Banquet of the Amsterdam Civic Guard

Banquet of the Amsterdam Civic Guard, van der Helst, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain
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License of this image: CC-BY-SA
License of original image: Rijksmuseum Amsterdam - Public Domain
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By: Bartholomeus van der Helst (1613-1670)
Created: 1648, Collection: Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands Rights: Public Domain

No question - this is one of our most challenging paintings. Start with the people in the foreground. They are arranged in little groups. Then add the people in the background.

Van der Helst was a contemporary of Rembrandt. He soon became the most popular painter of portraits in Amsterdam, his flattering portrayals in the style of Anthony van Dyck being more immediately appealing than Rembrandt’s dark and introspective later work.
His large group portrait, Banquet of the Amsterdam Civic Guard in Celebration of the Peace of Münster (which is its full title ), was painted in 1648, and exhibited to popular acclaim. It was this painting that sealed his fame for future generations.

When Joshua Reynolds visited Amsterdam in 1781, he praised the painting as “perhaps, the first picture of portraits in the world, comprehending more of those qualities which make a perfect portrait than any other I have ever seen”.