The Amsterdam Museum is currently restoring one of its masterpieces, The Headmen of the Longbow Civic Guard House (1653), by Bartholomeus van der Helst (c.1613 1670), which will form the centrepiece of the loan exhibition within TEFAF
Paper at TEFAF Maastricht 2018. For the first-time, visitors to the Fair will be able to admire not just the results of the restoration but also compare actual examples of 16th-century silverware, the same objects that are depicted in the 17th-century painting, a unique situation in Dutch art. TEFAF Maastricht, the worlds leading fine art and antiques Fair, takes place from 10 - 18 March 2018 at the MECC (Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre), Maastricht, The Netherlands.
The group portrait depicts several prominent sitters: former burgomaster Jan van de Poll (15971678), brewer Albert Dircksz Pater (1602-1659) and the famous cartographer and publisher Joan Willemsz Blaeu (1598-1673). Together, they were responsible for the keeping of the Longbow Civic Guard House, including its collection of group portraits and historic artefacts.
They are depicted at a meeting table, while on the right their sons are exercising their shooting skills at the range. The four men are surrounded by opulent silverware: in the background, a cupboard filled with cups, tazzas and spoons, Banninck Cock on the left holds a richly decorated goblet, and his fellow headmen show the civic guard houses chain and staff, both crowned by birds. In the background, the inn-keepers wife introduces the drinking horn on its silver foot, also belonging to the inventory of the house. The presence of these precious objects on the meeting table refers to the illustrious history of this civic guard house, underlining the continuation of good government, carried out by the right honorable gentlemen in the painting.
Apart from its painter, who was one of the greatest portraitists of the Dutch Golden Age, its famous sitters or its much-praised sott-in-sù perspective, this group portrait stands out for the fact that three of the applied arts objects shown still exists.
The beautifully ornamented mid-16th-century chain, staff and ceremonial drinking horn from the collection of the Longbow Civic Guard were not only cherished by the headmen of 1653, but can still be admired by the visitors of the Amsterdam Museum, being the property of the city of Amsterdam. Substantial 16th-century masterpieces of silverware are a rarity in any public or private collection, as in many cases these objects were adapted to changing taste or even melted down. It is all the more exceptional to have such valuable artworks portrayed in paintings of such a high quality.
Van der Helsts masterpiece will be surrounded by five other group portraits that have been recently restored. Together they bear witness to the flourishing and quality of group portraiture in Amsterdam during the Golden Age.
Two of the paintings are by Ferdinand Bol (1616 1680), both restored in 2017, depict the governors and governesses of the Amsterdam Lepers Asylum. They are currently on show in the exhibition on the artist at the Amsterdam Museum. Another Van der Helst group, The Headmen of the Arcquebusiers Civic Guard House, has been on loan for five years at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, following its 2011 restoration, and will now be on show for the first time since it was returned to the Netherlands. Finally, two Anatomy Lessons, one by Aert Pietersz (1550 1612), the other by Adriaen Backer (1635 1684), have also been restored in collaboration with institutions that subsequently had the paintings on loan for exhibitions. Since 2016 the latter work has been on view in the Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age, a permanent exhibition in the Hermitage Amsterdam centred around the impressive collection of Amsterdam group portraits. These works will complete the loan exhibition at TEFAF Maastricht.