The portraits of Simon van der Stel, first governor of the Cape

Jan B. Bedaux


In the identification of portraits, often the wish is father to the thought. This is a tendency that is strikingly illustrated by the identification of a pair of Dirck Craey portraits from 1650, one of which was held until recently to be the official likeness of the founder of the Cape Colony, Jan van Riebeeck, and the other that of his first wife, Maria Quevellerius (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2). The portrait expert Jonkheer F.G.L.O. van Kretschmar has denied the identity of the subjects on convincing grounds; indeed, he has demonstrated how this tendency played its part in the identification of these portraits in the past. 1 In the first place, it played its part in the minds of the 18th century owners of the portrait collection that included the two paintings. The owners wished to feel that they had in their possession an unbroken sequence of ancestral portraits, and so they furnished these two paintings with labels and coats of arms accordingly. Subsequently, the same tendency was shown by certain South African historians. Against a background of growing nationalism in South Africa, especially following the Peace of Vereeniging in 1902 and the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910, these historians began to take an interest in the long neglected founder of the South African nation. Gradually, their interest in Van Riebeeck turned into something very much like a cult, in which Maria Quevellerius was cast in the role of a mother of the fatherland, and along with which there went a deep-seated and justifiable wish for portraits of the founder and his wife. In such a euphoria of nationalist sentiment the identification of the Craey portraits was not conducted with too many scruples.

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