Jan Albertsz Rootius
1624 – 1666
A Portrait of an elderly Lady
Jan Albertsz. Rootius (or Rotius) at a young age decided to specialise in portraits and still lifes. Little is known about his training though it has been suggested that he studied in Alkmaar. Houbraken states that Rootius was a pupil of Pieter Lastman which seems unlikely as Lastman died in 1633 when Rootius was only 9 years old.
By 1643 Rootius had established himself as an artist in Hoorn and married there. Most of his commissions came from wealthy Hoorn families and Friesians in the western part of the Dutch province. He was well known for his portraits - in particular portraits of children - and breakfast pieces. Rootius's sitters tend to be depicted in a simple, uncomplicated manner which appealed to his patrons' modesty and for this he has often been compared to Bartholomeus van der Helst. Some of his patrons were also painted by the other well-known Friesian painter Wybrand de Gheest.
Rootius was an important painter of militia groups. His 3.5 meter high portrait of the Civic Guard of Hoorn painted in 1650 in the Westfries Museum (known as the 'Hoorn Night Watch') is his most famous work. Like most able-bodied men in The Dutch Republic Rootius served in the militia and rose to the rank of sergeant in Hoorn which may have helped him secure this prestigious commission.
Rootius' breakfast still-lives, often painted on a table or on a ledge with a white cloth against a light background, belong to the monochrome 'banketje' group of artists working around Pieter Claesz and Willem Claesz Heda.
Rootius was 22 years old when he painted this portrait and it appears to be one of his earliest dated works, the first being a self portrait with his wife and eldest child from 1645. Thanks to the inscription giving both the age of the sitter and the date which the portrait was painted we can work out her birth date of around 1584. It is tempting to speculate as to the identity of the sitter. She is probably a citizen of Hoorn and was perhaps a family acquaintance as Rootius's reputation as an artist would have been slight at this stage in his career.
The sitter wears a black cowl which suggests that she is a widow, and a small unobtrusive ruff. By the 1630s ruffs were falling out of fashion in Europe and were being replaced with linen or lace collars. While the enormous 'cartwheel' ruffs were rarely seen from this point, more modest varieties persisted among the older generations into the 1640s.
Private Collection, UK