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Civic Guard Group Portraits by Dutch Painters

"Meeting of the Officers and Sergeants of the Calivermen Civic Guard" by Frans Hals

Group Portraits by Dutch Painters

Civic Guard Group Portraits

  • “Meeting of the Officers and Sergeants of the Calivermen Civic Guard” by Frans Hals – Frans Hals Museum
  • “The Meagre Company” by Frans Hals and Pieter Codde – Rijksmuseum

“Meeting of the Officers and Sergeants of the Calivermen Civic Guard

The painting “Meeting of the Officers and Sergeants of the Calivermen Civic Guard” by Frans Hals is a group portrait painted for the Officers of the St Adrian Militia Company in 1633.

The group depicts the voluntary citizen militia for the Cluveniers, St. Adrian civic guard of Haarlem, in the Netherlands.

The men are gathered around a table outside in the courtyard wearing sashes showing the color of the officer’s groups with Ensign Jacob Hofland holding the flag of the blue group, and Ensign Jacob Steyn holding the flag for the white group.

This group portrait was one of the first depicted outside; thus, they were able to carry their weapons. The sergeants are shown, holding halberds to differentiate them from officers with spontoons.

Officers were selected by the council of Haarlem to serve for three years, and this group had just finished their tenure and were celebrated their end of service with a portrait.

The man with the orange sash seated on the left and looking directly at the viewer is Colonel Johan Claesz Loo, with right hand on the commander’s staff

Civic Guard

The voluntary city guard or citizen militia in the medieval and early modern Netherlands were created to protect the town or city from attack and act in case of revolt or fire.

Their training grounds were often on the open spaces in the city, near the city walls, but when the weather did not allow, inside a church.

The members of the militia are called a “Schuttersgilde,” which is roughly translated as a “shooter’s guild.” This term is now a title applied to ceremonial shooting clubs and the country’s Olympic rifle team.

Group Portraits

Once a year, the Civic Guard units held a banquet, with beer and a roasted ox. Whenever a changeover of the commanding officers occurred, a local painter was invited to paint the members, and the scene most popularly chosen for these group portraits was the banquet scene.

Though occasionally they were depicted outside in active duty, the members were usually portrayed for posterity dressed in their Sunday best, rather than their guard dress.

These militia group portraits include some of the grandest portraitures in the Dutch Golden Age painting. Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” is one of the most famous examples.

Group portraits were popular among the large numbers of civic associations that were an essential part of Dutch life, such as the officers of a city’s militia guards, boards of trustees and regents of guilds and charitable foundations.

In the first half of the century, portraits were very formal and stiff in composition. Later groups showed most figures standing for a more dynamic composition. Later in the century, groups became livelier and color brighter.

Much attention was paid to fine details in clothing, and where applicable, to furniture and other signs of a person’s position in society.

Meeting of the Officers and Sergeants of the Calivermen Civic Guard

  • Title:                  Meeting of the Officers and Sergeants of the Calivermen Civic Guard
  • Also:                  The Officers of the St Adrian Militia Company in 1633
  • Artist:                Frans Hals
  • Year:                  1633
  • Medium:           Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions      Height: 207 cm (81.4 in); Width: 337 cm (11 ft)
  • Museum:          Frans Hals Museum


“Meagre Company” by Frans Hals and Pieter Codde

Meagre Company by Frans Hals and Pieter Codde

“Meagre Company” by Frans Hals and Pieter Codde

“Meagre Company” by Frans Hals and Pieter Codde depicts the company of Captain Reinier Reael and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz Blaeuw. It is the only militia group portrait, painted by Frans Hals outside of Haarlem.

Hals was unhappy about commuting to Amsterdam to work on the painting and was unable to deliver it on time. The sitters then contracted Pieter Codde to finish the work.

Hals had initially intended to compose this Amsterdam version similar to his earlier Haarlem painting, beginning on the left with a smiling flag bearer wearing a flamboyant cut-sleeve jacket with lace and holding a flag in the color of his sash.

The painting was paid for by each sitter paying separately for their portrait. It is therefore presumed that Hals began with the essential sitters to “sell” canvas room to other paying officers.

The flag bearer on the left in this painting has been painted in a remarkably flamboyant way from the tip of his hat to the toe of his boots.

This approach was taken to prove to the decision-makers in Amsterdam that Hals was capable of painting in the “Amsterdam style,” which included the entire figure. In Haarlem, the civic guards were traditionally portrayed in three-quarter length portraits.

The flag bearer is Nicolaes van Bambeeck. Seated next to him is Captain Reael, with hat and commander’s staff. As the painting progressed further to the right, the less the two paintings resemble each other as another painter took over the task of completing the portrait.

In 1636 Hals was called to Amsterdam to finish the painting, but he refused, offering to receive the sitters in his Haarlem studio with assurances that they would not need to sit very long. His offer was rejected, and Codde was hired to finish the piece.

This group portrait was later nicknamed the “Meager Company,” because the men in this group portrait are thinner than the men portrayed in the later Amsterdam portraits that hang near this painting.

“Meagre Company” by Frans Hals and Pieter Codde

  • Title: Militia Company of District XI under the Command of Captain Reynier Reael
  • Also: The company of Captain Reinier Reael and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz. Blaeuw
  • Artist:              Frans Hals and Pieter Codde
  • Year:                1633
  • Medium:        Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions   Height: 209 cm (82.2 in); Width: 429 cm (14 ft)
  • Museum:        Rijksmuseum

Frans Hals

Frans Hals the Elder (1582 – 1666) was a Dutch Golden Age painter, usually of portraits, who lived and worked in Haarlem, a city in the Netherlands.

He is notable for his loose painterly brushwork, and he helped introduce this lively style of painting into Dutch art. Hals played an essential role in the evolution of 17th-century group portraiture.

Frans Hals

  • Name:                        Frans Hals
  • Born:                          c. 1582 – Antwerp, Flanders, Spanish Netherlands (Belgium)
  • Died:                          1666 (aged 83–84) – Haarlem, Dutch Republic
  • Nationality:              Dutch

Pieter Codde

Pieter Codde (1599 – 1678) was a Dutch painter of genre works, guardroom scenes, and portraits. Codde was a technically skilled painter. He is said to have studied with Frans Hals.

  • Name:                        Pieter Jacobsz Codde
  • Born:                          1599
  • Died:                          1678
  • Nationality:             Dutch

Frans Hals (1582 – 1666), Pieter Codde (1599 – 1678). De magere compagnie (1633-1637)

Authenticating Paintings by Frans Hals

Dutch Golden Age

Dutch Golden Age painting refers to a period in Dutch history roughly spanning the 17th century, during and after the later part of the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648) for Dutch independence.

The new Dutch Republic was the most prosperous nation in Europe and led European trade, science, and art.

The northern Netherlandish provinces that made up the new state had traditionally been less critical artistic centers than cities in Flanders in the south.

The upheavals and large-scale transfers of people during the war, and the break with the old monarchist and Catholic cultural traditions meant that Dutch art had to reinvent itself.

The painting of religious subjects declined sharply, but a significant new market of secular subjects developed.

Dutch art of the Golden Age lacks the idealization and love of splendor typical of much Baroque work of the time, including that of neighboring Flanders.

Most works reflect the traditions of detailed realism inherited from Early Netherlandish painting.

Frans Hals: A collection of 164 paintings

Frans Hals–Masters Series Lecture

Frans Hals – De Magere Compagnie – The Meagre Company

Pieter Codde (1599-1678). An Elegant Company. 1632


“Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.”
– Dutch Proverb


Photo Credit: 1) Frans Hals / Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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