This charming family portrait represents the painter’s cousin Hartogh van Moerkerken (1622–1694), his first wife, Sibilla Nijkerken (1625–1665), and their son Philippus (1652–1688). The woman is placed unconventionally to her husband’s right, a position of honor most likely earned by providing the family with a male heir (as stressed by the family crests). The watch, usually signifying temperance or mortality, may in this context suggest continuity. The family lived near Delft, where in 1653 Ter Borch and his future emulator Johannes Vermeer witnessed a document together.
This portrait of the artist's cousin Hartogh van Moerkerken (1622–1694), his first wife, Sibilla Nijkerken (1625–1665), and their son Philippus (1652–1688) is generally dated 1653–54 on stylistic grounds, and more specifically on the basis of the boy's apparent age (he was born on January 8, 1652, and seems here to be about two years old). Hartogh was the son of the artist's paternal aunt Maria, who in 1610 married the Delft goldsmith Justinus (or Joost) Jansz van Moerkerken. The younger Van Moerkerkens also settled in the area of Delft and The Hague, in the village of Monster. The man in the MMA painting was States General representative to the district of Den Bosch ('s Hertogenbosch).
The composition has not been modified and is consistent with the designs of several group portraits and genre scenes painted by Ter Borch in the early 1650s, such as The De Liedekercke Family (Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem) of about 1654. In both works Ter Borch departs from the usual convention in Dutch portraiture by placing the women in positions of honor, to their husbands' right. This arrangement may have been intended to acknowledge the woman's essential role in providing the family with a male heir. The watch in the MMA panel may be a vanitas motif, serving as a reminder of mortality, or a symbol of temperance.
Individual portraits of the Van Moerkerken family include a 1645 painting of Hartogh (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam) by Crispijn van den Queborn (1604–1652), and paintings of Hartogh, Sibilla, and their children Maria, Cornelis, and twins Justinus and Harmen, by Gerard ter Borch's half brother Harmen (1638–1677).
[2010; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Inscribed (upper left, on scrolls): V:MOERKERKEN NYKERKEN
Hartogh van Moerkerken, Monster, The Netherlands (until d. 1694); by descent to James de Fremery, 's-Gravesande, The Netherlands, later Oakland, Calif. (by 1894–at least 1913; on loan to the Mauritshuis, The Hague, 1985–1904, no. 604); Paul de Fremery, San Francisco (until 1942; his sale, Waldorf-Astoria, New York, December 16, 1942, no. 26, to Koetser for Linsky); Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky, New York (1942–his d. 1980); The Jack and Belle Linsky Foundation, New York (1980–82)
Utrecht. Gebouw voor Kunsten en Wetenschappen. "Tentoonstelling van Oude Schilderkunst te Utrecht," August 20–October 1, 1894, no. 266 (as "Familiegroep," lent by James de Fremerij, 's Gravezande).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Family Life," March 15–May 19, 2002, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.
E. W. Moes. Iconographia Batava: Beredeneerde Lijst van Geschilderde en Gebeeldhouwde Portretten van Noord-Nederlanders in Vorige Eeuwen. Vol. 2, Amsterdam, 1905, p. 108, nos. 5094, 5096, p. 151, no. 5477.
Franz Hellens. Gérard Terborch. Brussels, 1911, pp. 99–100, ill. opp. p. 32.
C[ornelis]. Hofstede de Groot. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Ed. Edward G. Hawke. Vol. 5, London, 1913, pp. 84–85, 92, under no. 282, p.142, no. 248, dates it 1653–54; identifies the sitters.
Eduard Plietzsch. Gerard ter Borch. Vienna, 1944, pp. 16–17, 44–45, no. 45, pl. 45, dates it about 1654–55 on the basis of the boy's apparent age.
Alfred Chapuis. De Horologiis in Arte. Lausanne, 1954, p. 72, fig. 99.
S[turla]. J. Gudlaugsson. Gerard ter Borch. The Hague, 1959–60, vol. 1, pp. 93, 261, pl. 102; vol. 2, pp. 40, 43, 46, 112–13, 287 no. 102, dates it to about 1653–54 and compares it with "The de Liedekercke Family" (Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem).
Catalogus schilderijen tot 1800. Rotterdam, 1962, p. 108, under no. 1697.
Gerard ter Borch: Zwolle 1617–Deventer 1681. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis. The Hague, 1974, p. 118, under no. 29.
William H. Wilson. Dutch Seventeenth Century Portraiture: The Golden Age. Exh. cat., John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. Sarasota, 1980, unpaginated, under no. 9, cites the picture in connection with a miniature portrait by Ter Borch that bears an inscription referring to the van Moerkerken family.
E. de Jongh inStill-Life in the Age of Rembrandt. Exh. cat., Auckland City Art Gallery. Auckland, New Zealand, 1982, p. 159, fig. 29a, under no. 29.
Walter Liedtke inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1983–1984. New York, 1984, p. 54, ill.
Walter Liedtke inThe Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ed. John Pope-Hennessy and Olga Raggio. New York, 1984, pp. 86–88, no. 30, ill. (color).
Peter C. Sutton. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, p. 184.
E. de Jongh. Portretten van echt en trouw: Huwelijk en gezin in de Nederlandse kunst van de zeventiende eeuw. Exh. cat., Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1986, p. 238, fig. 53a.
Ivan Gaskell. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection: Seventeenth Century Dutch and Flemish Painting. London, 1990, p. 129.
Peter C. Sutton in Ben Broos. "Recent Patterns of Public and Private Collecting of Dutch Art." Great Dutch Paintings from America. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis. The Hague, 1990, p. 105.
E. de Jongh. Faces of the Golden Age: Seventeenth Century Dutch Portrait[s]. Exh. cat., Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum of Art. [The Hague], 1994, p. 137, fig. 47b; English supplement, pp. 62–63.
R[udolf]. E. O. Ekkart. Nederlandse portretten uit de 17e eeuw: Eigen collectie/Dutch portraits from the Seventeenth Century: Own Collection. Rotterdam, 1995, p. 172, ill., compares it with van Queborn's earlier portrait of Hartogh van Moerkerken (Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam).
Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), pp. 62, 66, 70, fig. 75 (color, MMA Linsky gallery photograph).
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. x, 67–70, no. 14, colorpl. 14.