Friesland School, 1603
A young boy aged 3 holding a kolf club and ball
Oil on panel: 41½ x 31 in. (107.3 x 78.7 cm.)
This rare early Dutch portrait of a young boy aged three is one of the earliest examples of a portrait incorporating a kolf club, used to hit a stuffed leather ball in the Dutch game of het kolven. The popularity of this game is apparent from the number of paintings and drawings from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in which the game is depicted. The image of a child holding a kolf club and wearing formal dress became a particularly popular format in childrens’ portraiture during the seventeenth century. Whilst the game was played by adults, in child portraiture it featured as an accessory associated with masculine pursuits and therefore, primarily as an indication of the young child’s male gender. The earliest example of a boy holding a kolf club is known from a drawing after a lost original painting dated 1587, which features the four-year-old Hugo de Groot, followed by a presumed portrait of Maurits de Heraugieres, aged two, painted in 1595.
Although there are no clues as to the identity of this young boy, every detail in this painting confirms his parents’ wealth and his status as a child from an aristocratic family. In particular, his costume is of the greatest luxury, inspired by the Spanish fashion of the late 16th century. The artist’s technique displays a great love of detail, in particular the replication of textile patterns and ornaments in the costume. The starched linen cuffs are edged with a decorative lace detail, while the belt and attached purse are embroidered with a carefully conceived ornate gold design. The hilt of his sword, which can just be glimpsed, is an artistic device to emphasise the child’s masculinity, used regularly in portrait iconography.
His dress consists of a black brocade coat, buttoned to the waist, with hanging sleeves and leading strings visible. The coat is worn over an embroidered yellow silk underskirt. His coral-coloured sleeves have decorative, diagonal slashes to match the coral bracelets on his wrists, as well as the coral silk lining on his black hat, which is also decorated with a sprig of laurel leaves and berries. Strings of coral were worn not only for decoration but also for their supposedly beneficial power to protect children against ‘fits and anxiety’. The inclusion of laurel berries may refer to the parents’ intention to educate their son to the highest degree. Greek scholars wore a wreath of laurel leaves to show academic achievement, hence the word ‘baccalaureate’, meaning laurel berries, and poet laureates were also crowned with bay leaves.
The costume suggests that the portrait was painted somewhere in the northern part of Holland or Friesland. Stylistically, the painting is close to the work of the Friesland artist, Adriaen van der Linde (1580 – 1630). Little was known about the life of this artist until the pioneering research work by Dr. Wassenbergh published in 1967, which identified a previously unknown artist called the ‘Flemish emigrant’ as Adriaen van der Linde. During the period that this portrait was painted the artist had established a studio in Leeuwaarden, a prosperous town and capital of the Province of Friesland, Holland. The painting is most likely to be by an artist working closely with and influenced by Van der Linde. One possibility is the artist Hans de Clercq, who was a pupil of Van der Linde in Leeuwaarden and married to his stepdaughter.
 The goal was to hit the ball towards a fixed target in as few strokes as possible.
 Cited by Bedaux, J. and Ekkart, R. in Pride and Joy. Children’s Portraits in the Netherlands 1500 – 1700, page 126. Anonymous copy after Jacob Willemsz Delff ‘Hugo de Groot at the age of Four with a Colf Stick 1587’.
 Ibid. Dr. Wassenbergh attributes eight portraits to Adriaen van der Linde and a further seven portraits to Hans de Clercq, a pupil of Van der Linde in Leeuwaarden. Other notable pupils include Jan de Salle (or Salé).
 Friesland was an independent province in the north of Holland, incorporating the area of coastline that runs from Bremen to Bruges. The Royal Palace in Leeuwaarden was the seat of the Friesian court from 1603 to 1747.
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