European
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Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669),
Portrait of Dirck van Os , ca. 1658
oil on canvas,
Museum purchase, 1942.30

Rembrandt’s sitter, Dirck van Os III (1590–1668), was a prominent Dutch citizen and respected dijkgraaf or mayor of the Beemster, a municipality built upon land reclaimed from a former lake. Using windmills, canals, and a ring of dikes, Dirck van Os’ enterprising father (Dirck van Os II, 1556–1615) drained a large area north of Amsterdam to create the Beemster in 1612. The younger van Os earned considerable respect in his own right. Over the course of his lengthy governance of the Beemster (1618–1666), Prince Maurits awarded him the title of Lieutenant Forester, and Holland’s most famous poet, Joost van den Vondel, praised van Os as a wise and experienced “ox” — a reference to his last name — overseeing an Arcadian land. Dirck van Os’ aging face and downcast eyes suggest solemn introspection. Although he holds a cane, his careful posture conveys quiet authority, making us question whether this is a fragile old man, a resilient commander, or both. Rendered in a manner that is insightful and empathetic, Rembrandt instills in his likeness an expectant tension. The evocative quality of Dirck van Os’ expression and the careful modeling of his features glow softly against the heavily-shadowed background, exemplifying Rembrandt’s genius as a portraitist.

Over the centuries, Rembrandt’s portrait of Dirck van Os was subject to additions painted decades after the artist’s time, as well as conservation efforts that obscured its original appearance. Following extensive treatment in Amsterdam in 2012, the canvas has been carefully restored. Layers of discolored varnish were removed, along with later embellishments to van Os’ costume, allowing experts to confidently attribute this engaging and compassionate portrait to Rembrandt.

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