15. Jan Cossiers

Antwerp 1600 – 1671 Antwerp

Portrait of Jan François Cossiers, 1658

This sixteen year-old was the eldest son of the painter Jan Cossiers and his second wife Maria van der Willigen, whom he married on 26 July 1640.1 Jan François Cossiers (1642/1643-1680) would later become secretary to the Bishop of Ypres (West Flanders), but we know little more about his life.2 In this drawing he still has a naive youthfulness, although at the same time he looks quite self-assured. Cossiers drew this portrait of his dear son in 1658, just as he would of four of his other boys.3 All five sheets are numbered, in a similar way to the 31 written here upper left.4 We can only guess at the meaning of this numbering. Marijn Schapelhouman suggested that the drawings of Cossiers’s sons were part of a larger group of head studies, possibly a series expressing different emotions,5 which would have included the drawing of a boy that is now in Los Angeles.6

The notion that the group of signed heads by Jan Cossiers may have been larger is reinforced by the provenances of the different sheets. The five drawings that were successively in the collections of Viscount Palmerston (1739-1802), Sir John Charles Robinson (1824-1913) and later Charles Fairfax Murray (1849-1919) cannot be the above-mentioned five sheets of Cossiers’s sons.7 We know, for example, that the drawings of Gerard and Jacobus were in the collection of Gilbert Paignon-Dijonval (1708-1792) and were both listed in his inventory drawn up in 1810.8 And the sheet on which Cornelis is portrayed also seems to have a different provenance.9

The complexity of the group of drawn heads of children and what their function was is increased by the portrait of Jan François Cossiers in the collection of the musée du Louvre; an almost identical version of the drawing discussed here.10 When Frits Lugt catalogued this sheet in the late 1940’s, he was convinced that both drawings were by Cossiers.11 He did, though, think that his own example was ‘a little more vigorous’.12 He was probably alluding to the looser and more relaxed impression his drawing gives, compared to the stiffer and heavier application of the black and red chalk in the other version. The drawing of Jacobus Cossiers in the British Museum is likewise not as fluently executed, and the dense hatching of the background is similar to the drawing of Jan François in the Louvre. It is quite conceivable that the portraits of Cossiers’s sons were produced in a limited edition. As is so often the case with family portraits, repeats were made for other family members or for the sitters themselves.


1He married his first wife Jeanne Darragon (d. 1639) in 1630.

2Théodore Van Lerius, Catalogue du musée d’Anvers, 1874.

3Jacobus Cossiers, British Museum, London, inv. no. Oo,10.179, black and red chalk, touched with yellow and with brown and grey wash, 270 × 201 mm; Cornelis Cossiers, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. no. RP-T-2008-103, black, red and yellow chalk, pen and brown ink, 267 × 185 mm; Guilliellemus Cossiers, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, inv. no. I, 248, black and red chalk, white chalk, with pen and brown ink, 268 × 183 mm (not dated); Geeraert Cossiers, whereabouts unknown (with Richard Day Ltd in 1987), black chalk, red chalk, pen and brown ink, 267 × 187 mm. The couple had more children, including at least one other boy, Pierre-Antoine.

4Jacobus, no. 25, Geeraert, no. 27, Guillielemus, no. 21 and Cornelis, no. 32.

5Schapelhouman 2009, p. 109.

6Nicholas Turner, European Drawings 4. Catalogue of the Collections, Los Angeles 2001, no. 43. However, the way in which this number was written differs from those in the aforementioned sheets.

7Felice Stampfle, Netherlandish Drawings of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries and Flemish Drawings of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York and Princeton, 1991, no. 264.

9The inscription P N° 84 is missing on the verso, by contrast to the drawings in the Fondation Custodia and in The Morgan Library & Museum.

10Jean François Cossiers, musée du Louvre, Paris, inv. no. 21.918, red and black chalk, pen and brown ink, brown wash, 310 × 201 mm.

11Frits Lugt, Inventaire général des dessins des écoles du Nord, école flamande, Paris (Musée du Louvre) 1949, vol. I, no. 544.

12Ibidem, p. 46: ‘un peu plus vigoureux’.