An Unknown Danish Militiaman

Pieter Isaacsz
1568 – 1625

An Unknown Danish Militiaman

Painted circa 1610-15

Oil on Canvas: 38 3/4 x 30 1/2 inches, 101.5 x 72.8 cm


  • Private Collection, USA.

This newly discovered portrait can be attributed with some confidence to the Danish-born painter, Pieter Isaacsz., and dated to around 1614. The sitter’s red and gold embroidered sash is very similar in fashion to one seen in the Isaacsz. portrait of Christian IV at Frederiksborg Castle, and could indicate that the sitter is Danish.

Although few Danish noblemen in the first decades of the seventeenth century were painted in military costume, the year 1614 was significant because the first conscripted Danish Army led by Danish officers was organised. Our sitter, with his exceptionally fine rapier and companion dagger, exquisitely decorated and embellished with gold, must have been very high-ranking with intimate connections to the court. A possible contender could be the Marshall of the Realm, Jørgen Lunge, who died in 1619. After the king, the marshall was the highest ranking officer, and although no painted portrait of Lunge is known, a comparison between a statue at his tomb in Our Lady’s Church in Aalborg, Jutland, reveals some common features. Other contenders include one of the Skeel brothers; Jørgen Skeel, who followed Jørgen Lunge as Marshall, or his brother Albret, who became admiral of the realm. Both had light hair and beards.[1]

Apart from the great sensitivity with which Isaacsz. has captured the sitter’s fine features, and the bravura skill with which he has rendered the differing textures and materials of the costume, perhaps the greatest virtuosity is found in the brilliantly detailed weapons and sword-belt. The exceptionally fine rapier and its companion dagger would have been made in Italy and are both exquisitely decorated and embellished with gold. They are of the very highest quality and would have been highly expensive to purchase. Their cost would have lain not merely in the precious metal employed in their decoration, but in the many hours of skilled and patient labour to create them. The ornamental and figurative designs used would have been inspired by the Mannerist pattern-books of the late sixteenth century, skillfully adapted to the flowing forms of the elegant hilts and pommels of both the rapier and matching dagger. Such pieces were prized as a form of masculine jewellery as much as they were weaponry, and the emphasis given to them here clearly reflects the sitter’s wealth and status.

Below his fine ruff he wears a protective steel gorget over a padded buff jacket called a ‘gambeson’ or ‘arming doublet’, fastened together by a chain. The thick buff coat, likely made of ox hide, is deceivingly simple, but this is no regular militia man. Draped over his left shoulder is a red silk sash elaborately embroidered with gold and blue thread and at his side is depicted a pot helmet with a decorated rib. The sash is stylistically similar to that seen in Isaacsz.’ portrait of Christian IV at Frederiksborg Castle, Copenhagen, and red and white are the colours of Denmark.[2]

Pieter Isaacsz. (1569-1625) was Danish-born but of Dutch descent, and due to the nature of his father’s profession as art agent for King Frederik II of Denmark, and to the Danish nobility, the Isaacsz. family moved constantly between Holland and Denmark before settling in Amsterdam in 1581. There, Isaacsz attended school before starting his apprenticeship with Cornelis Ketel and later with Hans von Achen.[3] In 1608 he travelled to Copenhagen and took over his father’s position as an agent for the Danish king. He received several commissions from Christian IV and two of his principal portraits of Christian IV and his Queen Anna Catherine are kept at Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen.

He represents one of the more remarkable painters during the so-called Dutch Golden Age, for he was more than just a court painter in the service of King Christian IV of Denmark. His role as court portraitist and his associations with the Dutch state facilitated a simultaneous career as an international art trader.[4] His favourable positioning in Danish courtly circles also made him an appealing candidate as a spy for the Swedish Realm. After years of cunning political meddling from Amsterdam to Rome, Isaascz. returned home to Denmark and subsequently died of the plague.


[1] We are grateful to Dr Steffen Heiberg, former director of Frederiksborg Castle, for suggesting these possible identitites. We are also grateful to Juliette Roding of Leiden University, and Dr. Sabine Craft-Giepmans of the RKD for their assistance in the attribution and research.

[2] We are grateful to Peter Finer for his assistance describing and dating the costume, armour and weaponry.

[3] See: Juliette Roding, ‘The Isaacz Family – Constant Travellers between Holland and Denmark’, in B. Noldus & J. Roding (eds.), Pieter Isaacsz (1569-1625: Court Painter, Art Dealer and Spy, Belguim, 2007, pp. 131-137.

[4] In 1608 Isaacsz. re-located to Copenhagen to work as court painter to Christian VI. Prior to this, the artist had worked in Amsterdam, where he had forged his reputation as a painter of large-scale group portraits of the local militiamen such as The Company of Captain Jacob Hoyngh amd Lieutenant Wybrand Appelman (1596, Amsterdam Historisch Museum) and The Company of Captain Gillis Jansz. Valckenier and Lieutenant Pieter Jacobsz. Bas (1599, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). Our sitter wears a similar costume to those depicted in these two paintings, however the latter in particular is in such poor condition and has been so heavily abraided and repainted that any comparative identification is impossible.


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