Cornelis Ketel (1548-1616)

At the time when Oudezijds Voorburgwal was still called Fluwelenburgwal (‘velvet rampart’) because of its distinguished residents, Cornelis Ketel lived with his family at number 69-71. Many of the artist’s patrons and fellow artists resided in the neighbourhood. However, Ketel’s origins lay in Gouda, where he had been born out of wedlock to Elisabeth Jacobsdr Ketel in 1548. His father was the art collector Govert Jans van Proyen. From an early age Cornelis was taught how to paint by his uncle of the same name, and from the age of eighteen he was taught by Anthonie van Blokland in Delft. After spending a time in France, Ketel became famous as a portrait painter in London, where he was commissioned to paint a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I in 1578. In 1581 he returned to the Netherlands with his wife and children. They rented a house to the north of the Oude Kerk (Old Church) and bought the house on Oudezijds Voorburgwal in 1593.

In Amsterdam Ketel’s clients were mainly members of the wealthy ruling elite, many of whom were members of the Schuttersgilden or Civic Guards. It was from among this clientele that Ketel would popularise the genre of the schuttersstuk or Dutch Civic Guard group portraits, of which Rembrandt’s Night Watch is a fine example. Among Ketel’s works is the well-known civic guard painting Company of Captain Rosecrans.

In 1599 Ketel developed an unusual painting technique in which he used his fingers, thumb and even his toes. According to enthusiasts these ‘brushless’ portraits were warmer and smoother – but many people thought it ridiculous. After the death of his first wife, Cornelis Ketel married a woman from Amsterdam. The painter died in 1616.


Photo: City Archive Amsterdam.