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Family Portrait
Key, Adriaen Thomasz.
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Key, Adriaen Thomasz.

Antwerp, 1544 - Antwerp, 1589

See author's file

Family Portrait

1583. Oil on panel.
Room 056

This group portrait of a middle-class Flemish family, whose identity is now unknown, is one of Key’s finest works in this genre. It has the firm handling evident in his portraits of the 1580s, revealing his outstanding technical ability to convey textures and his mastery of light. Its innovative character is evident when compared with other Flemish family portraits. Key depicts the seven sitters (a father and his six children) occupying almost all the available space. Arranged in a balanced, symmetrical way, the artist gives these figures a monumental character.The limited amount of background is dark and barely distinguishable from the black of the clothes. Key deliberately focuses our attention on the faces, which are framed by their white ruffs and emphasised by the lighting. He locates the father in the centre, seated on a Spanish leather chair in front of a table covered by a fine textile on which rest an hourglass, a skull and a book.The children, arranged in heraldic fashion (the males on the left and females on the right), are standing and organised in two tiers according to their age. Key gives them different poses in order to avoid monotony.The two youngest, depicted in foreshortening, turn towards their father, the boy holding a book and leaning on his father’s chair and the girl with one hand on the hourglass and the other on her father’s shoulder.The artist thus succeeds in balancing the prevailing verticality of the composition, while their tender gestures counterbalance the father’s grave expression.The skull on which he rests his hand and the hourglass evoke the vanitas ideas of death, the passing of time and the transient nature of worldly things.The absence of a wife and mother suggests that these figures are united by their sense of loss at her death. The first known owner of this work was Dr Wilhelm von Bode (1845–1929), who sold it to a Mr Hoffman. It passed from his grandson,W.G. Hoffman, to the collection of Sir George Leon in Bracknell. Sold at Christie’s in London (13 December 1991, lot 46), it was acquired by the Museo Nacional del Prado with funds from the Villaescusa Legacy. ( Silva Maroto, P. en: El retrato del Renacimiento, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2008, p. 234)

Technical data

Inventory number
Key, Adriaen Thomasz.
Family Portrait
Height: 91.4 cm; Width: 114.8 cm
Doctor Wilhelm von Bode Collection (1845-1929); Hoffman Collection; Sir George Leon Collection, Bracknell; Christie's, London; acquired by the Prado Museum with funds of the Villaescusa Legacy, 1992.

Bibliography +

Philippot, P., Le portrait à Ambers dans la seconde noitie de XVIe siècle, Bulletin des Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, 1963, pp. 181.

Puyvelde, Leo van, Floris ou Key? Le portrait de la Famille van Berchen, Bulletin Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, 1965, pp. 202.

Christie's review of the year, Christie's Review of the Season, 1992, pp. 26.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Un mecenas póstumo: el legado Villaescusa, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1993, pp. 48-51.

Jonckheere, Koenraad, Adriaen Thomasz. Key (c. 1545-c. 1589) portrait of calvinist..., Brepols, Turnhout, 2007, pp. 84.

Falomir, Miguel (ed.), El retrato del Renacimiento, El retrato del Renacimiento, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2008, pp. 234/235.

Díaz Padrón, Matías, Un tríptico identificado de Adriaen Thomasz Key atribuido a Antonio Moro en España, Archivo español de arte, 83, 2010, pp. 68-75.

Other inventories +

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (iniciado en 1856). Núm. 2271.
Autor: Adriaen Thomasz Key / 2271. Titulo: Retrato de un caballero con sus tres hijos y sus tres hijas. / Tipo de obra: pintura / Técnica/soporte: óleo sobre tabla / Medidas: 0,914 x 1,148 m / Nº de catálogo: P-07614 / Observaciones: / Adquirido por el museo en la subasta de Christie's celebrada en Londres el 13-XII-1991 (lote nº 46), en 72.159.238 pts. con fondos de la herencia Villaescusa. / Ingresó en el museo el 17-I-1992.

Inscriptions +

ATK 1583
Signed and dated. Front, lower right corner

Exhibitions +

The Renaissance Portrait
03.06.2008 - 07.09.2008

Location +

Room 056 (On Display)


Displayed objects +



Hourglass: Reloj de arena
Siglo XVI

Update date: 04-11-2021 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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