Portrait of a family
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Family Group in a Landscape is a 17th Century example of a picture-perfect postcard family, according to Frans Hals.

Family portraits commonly decorate the family home. Hell, your co-workers probably have picture frames across their work desks. Smiling parents, babies beaming in the park, the family dog running toe to toe with the kids. But if you see a young servant in any of these portraits, you gotta do double-take.

In the 17th century, the Netherlands was an economic powerhouse. Hard to believe considering the country’s size. But they had a strong naval base, and even controlled the ports of New York City (at the time called New Amsterdam). The Dutch even became involved in the slave trade, which was super illegal all across Europe. In the New World colonies, however, nobody said anything about it being illegal. There are loopholes for everything.

Despite the illegality, Dutch citizens couldn’t ignore the slave trade. Dutch merchants made a killing in this business. Paintings commissioned during the Dutch Golden Age primarily decorated households to celebrate the achievements of rich merchants. So painters such as Hals documented these new additions to the household. In Family Group in a Landscape, the new addition is thought to be the family servant.

The young African servant’s presence indicates that the man of the household could have made his money in the West Indies. Slavery was a major trade in the Dutch economy during the 17th century. The economy was booming. Money flowed through the country, so paintings hung in every household, on every wall. Anyone with a bit of coin could purchase them, even those in the lower classes. Religious paintings fell out of favor. At the time nature and portraiture were favorable subjects to paint. Family Group in a Landscape blissfully marries the two subjects, as if the family purposely moved to the left for the landscape to be included. While this painting exemplifies marriage fidelity (“Mum and Dad are holding hands!”) according to 17th century customs, the eerie undertone goes unmissed.




  1. Erickson, Peter, "INVISIBILITY SPEAKS: Servants and Portraits in Early Modern Visual Culture," Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 9, no. 1 (Spring, 2009): 23-61,166-167. Accessed August 10, 2019,
  2. “Frans Hals: Portrait of a Preacher,” The Masterpiece Cards. N.d. Accessed August 14, 2019
  3. Gedert, Roberta, “Piece by Piece: Museum Stages a Family Reunion of Hals Portrait,” Toledo Blade, October 8, 2018. Accessed August 14 2019
  4. Girardeau, Merrill Lee, “Two Exhibitions, One Conversation: Titus Kaphar and European Works on Paper at Brooklyn Museum,” City Guide, July 16 2019. Accessed August 14 2019
  5. Karabell, Shellie, “Lessons from the Dutch Golden age: What Really Makes a Nation Great,” Forbes, December 25, 2017. Accessed August 20, 2019
  6. “Family Group in a Landscape.” Accessed August 30, 2019.
  7. Seward, Pat, Lal, Sunandini A., Paley, Caitlyn, The Netherlands: First Edition. New York: Cavendish Square Publishing, 2016
  8. WBUR’s The Artery “Were Those Black ‘Servants’ in Dutch Old Master Paintings Actually Slaves?” January 15, 2016. Accessed August 17, 2019.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Family Group in a Landscape

Family Group in a Landscape is a painting by the Dutch Golden Age painter Frans Hals, painted in circa 1648 and now in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.


The painting is one of a handful of paintings that Hals made of families in the "picnic style" of open air settings, but this is the only one featuring a black boy, something of a rarity in Haarlem during Hals' lifetime.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Family Group in a Landscape.