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Object of the Month - August 2011

Portrait of Jakob De la Gardie

Muotokuva Jakob Dl Gardien ISO
David Beck: Portait of Jakob De la Gardie. Photo: Markku Haverinen, National Board of Antiquities.
Count Jakob Pontusson De la Gardie (1583-1652) was one of the important military and administrative leaders in Sweden during the first half of the 17th century. He came from one of the most illustrious families in the country, the originally French De la Gardie, and his mother was a natural daughter of King Johan III, i.e. granddaughter of King Gustav I Vasa, the founder of the dynasty. At the age of 18, Jakob De la Gardie took part in King Carl IX's campaign in Livonia, and from then on De la Gardie's military career was connected with relations between Sweden, the Baltic states and Russia. Having been captive by the Poles for five years, De la Gardie served under Maurice of Orange in Holland, and in 1609-1614 he led the Swedish troops first on the side of the Russian Tsar against Poland, then against Russia, successfully enlarging Swedish territories in Ingermanland and on the Carelian isthmus. He was one of Sweden's peace negotiators in Stolbova in 1617, the treaty of which further enlarged Swedish possessions into the Baltic states.

In addition to having been in 1619 appointed governor of the fortress of Tallinn and in 1622 governor general of Livonia, Jakob De la Gardie also took part in military action, managing to occupy Dorpat in 1625. Three years later he was ordered to return to Stockholm, where he organized the court for military affairs (which would later become the Royal council of military affairs), also serving as its president from 1646 onwards.

In this portrait Jakob De la Gardie meets the spectator with a stern look - albeit at the time the portrait was painted he was probably almost totally blind. The broad white linen collar of the shirt is turned over the neck of the armour. The long hair falls back straight, the tips of the moustache are turned upwards and the beard is - contrary to the fashion of the time - broad. Especially the artist's delicate handling of the face and the right hand is noteworthy. At the back, on the right, we see a crimson horizon, on the left, drapery. The impressive gilt frame, dating possibly from the 18th century, is topped by a count's coronet as well as a Marshall's staff and a branch of laurels, which point to De la Gardie's military career. Court engraver to Queen Christina, Jeremias Falck, has in 1652, the year De la Gardie died, made a copper plate engraving based either on this portrait or another one in Maltesholm manor in Skåne, Sweden.

Dutch artist David Beck (1621-1656) was one of the several foreign artists, who worked for Queen Christina. Many of them came to the country first employed by the nobility (e.g. David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl working for Carl Gustav Wrangel, Nicolas Vallari for Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie), but David Beck, who was active in Sweden in 1647-1651, was from his very arrival employed by the Crown. At the same time, however, he worked for other patrons such as Count Palatine and Crown Prince Carl Gustav and Dowager Queen Maria Eleonora.

Having been an apprentice of Anton van Dyck in London, David beck arrived in Sweden, apparently via the French court, in the spring of 1647. Beck's career in Sweden was closely connected with that of Queen Christina. He painted portraits not only of the Queen, but also of other monarchs of the neighbouring countries for Queen Christina's art gallery. In the autumn of 1651 Beck was granted permission to travel abroad for a year. The purpose of this trip was to paint and, as was customary, exchange portraits between courts. The mission had, however, also ulterior political motives.

After travelling abroad Beck never returned to Sweden, but in 1656, again employed by Queen Christina, he was in Rome, later accompanying the Queen to France. After that Beck returned to his home country, where he died on 20 December 1656. According to a biography published in the beginning of the 18th century he was poisoned.

David Beck painted did portraits of several Swedish military leaders, such as Arvid Wittenberg, Hans Christofer von Königsmarck - these portraits were taken to Rome by Queen Christina - and Gustav Horn. The portrait of Jakob De la Gardie may at some point have hung at his palace in Stockholm or at Jakobsdal (now Ulriksdal) palace outside Stockholm. The painting was inherited by the great-great-granddaughter of the model, Hedvig Ulrika De la Gardie, who in 1785 married Gustav Mauritz Armfelt, a Finnish nobleman later notorious for being one of King Gustav III's most ardent supporters. The painting has come to the National Museum of Finland in 1925 as a part of the testamentary donation of their great-grandson.

Jouni Kuurne