Started: april 24, 2005
Last Update: may 8, 2005
Christiaan Huygens in RM2047
The Testelin portrait
I presented some arguments for identifying Christiaan Huygens among the
scientists in the Etablissement de l'Académie des Sciences et fondation
de l'observatoire by Henri Testelin (Verduin, 2004). Why, one might
ask, look for Huygens in this particular painting at all?
The first argument for his presence is one of necessity. Huygens was what we
would now call the scientific director of the Academy. The astronomer
Ismael Boulliau called him "omnium caput"  and Robert Moray "Director
of the designe" . Therefore, as a high ranking member, he simply had to
be present in this painting that commemorates the start of the Royal Academy
The second argument is based on the fact that "Constantin Huygens" is
mentioned as being present in the painting, which is an obvious error,
but also a cue. Possibly the presence of a monsieur 'C. Huygens' in the
painting is mentioned (in a document?) and someone confused the father
with the son. It has occurred more than once that events pertaining to
Constantijn sr. were ascribed to Christiaan jr.. In this case, it seems
to be the other way around.
Assuming Huygens to present in the painting, how to continue from here?
The next cue for identification is Huygens' age. Huygens was one of the youngest
members at the time of the establishment of the Academy, 37 to be exact, as I determined
from the information on the founding members.
So I was looking for a person in his late thirties of visible importance. And I arrived at
the person next to Cassini.
This position next to Cassini in the 'centre of gravity' of the Academy
members meets the importance criterion. Secondly, this man, together with
Cassini and the clergyman dressed in blue (whom I consider to be Jean
Baptiste Du Hamel), is the only Academy member who is painted (almost)
full length. This is a clear indication of status. In addition, his
clothing tells a similar tale: a rich, expensive, and differently styled
attire, when compared with other scientists, is a clear indication of
wealth and status.
I first compared the Testelin portrait with the Netscher painting. Both
faces show the raised eyebrows, heavy, slightly drooping eyelids, eyes
squinting looking a bit puffed, protruding lower lip and the slightly
dented chin which in the later portraits of Huygens becomes more
The Versailles portrait is more 'en face' than the
Netscher portrait which complicates a comparison. Both paintings show a
rather lean face with wide cheekbones, tapering toward the chin.
5. OC, volume 18, p 4.
6. Brown p. 150.
7. HARS II, p. 349-360; Maindron, p 4-5. Perrault, p. 43-47.
8. The name is mentioned in the RMN database and in Bayou, Th. (1998) La peinture à Versailles XVIIe Siècle: Buchet-Chastel/RMN, Paris, p. 112.
9. An erotic poem written for Ninon de Lenclos by C. Huygens sr. is by many later authors, starting with Voltaire, incorrectly ascribed to Chr. Huygens (See e.g. Condorcet, p. 133; Bertrand, p. 231; Barthalot; p. 25, who seems to follow Bertrand). In the biography of Descartes by Baillet (1692) a number of similar errors occur as Chr Huygens pointed out to P. Bayle. OC: volume 10: letter 2791.