Helmich von Tweenhuysen II - Portrait of a Bearded Cleric
Portrait of a Bearded Cleric
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Helmich von Tweenhuysen II (Amsterdam c. 1604 - Gdańsk 1673)

Van Tweenhuysen was from a prominent merchant family, who had originally come from Zwolle. His uncle was Lambert van Tweenhuysen who had settled in Amsterdam at the age of twenty five. He was one of the most significant traders of the period, with business links all over Europe, but perhaps most importantly with the Baltic harbours including Gdańsk. As a founder of the New Netherland Company, he was also a pioneering figure in exploring new trading ventures with Native Americans in the Dutch colony New Netherland. Lambert’s brother was Helmich van Tweenhuysen I who was also in Amsterdam by 1596, when he married Maria van Ceulen. Two of their sons, Arent and Helmich II were to become painters. Although archival records are slightly fragmentary, it is clear the family spent time in both Amsterdam and Zwolle, where Helmich I was burgomaster, during the first two decades of the seventeenth century.

Helmich II clearly spent a considerable portion of his life living and working in Gdańsk. It is notable that his brother Arent applied for citizenship of the city. Additionally two prints by Jeremias Falck (1610-1677), engraved after works by van Tweenhuysen, depict the famed astronomer Johannes Hevelius, as well as a self portrait. These serve as testament to van Tweenhuysen’s artistic standing in Gdańsk. However, the impact of Rembrandt’s work on van Tweenhuysen is overt, and so it seems that he must have been aware artistic developments in Amsterdam. This could have been due to familial ties to the city, but Brusewicz has hypothesised that the link may have be through the artist brothers Hendrick (c.1587-1661) and Rombout (c. 1583-1628) van Uylenburgh. From 1625 Hendrick lived in Amsterdam, and in the 1630s Rembrandt first moved into his house, before taking over his studio. Whilst Hendrick had moved to the Netherlands, Rombout had established a successful career in Krakow and Gdańsk, and presumably knew van Tweenhuysen. Both the van Uylenburgh travelled to and forth from Amsterdam to Gdańsk, and so it seems very plausible that van Tweenhuysen could keep abreast with Netherlandish artistic developments. In any case van Tweenhuysen’s work certainly made its way to Amsterdam. The only seventeenth century record of his work is in the 1699 inventory of the Dutch trader David d’Orville which lists ten paintings in his collection.