(Sluis 1614 – 1670 Paris)


Meleager and Atlanta


Oil on canvas, shaped, 138.7 x 163.5 cm


Private Collection, United Kingdom.



Haarlem, Frans Hals Museum, on loan 1997-2004.



D. Mandrella, Jacob van Loo 1614 – 1670, Arthena, Paris, 2011, pp. 47; 151.

G.J. van der Meer Mohr, Jacob van Loo een onderbelichte portretschilder, Origine, 1 (2006), pp.24-27.


Jacob van Loo was born in Sluis, near Bruges, in 1614 to an unknown painter, Jan, from whom he probably received his first instruction as an artist.[1]  As early as August 1635, Van Loo’s name is mentioned in an Amsterdam notarial document in connection with the delivery, under contract with the dealer Marten Cretzer, of ten paintings.  It is not certain but quite possible that Jacob van Loo was then already active in Amsterdam.  The earliest known works by his hand datable before or around 1640, are genre paintings in the manner of Pieter Codde.  It is plausible, therefore, that the paintings of 1635 were works of this sort rather than history paintings.


In August 1642 Van Loo was betrothed in Amsterdam to Ann Langele (died Amsterdam 1656), sister of The Hague painter Marinus Lengele (died Paris 1668) and niece of Jan Mijents (1614-1670), a prominent portraitist from The Hague.  From this marriage seven children were born.  The youngest of the four sons, Abraham (who called himself Abraham Louis or Louis; 1652-1712), and Johannes (1654 – after 1694) were also painters.  Abraham was the progenitor of the French family of painters Vanloo.


Toward the middle of the century, Jacob van Loo, whose activities extended to portraiture, genre, and history paintings, had made a name for himself both in Amsterdam and elsewhere.  In 1649 Constantijn Huygens, the erudite secretary to the stadtholder Frederick Hendrik, had placed his name on a list of artists under consideration to decorate the new Huis ten Bosch palace near The Hague.  His local fame is most clearly demonstrated by his mention, amidst many renowned fellow Amsterdamers like Rembrandt, Flinck, Bol, and Van der Helst,  in a poem written by Jan Vos in 1654.


Meanwhile, in January 1652, at the same time as Bol, Flinck, and De Helt Stockade, Jacob van Loo purchased Amsterdam citizenship.  This fact is doubtless connected with commissions which were then expected for the decoration of the new Amsterdam town hall.  Although Van Loo never did receive commissions from either the stadtholder’s court or the Amsterdam municipal administration, he nevertheless did receive other important commissions.  For example, in 1657 he painted Allegory on the Distribution of Food to the Poor for the Oudezijds Huiszittenhuis, one of the workhouses in Amsterdam.  It was one of three works ordered at the same time; the other two were executed by Jan van Bronchorst and Cornelis Holsteyn.  His relationship with the Haarlem artist Holsteyn, who was dead by 1658, perhaps gained Van Loo the important commission to paint portraits of the Regents (1658) and Regentesses (1659) of the Aalmoezeniers Armen Werkhuis (Almoners Workhouse for the Poor) in Haarlem.  The commission was all the more significant for having been won over local Haarlem painters who were active at that time, such as Hals, Verspronck, and Jan de Braij.


A fight with fatal consequences compelled Jacob van Loo to abandon Amsterdam in the autumn of 1660.  Shortly thereafter he established himself in Paris, where in 1663 he was admitted to the Académie de peinture.  He died there on November 26, 1670.


In 1658, two years before his hasty flight to France, Jacob van Loo along with several of his colleague painters appeared before the Amsterdam notary G. Borsselaer and made the following statement:  ‘On 27 July 1658 appeared before me… Sire Willem Strijcker, 52 years old, Ferdinandus Bol, 40 years old, Govert Flynck, 44 years old, Nicolaes van Helt, 42 years old and Jacob van Loo, 44 years old or each thereabout, all master painters and artists, living in Amsterdam, and at the request of Sir Roelandt de la Meer of Nimwegen [nijmegen] have declared… that it is true, that a certain Catarina Jans, once living in the Spiegelstraat, daughter of a needle maker, had posed stark naked before the witnesses as well as other colleagues, and that they attest to having drawn and painted her.”[2]


Why this curious statement was made is not entirely clear.  It probably had to do with the reputation of the female nude model.  This statement thus establishes that Catarina Jans functioned as a nude model for compositions by the above- named painters.  It seems that Jacob van Loo, together with the Rembrandt pupils Flinck and Bol and several others as well, had a sort of study class where they drew from models.  Rembrandt was also very active in the late 1650s making drawings and etchings after nude models.  His pupils at the time, Arend de Gelder and Johannes Raven, also drew with him after the same model.  It is not unthinkable that De Gelder, Raven and Rembrandt belonged to the same club as that of Jacob van Loo, Flinck and Bol.  It is interesting to note that the partially nude model of Atalanta, appears again as Iphigenia in a Cimon and Iphigenia, by Jacob van Loo which is now in a European private collection.


The present picture depicts Meleager presenting the head and pelt of the boar to Atalanta, whom he loved.  In Greek mythology, Meleager was the son of a king of Calydon, a city of Aetolia.  His father had offended the goddess Diana who sent a wild boar to ravage the countryside, and Meleager with a band of companions set out to hunt it.  First to wound it was Atalanta, the virgin huntress whom Meleager loved.  When the beast was finally killed Meleager presented her with the head and pelt.  This led to a quarrel with the others in which Meleager slew his two uncles.  At Meleager’s birth the Fates had decreed he should not die until a log of wood burning in the hearth was consumed.  His mother had snatched it out of the flames and preserved it, but now, on learning of her brother’s deaths, she threw it back again.  Meleager wasted away and died.


The shape of our painting suggests that it would have formed part of an elaborate decorative scheme.  Jacob van Loo rarely dated his works and this makes an evaluation of his artistic development difficult.  Meleager and Atalanta probably dates from the early 1650s and it has been suggested that this is a


[1] Biographical information taken from: Gods, Saints & Heroes: Dutch Painting in the Age Of Rembrandt, Exhibition Catalogue, 1980, p.204.

[2] Bredius 1915-1922, col. IV, p. 1255.