The previously missing portrait of Jakob Omphalius (1500-67) is part of a diptych painted by Cologne portraitist Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder (1493-1555), depicting the lawyer and his fiancée Elisabeth shortly before their marriage in 1539. However, in 1896 the pair were split up when the work was sold at an auction in London. Elisabeth went to the Rijksmuseum in 1912 and was then given to the Mauritshuis on long-term loan in 1951.
The whereabouts of the husband’s portrait remained unknown, though the museum managed to track down old records of the picture. In May 2019 it resurfaced, catalogued as a ‘portrait of an unknown man’, at a small Paris auction where it was snapped up by Galerie De Jonckheere, which took it to exhibit at TEFAF.
After hearing of the portrait’s location through a chain of museum curators, the Mauritshuis raised £250,000 to purchase the work with the support of the BankGiro Lottery, the Vereniging Rembrandt (thanks in part to its Schorer Romeijn Grothe Fonds and its Themafonds Middeleeuwen en Renaissance), and a private donor.
Installed in new frames, based on another example holding a Bruyn work, the pair are on display at the museum until October 4, at which point the husband’s picture will undergo extensive conservation which his wife’s portrait has previously received.