court. His inability to compete with the great master’s talents may have been the reason why Jonson van Ceulen decided to move away from London and to concentrate on his practice among the regional nobility. It is known that he moved to Canterbury in the mid 1630s, living with Sir Arnold Braems, a Flemish merchant. Even though the birth of his son, also named Cornelius, in 1634 is recorded as taking place in London, by that time Jonson van Ceulen had retired to Bridge in Kent, where his clientele consisted of members of the principal genteel families.

Johnson was still among the King's ‘servants in ordinary of the chamber’ in 1641. However, in 1643, after the start of the Civil War, Jonson decided to leave England and he returned to the Netherlands. From the point of patronage it was not worthwhile to remain in a country entering its second year of civil war and his wife feared for his safety. The artist’s biographer George Vertue notes that Jonson van Ceulen “Stayd in England till the Troublesom civil war. Being terrified with those apprehensions & the constant persuasions of his wife went to Holland”. The ‘Journals of the House of Commons’ state that on (10) October 1643 a pass was granted to Jonson van Ceulen “to pass beyond Seas” 10. With his family he settled first in the city of Middelburg, and in 1646 in Amsterdam, where he painted a large group portrait of The Magistrates of The Hague, in 1647 (11). In subsequent years, he painted portraits of the citizens of various Dutch cities, including Middelburg, suggesting that he led an itinerant life for some time. In 1652 he moved to Utrecht, where he settled and wholly absorbed the native manner preferred by his new patrons. Paintings from his Dutch period are notable for their elegance and delicacy of execution. He prospered as a Dutch artist painting a portrait of Prince William of Orange, the future King William III, in 1657 (12). He stayed productive until his death on 5 August 1661, though in later years he may have been assisted by his son, who is recorded as an independent artist as late as 1700.


Style development and place within the oeuvre

As outlined above, it is not known where Jonson van Ceulen received his training. His first signed and dated works, which appear from 1619 onwards, were initially heads only (13). These early portraits were panel paintings with "fictive" oval frames - they appear to have a wooden or marble oval surround, but this is actually painted on the panel. This ‘trompe l’oeil’ effect was one of Jonson van Ceulen’s favourite devices in the early part of his career. The portraits use a form of inscription identical to that of Gheeraerts, and stylistically they strongly continue the Jacobean traditions encapsulated in that artist’s work. Van Ceulen's early works on panel are notable for their polished, almost porcelain finish (14).

In his period, Jonson van Ceulen was one of only few artists in England who consistently signed and dated their work (15), except for his later full-lengths. Typically, he painted bust-length representations with sitters looking directly out of the picture. He always devoted particular attention to the accurate rendering of clothing. His first identified three-quarter length is dated 1623, and shows a certain lack of skill in portraying the body, which is overcome in later works (16).

Van Ceulen considerably varied his style over his career, and he was able to assimilate new influences into his own style without discordant effects. After his ‘Jacobean period’, he took after, in turn, Mytens, Van Dyck, and William Dobson. Especially Sir Anthony van Dyck's dazzling manner strongly influenced him, but Jonson van Ceulen's style remained more straightforward, a somewhat conservative approach that appealed to his patrons in the higher, but not the highest, social circles. Jonson van Ceulen’s art was best suited to the relative intimacy of the bust-length portrait in which, with a certain detachment, he captured the reticence of the English landed gentry and minor aristocracy. By the 1630s, Jonson had perfected a style and pattern all of his own for these half-length portraits, with the figure being placed unusually low within the composition and the sitter portrayed in a characteristically gentle, almost wistful, manner. Jonson van Ceulen preferred plain, dark backgrounds.

Throughout his carrier, Jonson van Ceulen was eager to explore new influence to the advantage of his own work. His study of Van Dyck’s (1632) Family of King Charles I (17), to which he would have had privileged access in Whitehall Palace, brings a new compositional fluidity to his group portraiture – replacing the Jacobean overtones still demonstrated in The Lucy Family (ca. 1625). The group portrait of The Capel Family (1640) (18) is considered his masterpiece. Also the characteristic pose, half-turned away from the spectator, creating the illusion of movement, reflects Jonson van Ceulen’s careful study of Van Dyck’s work in the 1630s. In fact, this pose became standard for Johnson’s Dutch sitters in the 1650s.

After his move to Holland in 1643, Jonson van Ceulen developed another style. After a short period in Middleburg he soon settled in Amsterdam, then the most artistically enlightened city in Europe, where he mastered the elegant, reserved style seen in the present portrait. He absorbed the native manner of the Dutch portraitists, resulting is a characteristic style, reflecting both English influences and that of contemporary Dutch portraiture (19). The portraits dating to Jonson van Ceulen’s later Dutch period are considered to be his finest, characterised by an elegance reminiscent of Van Dyck, coupled with an expert rendering of physiognomy and facial expression. Arguably, he helped to popularize Van Dyck's airy, liquid touch and the grandeur of Van Dyck’s elegant compositions in the Northern Netherlands.


In the many portraits produced during his Dutch period, Jonson brought his personal style to its greatest perfection. Besides a few group portraits, his later works tend to be half-length and three-quarter-length portraits of greater intricacy, which are notable for their elegance and for the characteristic precise rendering of his sitter's features and clothing. He frequently experimented with blue and greyish green backgrounds, not a practice fashionable at the time, and perfected the meticulous rendering of lace and costume. In his later Dutch period Jonson truly excelled at large format portraits, and his restrained style was ultimately suited to the Northern Dutch Calvinistic taste. Jonson’s most important student was his son Cornelis II, whose style initially resembled his father’s but whose later work declined sharply to a mediocre level.

Since the present painting is signed and dated ‘1654’, this portrait was probably realized in Utrecht, Jonson van Ceulen’s final place of residence. In fact, this half-length portrait is exemplary of the artist’s Dutch period, and the time when he brought his personal style to perfection. The uncommon and entirely idiosyncratic grey background, typically used by the artist during the mid 1650s, as well as the elegance and the accurate rendering of the sitter’s features are notable. The simplicity of her costume and subdued pose focus the attention fully on the characteristic and highly skilful depicted soft facial features. Despite the conservative nature of the Lady’s pose, the liveliness of her expression makes this a very approachable picture. As already noted above, the sitter’s finely drawn hands clearly demonstrate the influence from Van Dyck and are painted with superb virtuously.



The work of Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen is represented in the collections of: the Art Gallery Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa; the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom; Boughton House, Northampton-sire, United Kingdom; the Centraal Museum, Utrecht, The Netherlands; Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, United Kingdom; the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk (VA), United States of America; the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, United Kingdom; the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (CA), United States of America; the Huntington Library and Art Collections, San Marino (CA), United States of America; the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana, United States of America; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, United States of America; the Michaelis Collection, Cape Town, South Africa; the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, Lyon, France; the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany; the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, United States of America; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, United States of America; the National Gallery, London, United Kingdom; the National Portrait Gallery, London, United Kingdom; the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, United Kingdom; the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands; the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels, Belgium; the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague, the Netherlands; the Tate Gallery, London, United Kingdom and the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe, Germany.



(1) Also known as ‘Cornelius Janssens van Ceulen’, ‘Cornelius Johnson’ and ‘Cornelis Jansz. van Ceulen’. The notion, apparently dating back to a quote by Collins Baker, that he signed the portraits painted in Holland in the later part of his career with ‘Janssens’, seems to be incorrect. (See: Baker, C. (1912). Lely and the Stuart Painters. vol. I, p. 7
(2) The fact that the young Lady wears a black bonnet does not necessarily indicate that she is a widow, since various contemporary portraits of ladies whose spouse was alive include such headdresses.
(3) Waterhouse, E. (1978). Painting in Britain, 1530-1790. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, p. 60
(4) See: Hearn, K. (1995). Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630. New York: Rizzoli; Waterhouse, 1978, p. 35
(5) Baker, 1912, p. 75
(6) Collection of Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, United Kingdom
(7) Ex. col. Northwick Park, London, United Kingdom
(8) Hearn, K. [] (2009). Van Dyck and Britain. exh. cat. London: Tate Gallery, p. 63
(9) Collection of the Earl of Clarendon
(10) Goulding, R.W. (1916). 'The Welbeck Abbey miniatures belonging to His Grace the Duke of Portland, K.G., G.V.C.O. A catalogue raisonné,' In: The Walpole Society, 1914-1915, p. 40
(11) Collection of the Oude Stadhuis, The Hague, The Netherlands
(12) Version Knole, Kent, United Kingdom
(13) Waterhouse, 1978, p. 62
(14) See in particular the exquisite portrait of Susanna Temple, collection of the Tate Gallery, London, United Kingdom
(15) Waterhouse, 1978, p. 62
(16) Waterhouse, 1978, p. 61
(17) Royal Collection
(18) Collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London, United Kingdom
(19) Waterhouse, 1978, pp. 61-62

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