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Still life of fruit and a pie on a table

The Royal Collection has a stunning collection of seventeenth century Dutch art

Rembrandt van Rijn (Leiden 1606-Amsterdam 1669)

"The Shipbuilder and his Wife": Jan Rijcksen (1560/2-1637) and his Wife, Griet Jans 1633

RCIN 405533

Picture Gallery, Buckingham Palace

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The couple in this painting were identified in 1970 as Jan Rijcksen and his wife Griet Jans. He was a shareholder in the Dutch East India Company and, from 1620, their master shipbuilder.

During this period, married couples were traditionally depicted separately, but here, the two portraits not only come together in a single image, the figures overlap and interact. We imagine that Griet Jans has burst into the room, interrupting her husband with a message, which seems to her of the utmost urgency. Everything about her expresses breathless anxiety.

This is Rembrandt at his most naturalistic, especially in the depiction of textures and surfaces, which are described with great fidelity, neither glossing over nor revelling in the leathery, weather-beaten skin and white, tobacco-stained hair of his ancient sitters. The light is almost completely natural, flooding the space from the window visible at the left edge, catching each form at an angle and revealing its detail and texture.