The Dutch city of Dordrecht was known for rich artistic practices throughout the seventeenth century. Particularly in the 1650s and 1660s, the city flourished with portrait painters like Aelbert Cuyp, Samuel van Hoogstraten, and Nicolaes Maes. They competed with each other to serve local middle and upper-class merchants, civil servants, officers, and regents. Among these painters, a unique Dordrecht portraitist is often neglected but nevertheless must have played a significant role: Jacobus Leveck (1634-1675). He was a descendent of two distinguished Dordrecht families, and in the early 1650s – when he was around 18 years old – he was offered the opportunity to study in Amsterdam under the renowned Rembrandt van Rijn.
In 1654, Leveck returned to Dordrecht and began his practice as an independent artist, mainly focusing on the specific field of portraiture. His first period shows much resemblance to his teacher; it was only after his artistic journey to France that he changed his palette into a more elegant, colorful and fashionable style, reaching his heyday in the 1660s. However, Leveck’s oeuvre is very small and only rarely does a work from his hand appear on the market. This striking portrait of a man, painted in 1665, is therefore a highly valuable contribution to our understanding of his work, which, for the most part, can be found in public collections such as the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, and Dordrechts Museum.
The latter collection contains Leveck’s portrait of Adriaen Braets from 1664 (see fig. 1), which is similar in composition to the work shown here. Both portraits perfectly illustrate the desire to present commissioners as people of ambition – with allure and status. To successfully achieve this aim Leveck adopted the typical Amsterdam portraiture style. He placed the self-aware men before an aristocratic red curtain, wearing the latest fashion of deep black and spotless white fabrics, assertively resting an arm on a stone balustrade. The artist made them look powerful and rich – probably a bit more than was the case in reality – especially through the addition of an imaginary palace or country house that appears in the distance before a mountainous landscape. For Braets this was fitting, since he held several board positions in Dordrecht, and served as a captain for the local militia.
However, the background of the striking portrait at hand is unusual – even for Leveck – with an amalgam of exotic buildings and large palm trees on a riverside. They must be allusions to very specific activities of the sitter. The man also has an eye-catching mustache, which seems to have been fashionable for naval officers such as the famous Michiel de Ruyter. Along these lines it is noteworthy to introduce Ludolp de Jongh’s portrait of Jan van Nes (1631-1680), which also shows remarkably similar facial features; in particular the hairline, eyes, nose and chin look very much like our sitter (see fig. 2-3). Jan van Nes served as a captain under De Ruyter during a mission to the Mediterranean Sea in 1664. With an esquadron of twelve heavily armored ships they were on a mission to target Algerian pirates, but along the way their plans changed. The whole fleet was instead ordered to reconquer English forts on the Westcoast of Africa. After a successful attack, the commanders returned home in September 1665 and were promoted.
Jan van Nes served the Admiralty of Rotterdam and ultimately even became vice admiral of Holland and West Friesland. During the fall of that same year, he must have commissioned Jacobus Leveck – who worked very nearby in the neighboring town of Dordrecht – to make him a portrait with a suitable reference to the mission. Interestingly, the inventory of the late Van Nes from 1680 specifically mentions – among many paintings – three portraits, which might refer to both De Jongh’s two portraits of Jan van Nes and his wife, and his first portrait by Jacobus Leveck. They were dear to him and had to stay in the family.