Justizrat Dr A. Berg, Frankfurt-am-Main, 1925;
Presumably thence by descent until sold ('The Property of a Gentleman'), London, Christie's, 22 April 1994, lot 12 (as by Michiel van Musscher);
With Richard Green, London, from whom purchased by the present owner (with the correct attribution).
Like his brother Gerrit, Job Berckheyde is best known for his city views, although he also painted church interiors, landscapes and genre pictures. He also specialized in depicting people in the course of their trade. His paintings of tradesmen such as bakers and pigment vendors are perhaps more familiar to us than his portrayals of the professional classes such as is seen in this picture. This may perhaps partly explain why it was briefly and mistakenly re-attributed to Michiel van Musscher, whose paintings usually depict the bourgeoisie (see below).
While it may possibly portray a particular Notary, this painting has more of the character of a genre piece and should be viewed as such. It is markedly theatrical in character: the plump and successful Notary handing deeds to a fumbling client whose gaucheness as well as his dress mark him out as socially inferior, watched with amusement by the smirking apprentice. The setting is also strongly theatrical: the figures are arranged on one plane close to the viewer, but separated from us by the curtain draped above their heads and immediately in front of them. Most of the space of the Notary's office lies behind them and beyond, a doorway gives onto another room, and a further doorway leads into a third room, the facing wall of which is covered in expensive gilt-leather wall-hanging. The three distinct spaces are linked by the continuous black and white marble floor. The present work may be compared with another by Berckheyde depicting a Notary, seated reading a document, with a woman and her child, which was sold in Monaco, Christie's, 7 December 1987, lot 23. The spatial arrangements in that work, which is signed and dated 1685, are similar to the present one: a marble floor leads the eye to a distant room hung with gilt-leather covering. The comic interaction of the figures is also similar in mood: the young woman points knowingly at the Notary while glancing down at her child, who is giggling and waving his stick at the dog, which is about to bark.
This picture was sold at Christie's in 1994 as a work by Michiel van Musscher in the mistaken belief that the signature and date were not original, though they have subsequently been shown to be authentic, and following the advice of Willem van de Watering who, on the basis of a photograph and transparency, attributed the picture to Musscher.
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