Maarten van Heemskerck: Portrait of a man and a woman (1529)

(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands)

A set of two paintings by the Dutch master Maarten van Heemskerck (1498-1574). These 2 paintings are the earliest works of van Heemskerck and also the earliest portraits of Dutch citizens. The man is shown in the process of handling his financial administration: the book contains the word '‘betaelt’ (paid to) so apparently the man is paying is debts - in other words, the man is shown as an active, honest and working man. The woman is shown while seated behind a spinning-wheel. The spinning-wheel is a symbol of the virtuous woman and refers to Proverbs 31:10-31 in the Bible:

10 Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is more precious than rubies.
11 Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life.
12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
13 She finds wool and flax and busily spins it.
14 She is like a merchant’s ship, bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household and plan the day’s work for her servant girls.
16 She goes to inspect a field and buys it; with her earnings she plants a vineyard
17 She is energetic and strong, a hard worker.
18 She makes sure her dealings are profitable; her lamp burns late into the night.
19 Her hands are busy spinning thread, her fingers twisting fiber.

In other words: the woman is shown as a passieve, pious, calm and virtuous woman.Curiously the woman is shown on the right side - a heraldic position that was usually reserved for the man. This means that perhaps the shown woman has a higher social rank or that this set was painted when the couple were betrothed but not yet married. The exact identity of the man and woman is not known: the names of the Amsterdam mint master, brewer and soap-maker Pieter Gerritsz Bicker (1497-1567) and his wife Anna Codde (1492-1570) have been suggested. Both paintings come from 1529.