Sample Research Paper on Jacob Ochtervelt: Family Portrait


Renaissance is the period after the middle Ages in Europe between the 14th to the 16th century. Within this period, great revivals of significance in conventional learning and appreciation of the prehistoric Greece and Rome took place (Lewis Para 3). It is based on the political stability and growing affluence that development was experienced in numerous fields including artwork, printing press, invention, and exploration of new continents, and astronomy. These inventions and innovations resulted to the invention on a style of painting, sculpture, and decorative arts, which reached its zenith in the 16th century. Great artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael rose to fame in this period. Art description was an awakening to the ideals of the success of the classical Roman culture, which varied greatly from the stagnated values, and intellectual culture before the fall of the Roman empire (Lewis Para 7). Artwork in this era was defined therefore by personal experience, and beauty and mystery of the natural world. This newfound freedom and expansion of technology-enabled artists like Leonardo da Vinci study other subjects such as geology, anatomy, and hydraulics that resulted to invention and progress of the visual arts.

Description of the portrait

This is a family portrait by Jacob Ochtervelt that dates back in c.1670-75 (Richardson 57). The portrait bears a father, a mother, and a young girl, on an oil canvas. The portrait illustrates the skills of Ochtervelt as he integrated genre painting and portraiture thereby producing a sumptuous image. Aristocratic ideals as well as social ambitions are reflected of the patrician subjects. The family of three is depicted to have posed in the main room of a well-designed home that was decorated in the conventional style of the late seventeenth century. The father in the portrait dominates this pyramidal composition through his quilted silk Japanese kimono attire. The garb is a reminder of the Dutch existence as they traded on the eastern region. The wife is also covered in a rich textured shimmering white silk dress that is embroidered with silver thread. She is seated on a red velvet chair, which are striking together with the Anatolian carpet against the warmer background colors. The striking effect is well derived from the works of Johannes Vermeer and Gerard ter Borch (Richardson 58). On the girl’s dress are flying ribbons, which give the suggestion of her rushing movement to the center with her bounding spaniel. The mother is stretching on her left hand an orange that she grips, which is a classic manner in the 17th Century to communicate affluence, and fruitful family connections.


Jacob Ochtervelt was born in Rotterdam in 1634, died in 1682 (Museo Para 1). He was a famous skilled painter who perfected the painting of silks and satins to rival Terborch. He trained under painter Nicholaes Berchem in 1646 and came back from Italy in 1655 to marry Dirkje Meesters (Museo Para 1). His early works are an influence of Italianate painters such as his masters Berchem, Ludolf de Jongh, and Jan Baptist Weenix. Ochtervelt began painting scenes of gardens with monumental figures of classical buildings, a style that closely resembled Karel du Jardin’s style. He also ventured into theatrical lighting that characterized Dutch Caravaggisti’s style, before venturing into his own style that figured textures of the draperies painted with great care and painstaking detail (). He became famous for the Dutch genre painting of the interiors of wealthy bourgeois houses depicting musicians through the street doorways. His genre permitted him to explore contrasts and connections of the figures in social classes.

Within the 17th century, Dutch artists preferred to paint numerous family portraits for the middle class in the society (Blankert 14). These portraits were majorly set in the exterior or combined with interior scenes. Views through a windowpane or an entrance way were habitually integrated into the background of the portrait. With the progression of the period, portraits began to concentrate on domestic life and relationships. The portrait is thus a conventional genre portrait in that period and documents the developing political influence, personal pursuits, and social status. The portraits include that of Jacob Ochtervelt, which depicts family life, size, wealth, and moral character of the family. Identifiable symbols and coat of arms were applied in enhancing the features of this family, for instance, the high moral character, ownership of the country estates, and ancient roots. This portrait is uniquely set in interior and depicts enhanced cultural commitment to the nuclear family and hierarchical relationships, which was honored as a social institution in art (Weston 117). From the portrait, it is apparent that qualities such as harmony, commercial aptitude, and prolific progeny were highly prized. Enhanced wealth enabled the middle class to commission family portraits along other paintings in decorating their homes.

The position of the family seems purposeful and desires to express harmony and wealthy in terms of financial status and well thought out poses. The composition and sitters of the participants relay a highly sophistication message over the commercial accomplishments. The inclusion of the dog bears varying meanings in the portrait, including its loyalty and faithfulness, to symbolize lustful passions (Berger 39). Other than depicting familial harmony, financial achievements, immortalized lineage, the photo depicts inevitable transience. The orange assumedly refers to the domestic tranquility in the picture and a celebrated reference to fertility. Presence of the orange underscores the assumption that the desire of the family was to communicate their family success. This tranquility is interrupted by the bounding spaniel that is also used, in the portrait, as a reference for learning (Richardson 59). The interior space in the painting underscores gender responsibilities and significant relations between a spouse and the wife, masters and their juniors, and parents and their brood. The vibrant poses of the family define the authoritative position of the father as the head of the family, and the submissive position of the wife.

This family portrait underscores the significance that the 17th Century Dutch families had in displaying their monetary success. Positioned in triangular shape, the members of this family are draped in fashionable garments to highlight the economic power. The father operates as the parenthesis of the group on the left side, while the mother is somehow positioned at the middle of the group with the small daughter at her feet. Both adults and the child gaze at the audience, as the dog glances at the girl. The father is the tallest member and hence the authoritative figure. Another level of representation is apparent in the design of the room and the control of the mother in the domestic realm. The assuming mother’s pose and the lavish dress display her as the manager of the domestic domain, her pride in her family, as well as satisfaction of their economic situation.


In conclusion, I feel that Ochtervelt facilitated the spread of the genre painting of families in luxurious interiors and walls behind them (Richardson 78). This is because all his paintings are of the middle social class who are often perceived as economically stable. In all his paintings, social stability of the family must feature in. These family portrays are therefore assumed a natural preference for the specialist with a chance to incorporate architecture and portraiture (Kemp 54). This family painting, among others by Ochetervelt depicts richly dressed figures and beautifully draped interiors, which were features of the Ochetervelt’s paintings that date back in the 1660s. His observation and interpretation illustrates his skill to attain the desires of the participants as sufficient and wealthy.

Other than being the feature of the 1600s portraits, I have learnt that families in this period highly valued wealth and children in their families than religion and extended families. I have learnt that this attribute is due to the social stratification of families in terms of economic stability, which was also influenced by the number of children. I have besides learnt that artists valued elements such as space and the color that greatly contributed to the general visual aspirations of the portraits. Other elements of high regard in the artistic world include the poses of the participants as well as their gestures that act as reminders of the theatrical signals and staging.


Works Cited

Blankert Albert. ‘What is Dutch Seventeenth-Century Genre Painting? A Definition and

its Limitations.’ in Selected Writings on Dutch Painting. Zwolle: Waanders, 2004. Print

Berger Jr. Harry. Manhood, Marriage, and Mischief: Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ and Other

Dutch Group Portraits. New York: Fordham University Press, 2007. Print

Kemp Martin. The Oxford History of Western Art. Oxford; New York: Oxford University

Press, 2002. Print

Lewis Jeffrey. “The Renaissance.” History. Com. 2016. Retrieved on October 22nd October from


Museo Thyssen. Renior: Intimacy. 2016

Richardson M. Elaine. “Portraits-within-Portraits: Immortalizing the Dutch Family in

Seventeenth-Century Portraits.” University of Cincinnati. 2008


Weston Rath. Gender in Real Time: Power and Transience in a Visual Age. New York:

Routledge, 2002. Print