In Govert Flinck’s case, it was not only Rembrandt’s fame that drew Flinck to him. It was also a logical step within his own artistic network and his family. He was born in Cleves on 25 January 1615. His father, Thonis Flinck, was a textile merchant, an occupation often pursued by Mennonites. He also held municipal offices, including that of land agent. It seems that he first apprenticed his son to a cloth merchant. In his biography, Houbraken was probably exaggerating when he wrote that Thonis Flinck tried to stifle his son’s longing for an artistic career and that the young Govert resorted to copying prints at night by candlelight. In reality, Flinck most definitely received ample opportunity to study art.
He first went to study under the supervision of Lambert Jacobsz, a preacher and painter from Leeuwarden, around 1630. As soon as he was with Lambert Jacobsz, Flinck would have come into contact with the Amsterdam workshop run by Hendrik Uylenburgh (c. 1587-1661); there was an extremely close commercial relationship between the two workshops, with paintings being exchanged back and forth. The following year, Rembrandt, still in Leiden, also started to do business with the portrait workshop in Amsterdam, and eventually went to work there. In 1634 Flinck set foot in Rembrandt’s workshop to study there.
Left: Govert Flinck, Self-Portrait, c. 1640 / Right: Govert Flinck, Shepherd and Sheperdess, 1654.
Rembrandt’s new assistant was already considerably advanced. It was not unusual for a promising young painter to move on to a prominent artist for further study. Rembrandt himself had studied with Pieter Lastman (1583-1633). In his biography of Govert Flinck, Arnold Houbraken (1660-1719) was quite specific about Flinck’s motives for going to Rembrandt – to adapt his style to the latest fashion. Rembrandt’s style at that time was ‘praised by all … so that everything had to be done in this manner if it were to please the world’. Copying or adapting his teacher’s existing works was an important part of Flinck’s final training: he had to be able to master Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro effects, his use of colour and his handling of surface and texture. During the relatively short time that Flinck worked with Rembrandt, he contributed to a number of his teacher’s paintings. Afterwards, he continued to apply and expand the expert knowledge he had acquired from Rembrandt for at least five years.
On view from October 13th in The Rembrandt House Museum and the Amsterdam Musuem: the exhibition Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck – Rembrandt’s Master Pupils.