Found: Elisabeth’s Other Half
Posted: November 1, 2020
Jakob + Elisabeth = love.
These two people belong together. So do their portraits. After 125 years apart, the paintings have been reunited at last. Good detective work, Ariane van Suchtelen!
Ms. van Suchtelen is the curator at the Mauritshuis art museum in the Netherlands. That’s where the woman’s portrait was hanging. Ms. van Suchtelen discovered that famous Renaissance artist Bartholomäus Bruyn painted the woman. He painted her just before she got married. The woman’s braids are hiding under her cap. Some of her hair has probably been shaved or plucked to make her forehead look high. (Seems strange to us! But back then, women wanted to show off their foreheads. Big forehead? That meant you were beautiful and smart.) The woman holds a bittersweet flower. That kind of plant often shows up in wedding portraits of the time. But to whom was the woman offering the flower? Whom was she looking at?
Time for some sleuthing. Ms. van Suchtelen found an old record. It said a diptych—a set of two paintings—had been sold at a London auction in 1896. She located an old photo of the man’s portrait. She followed clues to learn his name: Jakob Omphalius. He was a respected German lawyer. She also learned about his wife, Elisabeth. Records showed the two had been married in February 1539.
Originally, a hinge had connected the two portraits. But when the paintings were auctioned, no one remembered who the people in the pictures were. Someone bought Jakob. Someone else bought Elisabeth. The lovers were separated until . . .
A German art expert spotted Jakob at a Paris auction house in 2019. The Mauritshuis bought the painting for 250,000 pounds. (That’s about 326,400 American dollars.) Jakob and Elisabeth came back together at the Mauritshuis this summer.
“When you see them next to each other you see how well they go together,” Ms. Van Suchtelen tells The Guardian.
This painting story has a happy ending . . . and so did the story of the real Jakob and Elisabeth. They went on to raise 13 children.