The Betrothal

WAG 1019


"The Betrothal" is a painting from the school of Rembrandt and was produced in his studio, although the identity of the artist remains unknown. Training under an artist was a fairly new way to learn in early 17th century Amsterdam and Rembrandt profited from both students' tuition fees and from the sale of their work. In "The Betrothal" the union of the couple is expressed in their holding hands, the action at the centre of the composition. The woman's finger is turned by her male companion to display the ring on her finger. The costumes of the betrothed are not those of the period, but are in fact splendid theatrical costumes. Such paintings became very popular and were known as "tronie", a style developed by Rembrandt to combine the popularity of historical paintings with the lucrative market for portraiture. The Betrothal" is dated around 1640-50. It is similar to "The Jewish Bride" by Rembrandt himself (c.1661, now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). The identity of the couple in "The Jewish Bride" remains uncertain, although it has been suggested that they could be biblical figures, either Isaac and Rebecca or Jacob and Rachel. In "The Betrothal" the couple wear elaborate theatrical dress rather than the fashion of the time. The square neckline of the man's costume and the slashed fabric of the doublet revealing an under-garment are both details of 16th rather than 17th century costumes. The girl's dress is highly ornate. The wearing of short sleeves over long ones was a theatrical convention, and the richness of her finery is marked. The jewelled girdle at her waist is probably attached to an embroidered pouch on her right sleeve and the necklace over her shoulders meets in a central jewel fastened to the front bodice of her dress. The couple's posture, the girl's enigmatic expression and her slightly raised left hand seeming to deter the spectator's intrusive presence all enhance the high emotion and dramatisation of the occasion. It may be that the painting was commissioned for the occasion of the couple's engagement. Clearly, their poses, dress and expressions were intended to enhance their status.