Major works | Moderation versus Excess
Simon de Vos was an Antwerp painter who made his name in portraiture and in “merry company” portraits, which depict young, elegant people rubbing shoulders with musicians, singers, bohemians, all in a joyous euphoria of the senses. Large-scale religious subjects also added to his reputation.
In this portrait, the two main figures, who dominate the foreground, testify to Simon de Vos’ qualities as a portraitist. The figures’ presence is imposing due to their position, the subtle colouring of their clothes, and, above all, their size. The picture is 1.69 m high, so the figures are depicted almost life-size. The man is richly dressed; he leans elegantly towards the woman sitting in front of him and rests a hand on her shoulder. The woman’s lips are slightly apart; her cheeks are reddened by emotion, and she gives him a passionate look. In the folds of her dress, pomegranates and lemons allude to love and passion.
The couple probably belongs to the nobility, as shown by their clothing. The man is the male archetype of the period. His portrait as well as the rendering of the textiles is here related to the lively, spontaneous style of Frans Hals. Several attributions have been put forward for the piece: Jacob Jordæns, Frans Hals, and Jan Cossier. The discovery of a drawing that appears to have been a preparatory work for the composition, and that was itself attributed to Simon de Vos, as well as stylistic study, have enabled the work to be described as by Simon de Vos.