When the painter Rembrandt came to Amsterdam in 1631, a young man seeking his fortune in the great city, a lad of twelve years was living in his father's country seat, near by, who was later to become one of his warm friends. This was Jan Six, the subject of the portrait etching reproduced here. There was a great contrast in the circumstances of life in which the two friends grew up. Rembrandt was the son of a miller, and had his own way to make in the world. Jan Six was surrounded from his earliest years with everything which tended to the gratification of his natural taste for culture. Rembrandt's rare talent, however, overbalanced any lack of early advantages, and made him a friend worth having.

Six had come of Huguenot ancestry. His grandfather had fled to Holland during the Huguenot persecution in France, and had become a resident in Amsterdam in 1585. Jan's father, another Jan, had married a Dutch lady of good family, whose maiden name was Anna Wijmer. It was in the service of this good lady that we first hear of Rembrandt's connection with the Six family. He was called to paint her portrait in 1641, and must have then, if not before, made the acquaintance of her young son, Jan. Jan united to a great love of learning a love of everything beautiful, and was an ardent collector of objects of art. Paintings of the old Italian and early Dutch schools, rare prints and curios of various kinds, were his delight. He found in Rembrandt a man after his own heart. Already the painter had gone far beyond his means in filling his own house with costly works of art. So the two men, having a hobby in common, found a strong bond of union in their congenial tastes. We may be sure that they were often together, to show their new purchases and discuss their beauty.

PORTRAIT OF JAN SIX Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Rembrandt, as an older and more experienced collector, would doubtless have good advice to offer his younger friend, and, an artist himself, would know how to judge correctly a work of art. One record of their friendship in these years is a little etched landscape which Rembrandt made in 1641, showing a bridge near the country estate of the Six family, a place called Elsbroek, near the village of Hillegom.

It was in 1647 that Rembrandt made this portrait of his friend, then twenty-nine years of age. Six had now begun to make a name for himself in the world of letters as a scholar and poet. He had already published a poem on Muiderberg (a village near Amsterdam), and by this time, doubtless, had under way his great literary work, the tragedy of Medæa. Many were the times when Rembrandt, coming to his house to talk over some new treasure-trove, found him in his library with his head buried in a book, and his thoughts far away. It was in such a moment that he must have had the idea of this beautiful portrait. He catches his friend one day in the corner of his library, standing with his back to the window to get the light on the book he is reading. He transfers the picture to a copper plate and hands it down to future generations.

The slender figure of the young man is clad in the picturesque dress of a gentleman of his time, with knee-breeches and low shoes, with wide white collar and cuffs. His abundant wavy blond hair falls to his shoulders; he has the air of a true poet. In his eagerness to read, he has flung his cavalier's cloak on the window seat behind him, a part of it dropping upon a chair beyond. Its voluminous folds make a cushion for him, as he leans gracefully against the window ledge. His sword and belt lie on the chair with the cloak. For the moment the pen is mightier than the sword. The furnishings of the room show the owner's tastes; a pile of folio volumes fill a low chair, an antique picture hangs on the wall.

The young man's face is seen by the light reflected from the pages of his open book. It is a refined, sensitive face, of high intellectual cast, amiable withal, and full of imagination. He is completely absorbed in his reading, a smile playing about his mouth. How little of a fop and how much of a poet he is, we see from his disordered collar. Breathing quickly as he bends over his book, in his excitement he cannot endure the restraint of a close collar. He has unloosed it, as, quite oblivious of any untidiness in his appearance, he hurries on, ruthlessly crushing the pages of the folio back, as he grasps it in his hand.

The friendship between Six and Rembrandt seemed to grow apace; for when the tragedy of Medæa was published, in 1648, it was illustrated by a magnificent etching by Rembrandt, representing the Marriage of Jason and Creusa.

The literary work of Jan Six led the way to various public honors. In 1656 he became commissioner of marriages; in 1667, a member of the Council of the States General of Holland, and in 1691, burgomaster of Amsterdam. His continued friendship for Rembrandt was shown in his purchasing a number of the latter's paintings. Rembrandt at length painted a magnificent portrait of his friend in his old age, which, with the portrait of his mother and the original plate for this etching, still remains in the Six family in Amsterdam. Referring to the portrait of Jan Six, the famous Dutch poet, Vondel, contemporary of Rembrandt and Six, paid a fitting tribute to the great burgomaster, as a "lover of science, art, and virtue."