Portrait of Marten Soolmans
Marten Soolmans (1613-1641) studied law in Leiden at the same time that Rembrandt lived in the city. Rembrandt painted Soolmans and his wife Oopjen in 1634, after all three had moved to Amsterdam. This remarkable portrait of the sumptuously dressed Soolmans can be seen at the Kamerlingh Onnes Building, a former laboratory dating from 1856 and now the location of the Leiden Law School.
Look at me! Aren’t I the mover and shaker? This is what former law student Marten Soolmans seems to be saying in this most lavish Rembrandt portrait. In those days, life-size portraits featuring the subject from top to toe were only customary for monarchs and the higher ranks of the aristocracy. The wedding portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit (1611-1689) are considered to be Rembrandt’s most spectacular portraits. Marten’s clothes stand out in particular, with his outfit of shimmering black silk, his flashy silver ornaments and the gigantic rosettes on his fancy shoes. Who was this young man who had himself painted as such a man about town?
Marten, the only son of émigrés from Antwerp, grew up in Amsterdam, where his father Jan had a sugar refinery. He went to study in Leiden in 1627, soon after the death of his father. He was just 15 at the time. In those days, law students attended lectures in the ‘upper school’ of the Academy Building, now known as the Small Auditorium. Would Rembrandt and Marten, six years his junior, have known each other from Leiden? They did live close to one another: Rembrandt on Weddesteeg and Marten on Rapenburg, probably at number 55. Marten dropped out of his law degree in 1633 when he married Oopjen Coppit, the daughter of an Amsterdam merchant.
Marten moved in with Oopjen and her family in Amsterdam after the wedding, and they commissioned Rembrandt to paint these sumptuous wedding portraits. All too soon, their apparently prosperous life lost its lustre: two of their three children died at a young age. And fate dealt yet another blow when Marten died suddenly in 1641 at the age of 28. The cause is unknown. Thanks to Rembrandt the image of the ultimately tragic Marten is etched in our collective memory.