Fashion Fights In The 1600s: Parents Just Don’t Understand Their Kids’ Clothing Styles

Flinck’s final portrait of Dirck (left) compared to the more fashionable original (right). Courtesy of van Eikema Hommes

Fashion trends come and go but one thing stays the same: Kids and parents often don’t see eye-to-eye on style.

Even in 17th-century Amsterdam.

A great example of this was recently unearthed by University of Delft researcher, Margriet van Eikema Hommes, when she took a closer look at paintings by the Dutch artist Govert Flinck.

Flinck was a pupil of Rembrandt, but he had more commercial success than his teacher.

Case in point: When Amsterdam’s new town hall was built in the mid 1600s, it featured several Flinck works but only one by Rembrandt, and this lone Rembrandt painting was removed after a year, van Eikema Hommes says.

Flinck’s success was probably due to his strong familial connections to Amsterdam’s wealthy Mennonite community, who became his regular patrons. And therein lies the interesting historical fashion-friction.

It turns out that Amsterdam’s Mennonite community favored solemn, dark outfits. Meanwhile 17th-century cool kids wore colorful tights. (Much as modern-day hipsters opt for brightly colored stockings…)

In fact, some members of the Mennonite congregation would strike out against members who wore less conservative, fashionable clothing—clothing that the Mennonites considered indecent, van Eikema Hommes explains.

Against this cultural backdrop, Flinck was asked to paint a portrait of his young Mennonite nephew Dirck. If you look at the final version of the portrait from 1636, the nephew looks pretty much like a conservative young Mennonite.

But looks can be deceiving.

When van Eikema Hommes started to analyze the portrait with X-rays, she discovered that beneath the painting was another portrait of Dirck (see the black and white image).

The original portrait has Dirck in a left-foot-forward, aristocratic posture (compared to Dirck’s more somber pose in the final version), and the original has Dirck wearing substantially less conservative clothing.

In particular, Flinck initially painted his nephew in a wider brimmed, fashionable hat, wearing a shirt with a wider, stylish collar and red tights instead of black ones.

You can tell the tights were red in two ways, van Eikema Hommes says. First, you can actually see the red paint shimmering through the top layer of the artwork.

But more conclusively, using X-ray fluorescence, she detected mercury on the artwork right where the legs were initially painted… and a common red paint of that era was vermillion, a mercury-based paint.

So why did Flick paint over the original, fashionable portrait of Dirck?

Probably because Flinck, Dirck or both men got cold feet about offending their Mennonite family members—and Flinck’s patrons.

In the words of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, “Parents just don’t understand.”

“There was nothing I could do, I tried to relax
I got dressed up in those ancient artifacts
And when I walked into school, it was just as I thought
The kids were cracking up laughing at the clothes Mom bought.”
—-DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Parents Just Don’t Understand

Author: Sarah Everts

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2 Comments

  1. Interesting. Young Dirck had it easy. Only one painting existed so it was easy to change it. Today there would be multiple digital photos floating around cyberspace and he couldn’t be sure that he had Photoshopped more conservative clothing (or perhaps even some clothing) on every one.

    • Ha! Too true!