Two halves of a 17th century family portrait have been reunited: NPR

European art history sleuths have determined that two separate portraits of a 17th-century Flemish artist do in fact go together – and the two works of art have been reunited in a Danish museum.


In 1626, a father and his son pose for a portrait. The father rests in an armchair sporting a fancy mustache, a goatee, a flounced collar around his neck. The son poses next to him with rosy cheeks, a red ribbon and elaborate lace cuffs.

ANGELA JAGER: You can see from the way they’re dressed, he’s a very wealthy father and son.


Angela Jager is curator of Old Master paintings at the RKD Netherlands Institute for Art History. She says the artist, Cornelis de Vos, was one of the finest portrait painters of his day.

JAGER: He was highly sought after, so if you could get him to portray your family, then you were a wealthy and influential family.

KELLY: But there is something missing from this portrait according to Jorgen Wadum, consultant at the Nivaagaard Collection in Denmark.

JORGEN WADUM: Father and son holding hands so lovingly, it feels like a unit in itself. You could easily imagine it was a finished painting if you didn’t have that very keen eye.

KELLY: That very watchful eye caused the two to pay particular attention to something in the lower right corner of the portrait.

WADUM: There were two knees covered with a black striped dress in the bottom corner. And we could see immediately that there is a story here that we don’t know much about yet.

SHAPIRO: They teamed up to investigate this story and found evidence that the portrait had been cut in half in the mid-1800s, possibly due to damage.

KELLY: A report on a restoration of the artwork decades earlier gave them another clue. He revealed that hidden under the paint in that corner was a woman’s hand.

WADUM: Slender fingers, a few finger rings, and she was holding beautifully embroidered gloves with red lining.

SHAPIRO: They started looking in the painter’s repertoire for a portrait of a woman without the right hand, of course. And finally, they came across a titled “Portrait of a Lady”.

WADUM: It’s a portrait of a lady sitting against a background with a garden on one side and some trees which fits perfectly with the picture we have here. And still the background, the sky matched so perfectly, so we were pretty sure that now we had discovered it.

JAGER: Of course, Jorgen called me and said, check your email. I think I found our missing wife.

SHAPIRO: Even better? His portrait was for sale.

JAGER: So that opened up the possibility for the museum to buy it and reunite the family.

KELLY: The paintings now hang side by side in the Nivaagaard collection, the family reunited after nearly two centuries of separation.

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