Jacobus Capitein

RP-P-1907-5423.jpg I was immediately drawn to Haid’s portrait of Jacobus Capitein. Haid’s detail of Capitein’s beautiful cloak and wig create a regal presence.  The use of books in the background, and in his right hand, connotate that he is a scholar.

Chapter 5 of Westermann’s Worldy Art tells us the Dutch portraits in this era were intentionally designed to connote status.  She also tells us that the illustration of professional and civic identity (versus family roles) is stressed.  This is certainly the case in the portrait of Capitein. The book in his right hand appears to be a bible.  This would be consistent with Johannes’ role as a minister. The regal dress tells us that this is a man of high status.

I also thought about my earlier post on Blakely’s Blacks in the Dutch World. In this post, I discussed Blakely’s illustration of the evolution of Black people in Dutch Art from the pre-slavery and post-slavery era. This mid- 17th-century artwork certainly portrays Capitein in a positive light.

Finally, I wondered who was Jacobus Capitein? Capitein was a remarkable individual, especially considering how he overcame such a horrific childhood.  At the age of 8, he was taken from his parents and sold as a slave.  At the age of 11, he was brought to Holland to live with a wealthy trader in the Hague. This trader is said to have treated him like an adopted son.  He excelled at school and eventually became one of the first Africans to be ordained as a minister in the Dutch Church.

He is a controversial figure in Dutch history because he advocated for the rights of Christians to keep slaves. While I would need to do a lot more research to provide an opinion on the context of his views, I included this information not to discount his achievements but because omitting it would be unfair to those negatively affected by his views.  I am unclear on whether these views were truly his own or said as a means to survive the time period.

Although it is an odd way to finish a post.  I only see four fingers on his right hand. In other portraits, he has all 5 digits. I don’t know if I’m missing something, it is symbolic, or Haid just did 80% of the work. Please let me know what you think.


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