The old man of this painting sits in profile and motionless, his hands grasping his walking stick and his eyes staring blankly in front of him. The near gloom of the interior with its selective light illuminating the man’s face and hands, accentuates his pensive mood, and he seems to be facing the coming of death and reflecting on his past. His situation is subtly reinforced by the barely visible open book and brass hourglass on a table to the left side of the composition. The first may be the attribute of a philosopher and scholar, and possibly a large Bible, and the latter is a traditional memento mori, a symbol of time coming to an end. The virility and importance of the man’s younger life is perhaps indicated by the beautiful clasp on his chest, its gold and jewels being the most material elements associated with the sitter and the interior.
The Amsterdam-born Salomon Koninck began his training in 1621 with David Colijns and was then apprenticed to François Venant, completing his training with Claes Cornelisz. Moeyaert. Like many others of his time, Koninck was a follower of Rembrandt, often imitating his pictures of hermits, old men, philosophers in their studies, and religious scenes, and emulating Rembrandt’s employment of exotic, richly ornamented costumes, emphatic gestures, and dramatic contrasts of light and shadow. In fact, the Dumbarton Oaks Portrait of an Old Man was originally attributed to Rembrandt and was inscribed: Remb. f. 1638 in the space between the hourglass and the figure’s face. These were removed as later additions.
An identical composition, also attributed to Salomon Koninck, is in the Galleria Sabauda, Turin.
Bühl, Gudrun, editor. Dumbarton Oaks, The Collections. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (distributed by Harvard University Press), 2008, 342f, ill.
Collection of the Comtesse de Valicourt, Paris, whose father reportedly purchased the painting.
Purchased through Frances I Huard, Paris (dealer), from the Comtesse de Valicourt, Paris, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 12/11/1926;
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 12/11/1926-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.