In 2013 an Amsterdam art dealer found a description of a certain Portrait d’homme devant une sculpture by Barend Graat (1628-1709), a mediocre Amsterdam painter, in a Parisian auction catalogue. Constant Vecht recognised the man as a young Spinoza and was certain he had found the portrait people had been searching for for centuries. The dealer managed to buy the portrait in Paris for 3000 euros plus 750 euros in auction fees, and took a train from Gare du Nord to Amsterdam with the canvas under his arm.
If it depicts Spinoza in his thirties, then we finally have the one portrait of the great philosopher painted during his lifetime. This canvas is therefore the forerunner to the famous portrait by an unknown painter, thought to date back to 1680-1700, which hangs in the collection of the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel and the engraving from c. 1680 by an unknown engraver which has been preserved at the Rijksmuseum. Spinoza sports a thin black moustache, but a Spanish captain described the philosopher to the Inquisition as “well built, with thin, long, black hair, a small moustache of the same colour and a handsome face”.
The art dealer Vecht gave the three portraits to two forensic research agencies. Based on biometric comparisons – including nostrils, hairline and shape of the nose, chin and eyes, both agencies concluded that the three images are more likely to depict the same person than different people.
Graat and Spinoza moved in the same circles. Spinoza’s Latin teacher, Franciscus van den Enden, an Antwerp ex-Jesuit, might have commissioned the work.
This has opened the discussion as to the authenticity of the portrait.
Below, you can watch A YouTube video by the believers, in which the portraits of Spinoza by Wolfenbüttel and Graat are overlaid. The most famous Dutchman after Johan Cruyff is not giving away his secret yet. You can read more about him in The Low Countries Yearbook. An overview of all the articles on Spinoza can be found below the video.
Spinoza in The Low Countries Yearbook :
- Comfort without Hope. The Topicality and Relevance of Spinoza (Herman de Dijn, The Low Countries – 2005)
- Put the Blame on Baruch (Arnold Heumakers, The Low Countries – 2001)
- A Convenient Desert. The Low Countries as a Refuge for the Spirit (Luc Devoldere, The Low Countries – 2001)
- Two Spinoza Biographies (Jonathan Israel, The Low Countries – 2000)
- Spinoza and the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic (Wiep van Bunge, The Low Countries – 1994)