Adam Camerarius

(? - Groningen? - 1666/1686)

A Portrait of an unknown Lady

Signed in monogram and dated upper left: AC 1650
Oil on canvas, 27⅛ x 23¼ ins. (69 x 59 cm)

VP4984

Provenance

Miss Jane Treherne by 1880, when given by her to
N. S. Willink [according to an old hand-written label on the reverse]
F. A. Willink, Manchester, 1964
Bequeathed by the above to Chetham Hospital Library, Manchester
Anon. sale; Christie’s, South Kensington, 11th July 2008, lot. No. 34
With Johnny Van Haeften Limited, London, 2008-2011
Private collection, England, 2011-2021


Exhibited

Monk’s Hall Museum, Eccles, July-September 1964.
Dutch and Flemish Old Master Paintings: Fifteen, Johnny Van Haeften Limited, London, 2005, No. 43. 


Essay

Documentary sources provide only fragmentary glimpses of Adam Camerarius’s life.  He was born in Groningen, in the far north of the Netherlands, and went to Amsterdam to be trained.  Although the name of his teacher is not recorded, like many of his generation, he was clearly influenced by Rembrandt and the artists in his circle.  He returned to his place of birth in 1659, perhaps having spotted an opening in the market for a portrait painter following the death of the Groningen portraitist Jan Jansz. de Stomme (c. 1615-1657/58), and remained there for the rest of his life.  Primarily a portrait painter, Camerarius also painted a few history paintings, a notable example being the large-scale Christ and the Centurion, in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. 

According to a hand-written label affixed to the verso of the painting, this monogrammed and dated portrait of a lady was first recognised as a work by Camerarius by Dr. H. Schnieder of the Netherlands Institute for Art History in The Hague, in 1939.  As such, it forms part of the small surviving oeuvre of this rare Groningen painter.  Interest in the artist received a stimulus in 2004 when the Groninger Museum in Groningen held an exhibition devoted to his work (Adam Camerarius: een Groninger schilder uit de Gouden Eeuw). 

Camerarius has portrayed his subject at half length, posed against a dark background and dressed in an austere black costume, relieved by plain, white cuffs and a wide collar that falls over her shoulders.  On her head, she wears a neat, black titmuts – a small cap which comes to a point on the forehead – and in her hands she clasps a pair of white gloves.  Her only jewellery is a plain, gold ring worn on the index finger of her right hand.  The artist has succeeded admirably in capturing the quiet dignity of his elderly sitter, the determined line of her mouth and her steady gaze.  Although her identity is not known, judging from her near frontal pose, with her body inclined only slightly to her left, she was probably unmarried or a widow.  Had she been a married lady and painted to complement a portrait of her husband, the conventions of seventeenth-century marriage portraiture would have dictated that she be turned to her right facing her spouse, who would have been placed on the right, or dexter side, in the position reserved for husbands. 

The very small size of Camerarius’s surviving oeuvre permits only a rough assessment of his art.  He had evidently already established something of a name for himself by 1644 when he received what must have been a prestigious commission for a large group portrait of the regents of the Orphanage in Naarden, his earliest known dated work.  His other surviving portraits, ranging in date from the late 1640s to the mid-1660s, show that he practised a variety of portrait genres, from individual likenesses to portraits of family groups and children.  A few portraits historiés such as the Portrait of a Woman as Diana (Groninger Museum, Groningen) and her counterpart, the Portrait of a Man as Apollo (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Reims, Reims), are also known. 

Camerarius enjoyed a successful career in provincial Groningen, but his reputation probably did not extend far beyond the local area, and following his death, his name slipped into obscurity.

BIOGRAPHY

The son of a German officer in the Dutch service, Adam Camerarius was born in Groningen.  Neither the date of his birth nor the date of his death are recorded.  He apparently received his training in Amsterdam, although the name of his teacher is not known.  Between 1645-59, he is named as a witness on thirty-nine occasions in deeds drawn up by the Amsterdam notary Barent Jansen: his name also crops up repeatedly in documents connected with financial transactions, the last of which is from 1663.  He returned to Groningen in 1659, where he renewed his citizenship on 9th July of that year.  The last mention of his name is in a document dated 1666[i]



[i] According to the RKD in the Hague.  In that year, Camerarius acquired his “grootbrugerrecht”, an ancient civic right conferred upon some citizens.