The Vasa dynasty portraitists

The seventeenth-century Polish kings liked the services of the Dutch artists. Two painters of the Dutch Golden Age, Peter Danckerts de Rij and Pieter Claesz Soutman, were even court-appointed portraitists of the Vasa dynasty.

Pieter Claesz Soutman (1580 – 1657) served only four years, from 1624 to 1628, but his successor, Peter Danckerts de Rij (1583/1605? – 1661), lived in Poland from 1638 until his death.  Not the worst hit. The kings of the Vasa dynasty were very interested in art. The first of them, Sigismund III Vasa, although not a favorite ruler (due to the absolutist tendencies and promoting the Counter-Reformation), he was the one who enlarged the Royal Castle in Warsaw. A column of Sigismund dominates over the Castle Square until today.

The Royal Castle in Warsaw, 1656, Erik Jönson Dahlbergh

After all, it is that king who moved the capital from Cracow to Warsaw. To decorate well the new royal residence, he invited to Poland many distinguished foreign artists and bought many valuable artworks. This tradition was continued by his successors, Ladislaus IV (that king was especially in love with music, Warsaw opera during his reign was the first continuously operating opera stage in Europe) and John Casimir. In their collection there were paintings of Titian, Tintoretto, Rembrandt, Rubens, Brueghel the Elder, Soutman and Danckerts. Unfortunately, they were grabbed by the Swedes during the so-called deluge (1655 – 1660).

Pieter Claesz Soutman arrived in 1624 at the invitation of Prince Ladislaus Sigismund Vasa, the son of Sigismund III. Young Vasa learnt about him during his stay in Antwerp, where he met Rubens – it was him who recommended Soutman, one of his students, to the Polish prince. Soutman was born in Haarlem (a city in North-Holland, now the capital of the province), as a son of a brewer. Extremely talented, he represented the Flemish style in his painting. Sigismund III ordered him mostly portraits, including portraits in the coronation dress of him and his wife, Constance of Austria (now in the collection of the Bayerische Nationalmuseum in Munich).


Sigismund III Wasa and Constance in coronation dress 

 Dutch painter painted also the Prince Ladislaus.

Ladislaus Vasa

In 1628 Soutman returned to Haarlem and his place was taken – but only after ten years – by Peter Danckerts de Rij from Amsterdam.

Peter Danckerts de Rij came from a famous family of painters, his father Cornelius was a painter, engraver and printer. Peter arrived to Poland in the middle of the 17th century and remained there until his death. He worked in Warsaw, Gdansk and Vilnius. He died in Lithuania, near Rudniki, as a victim of the robbery. Reportedly, before his death he managed to sketch portraits of thugs, so they could be caught. At the moment of beginning of his service for the Vasa dynasty (1638) he was already a mature artist and had a huge impact on Polish painting.

He started his work for serving the king Ladislaus IV (Sigismund’s son). The king had just begun preparations for the marriage with Cecilia Renata of Austria, a daughter of Emperor Ferdinand II, and needed some artwork for decorating the royal residence. Danckerts is the creator of a number of portraits of the royal couple, aristocracy and patriciate. Because of the representative character of those images, portraits show carefully all details of the rich dress.

Ladislaus IV

Van Rijn painted two queens – two wives of Ladislaus IV. The first of them was Cecilia Renata, very popular in Poland (old Poles liked modest and pious women), but she did not find happiness in the marriage with the sixteen years older king. What can be seen easily in her sad face.

Cecilia Renata

Polish king had a long life lover, Jadwiga Łuszkowska (a daughter of the Lviv merchant), with whom he had a son Ladislaus Constant Vasa and a daughter – that girl was also portrayed by Deckerts. None of the three children of the unhappy queen survived. The luckiest of them, Sigismund Casimir, lived for seven years only, and the queen died shortly after the birth of her third baby, when she was 33 years old.

 Sigismund Casimir

and a daughter of Jadwiga Luszczykowska (right)

The second wife was Gonzaga Louisa Marya de Nevers, princess of Mantua.

Louise Marie

Also Louise Marie did not find happiness in the marriage with Ladislaus IV. After his death she married his brother John Casimir.

John Casimir

She had no children. Highly conservative Poles did not like her much because of her political ambitions although she was a wise and brave woman. During the Swedish invasion the queen stood at the head of the army, she led the first literary salon in Commonwealth and founded the first newspaper “Polish Merkuriusz”. It was she who took to Poland little Marie Kazimiera d’Arquien, a later wife of John III Sobieski.

Among Danckerts’portraits of aristocrats a special recognition deserves the Chamberlain Adam Kazanowski portrait from 1638, which is characterized by the perfection of the drawing, the subtlety in running lights and a great devotion to red. Dutch artist portrayed also the gentry and nobility.

Adam Kazanowski

and “Portrait of a young man with a panorama of Gdansk in the background”

Danckerts created also 22 images of ancestors and relatives of the king Ladislaus IV, of the Vasa, Jagiello and the Habsburgs families. Portraits were painted on octagonal tin plates and later decorated the Marble Cabinet at the Royal Castle in Warsaw.

Sigismund August and John III Wasa

Only five of them survived and are presented in Nieborów (3), Moscow and Vilnius. Unfortunately, that was the fate of most of Danckerts artwork. Some paintings are known only from engravings.

Ladislaus IV, gravure by Wilhelm Hondius

And there is a time for introducing another name Dutch – Wilhelm Hondius.

He was born about 1598 in The Hague as the son of Hendrik Hondius the Elder, one of the most important engravers and publishers of the Dutch Golden Age. Initially, he worked for the Dutch ruling house, cooperating with Antoon van Dyck. For the first time he visited Poland (Gdansk) in 1636, and after 16641he settled down here for the rest of his life. He also served for Vasa kings, firstly for Ladislaus IV and then for John Casimir. Hondius was a royal court engraver and cartographer. He engraved portraits of Ladislaus IV, Louise Marie, John Casimir and numerous dignitaries and representatives of the Gdansk patricians.  His artwork also presented scenes from everyday life.

Ladislaus IV and Louise Marie

At the time of the Cossack uprising (1648 – 1655) Hondius accompanied Prince Janusz Radziwill at his expedition to Kiev (Ukraine), which gave him the opportunity to make the first image ever of the Cossack leader Bohdan Khmelnytsky.

John Casimir en Bohdan Khmelnytsky

In 1648 Hondius married in Gdansk Anna Mackensen, the daughter of the king’s blacksmith.  His life after 1652 is unknown but it is believed that he died around 1658.

The second half of the 17th century belonged to another Dutchman, this time the architect, Tielman van Gameren. You can read about him in the Architect of Utrecht.

Renata Głuszek

Published: November 2012, 2012

Images: Wikipedia, public domain

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