This is the story of Jakob and Elisabeth. They were in love . . . so much so that they paid dearly to have a pair of portraits painted by one of the leading artists in Cologne. That was in 1539. The German couple were soon married—a man and a woman together for life, just as God intended.
Well, Jakob and Elisabeth stayed together. Their portraits, however, did not. People forgot who Jakob and Elisabeth were and broke up the diptych, selling each painting separately at a London auction in 1896.
We know all this now. But we didn’t know it before Netherlands’ Mauritshuis art museum curator Ariane van Suchtelen did some clever detective work. Just as in a marriage, one portrait without the other always seemed somehow incomplete. The woman in the portrait holds a bittersweet flower—a typical addition to wedding portraits during the Renaissance. But to whom was she offering the flower?
Those questions nagged van Suchtelen . . . nagged her enough to send her digging through the painting’s provenance—its history of ownership. She discovered the two works were auctioned in 1896 and the paintings wrongly credited to two different artists.Van Suchtelen’s research eventually turned up the name of the real artist: Bartholomäus Bruyn. Next, she unearthed records of past ownership. Finally, she unmasked the identities of the young couple. Elisabeth’s portrait had long been displayed in museums, showcasing her Renaissance hairstyle. (For Renaissance women, a large forehead—often achieved by plucking out hair at the frontal region of the scalp—indicated both brains and beauty.) But where was her fiancé?
That mystery began to unravel last May when a German art expert spotted a painting at auction in Paris. He suspected there was something special about the aptly titled “portrait of an unknown man.” And he was right. The Mauritshuis museum took an immediate interest, acquiring the portrait and reuniting Jakob and Elisabeth for the first time in 125 years.“It's wonderful to have the two here together,” says van Suchtelen. The portraits have recently been restored and are now part of the Dutch national art collection.
So this painting story has a happy ending . . . and so did the story of the real Jakob and Elisabeth. They went on to raise 13 children.
So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. — Matthew 19:6