Jacob de Wit
Amsterdam 1695-Amsterdam 1754
Head Study of an Old Man wearing a Turban, for the figure of Moses in the painting Moses Selecting the Seventy Elders

Signed in black chalk [upper right margin] J de Wit, black chalk, heightened with white, on light brown paper


This is a study for the head of Moses in the painting of Moses Selecting the Seventy Elders, his most important commission of his career, for the Council Chamber in the Amsterdam Town Hall in 1736-7. For this large canvas, 5.20 x 12.55m [Figure 1], de Wit received 8,500 guilders. The picture was commissioned to complement the decorations of Van Kampens famous building, which included two large over mantels of Solomon Praying for Wisdom, by Govaert Flinck, 1658 and Jethros Council by Jan van Bronckhorst of 1659, as well as a ceiling by Erasmus Quellinus and sculptured friezes from the workshop of Artus Quellinus1. There is a drawing for the whole composition in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge2. There are other known drawings from this composition recently on the market3.

Jacob de Wit, Jan van Huysum and Cornelis Troost are some of the Dutch 18th century artists with an international reputation. De Wit worked as a painter, draughtsman and etcher. He was one of the leading 18th century Dutch decorative painters, specializing in Rococo ceiling and room decorations. At the age of nine he was apprenticed to Albert van Spiers, and from 1708 he studied at the Koninklijke Academie in Antwerp and from 1709-12 with the history painter Jacob van Hal. In 1713 he became a member of the Antwerp Guild of St Luke. De Wit painted ceiling paintings for Catholic as well as Reformed Baptist patrons both in and around Amsterdam. He was probably stylistically influenced by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, who was in The Hague in 1718 and Antwerp.

1.Jacob de Wit, the Titan of the Amstel, exhibition catalogue, Amsterdam Royal Palace, 1986, pp.30-50.

2.Exhib.cat., D. Scrase, The Golden Century: Dutch Master Drawings from the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Stadtischen Galeriem Lenbachhaus, Munich, 15 November 1995-14 January 1996, and elsewhere, no. 108 (inv. number PD 919-1963).

3.Sothebys Amsterdam, 6 November 2001, lot 132.