Jan Jansz, Portrait of three children from the Tjarda van Starkenborgh family, oil on panel, 123 x 147.5 cm, 1654, Groninger Museum, Groningen. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons).

In 1654, Jan Jansz received a commission to portray the three eldest children of Allard Tjarda van Starkenborgh and Gratia Susanna Clant, two members of the Groningen aristocracy. Through a series of strategic marriages, the family had successfully accumulated a variety of estates and by the end of the century it had become one of the Ommelanden region’s most prominent lineages. Jan Jansz’ representation of the family testifies to this. On the left hand side of the composition are sixteen family escutcheons with coats of arms, suspended from two ribbons. The girl on the left is the couple’s eldest daughter, Federica, born in 1649. There is some confusion regarding the identity of the other two children, as surviving information about the family indicates that their second child was a boy called Lambert, who was born on 23rd February 1654, and died sometime before 1658. The boy on the right is probably too old to be Lambert, who would have been less than one year old at the time. In the background, among clouds, is the face of a fourth person, most likely a deceased brother or sister. This section, rendered with a golden radiance, contrasts strongly with the rest of the work. The children in the foreground are depicted with a heightened definition, crisp, neat and with a cool palette. The seraphic face in the clouds is rendered with a looser, ethereal style, more commonly associated with an Italianate style of painting. This juxtaposition disturbs the unity of the painting, but adds an oddly poetic quality, evoking a melancholy lost past in the background.