Herman Verelst (c. 1640/41–London 1702) received his first art training in the painting workshop of his father, Pieter Hermansz Verelst (c. 1618–1678). Also Herman's younger brother Simon Verelst and Herman's children Cornelis and Maria Verelst were painters. Simon and Herman registered at the painters' guild in the Haag in 1663. The data clearly reflects the Verelst family tradition in the field of art, while insufficient information about Herman Verelst indicates that he mainly painted still lifes, religious motifs, and portraits. In 1667 Herman was documented in Amsterdam as a married man, his wife was Cecilia Fene of Venice; he was again documented in the same city in 1670. It was perhaps the origin of his wife that made the painter and his family leave for the south of Europe, all the way to Rome. In 1678 a daughter of his was baptized in Ljubljana, Carniola, but already in 1680 he and his family moved to Vienna where they stayed for three years. Good recommendations opened the artist a way to the imperial court and to other members of court nobility. After three years in Vienna the Verelsts left for London; the artist made several shorter travels across the country and he eventually died in the British capital. The painter’s reputation with the nobility of Ljubljana is evident from the names of the godparents at the baptism of Verelst’s daughter Katarina Helena in Ljubljana Cathedral in 1678. The data collected by Uroš Lubej renders possible to follow, fragmentarily at least, the life story of Verelst, and in Lubej’s opinion the artist could tentatively be related to Johann Weichard Valvasor’s mysterious painter Almanach. In any case, the published bits shed light on part of the life of the painter who presented himself splendidly through his portraits of the Wiederkehr spouses.
Hans Jacob Wiederkehr (1631–1702) and his wife, Maria Elisabeth (1655–1718), are well documented in the archives of Ljubljana. Their “engagement” portraits, both of the same size (inv. no. of the female portrait: NG S 634), are meant to be grand-style images, but as to the time of their origin they seem a rather relaxed presentation of aristocrats of lower rank. The portraits reveal the painter’s skill, which he acquired in his father’s workshop and improved further on his travels to art centres. In terms of decorativeness and colouring, the image of Maria Elisabeth is rather more vivid that that of her husband. The male aristocratic portrait is typically dark, as was the fashion of the time: by means of well-balanced illuminated sections the sitter’s figure stands out from the completely tenebrous background. The rich wig of the restrained but self-confident nobleman and his carefully painted discreet fashionable attire evidence the painter’s skill in interchanging bright sections and deep shadows on the prevailing dark tones of the Baroque costume. It is exactly the balanced light sections and accomplished modelling that provide this portrait with a persuasive aristocratic expression and testify to the artist’s painting mastery.
The portraits of the Wiederkehr couple are important not only to add to the small group of the identified Verelst portraits, but they also represent the “noble selection” in the series of early-Baroque portraiture in Carniola. This is even more important because British art history classifies Verelst among skilful portraitists of his time. The restoration intervention by Miha Pirnat Jr, MA, is thus a relevant contribution to the unveiling of artistic values of the painter in question.
The presentation screens in the Permanent Collection.
Miha Pirnat Jr.
7 April – 4 May 2016
National Gallery of Slovenia