The engaging fight between the English and Dutch fleet, appearing in the right background of the portrait is attributed to Reinier Nooms, alias Zeeman. As was common practice in the studios of the time, artists who specialized in marine scenes generally executed such traditional details in portraits of naval commanders.
The present three- quarter length portrait shows Cornelis Tromp in black armour holding a baton in his right hand. A naval action is shown in the right background. In line with the sitter’s character Mijtens executed the portrait with deft and vigorous strokes of the brush, creating a vibrant image of an energetic man. The portrait was almost certain commissioned by Cornelis Tromp, who was made ‘Schout- By- Nacht’ in 1660, for one of his houses.
Cornelis Maertenszoon Tromp (1629 – 1691) was a famous Dutch naval officer. He was the second son of Admiral Maerten Tromp (1598 – 1653), one of the best-known sea heroes. His father rose to become Lieutenant Admiral and supreme commander of the Dutch Navy and Cornelis would tread in his father’s footsteps.
In September 1645 Cornelis was appointed Lieutenant and in late August 1649 he was made a full captain. He served in the First Anglo-Dutch War, fighting in the Battle of Leghorn, but following the death of Johan van Galen was passed as commander of the Mediterranean fleet, only being promoted to Rear-Admiral with the Admiralty of de Maze in November 1653 after the death of his father Maerten, who had enjoyed massif popularity. In 1656 Cornelis Tromp participated in the relief of Gdansk (Danzig).
The first blemish on his reputation occurred two years, when it was discovered that he had used his ships to trade in luxury goods. As a result he was fined and not allowed to have an active command until 1662. Just before the Second Anglo-Dutch War, in January 1665, he was promoted to Vice-Admiral. In the Battle of Lowestoft he prevented a disastrous outcome by taking over fleet command to allow the escape of the larger part of the fleet. In July that same year he was temporarily granted supreme command of the confederate fleet as Lieutenant Admiral, but had to give up this function (but not rank) the next month to Michiel de Ruyter. He fought, having been transferred to the Admiralty of Amsterdam in February 1666, under De Ruyter in the famous Four Days Battle and the St. James’s Day Battle. Because he blamed De Ruyter for his failure off Nieuwpoort in August 1666, he was dismissed, while at the same time being under the suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government.
After William III of Orange had assumed power as stadholder in 1672, he fought in April 1673 against the French and English navies in the Third Anglo-Dutch War, where he participated in the last three fleet actions under De Ruyter, distinguishing himself in the double Battle of Schooneveld and the Battle of Texel in August 1673.
In 1675 the English monarch Charles II created Tromp an English baronet and a Dutch “erfridder”. In May 1676 he became Admiral-General of the Danish navy and received the title of Knight in the Order of the Elephant and in 1677 that of Count of Sølvesborg (then a Danish nobility title). He defeated the Swedish navy in the Battle of Oland, his only victory as a fleet commander. In February 1679 Cornelis Tromp became Lieutenant-Admiral-General of the Republic but he never fought in that capacity, having increasingly become a liability to William III. From then on Cornelis led a life of indolence, giving in to heavy drinking. He died in Amsterdam in 1691, still officially commander of the Dutch fleet, after having been replaced for a period by Cornelis Evertsen the Youngest.
As a public figure, Cornelis Tromp’s personality is well documented as being jovial but also arrogant and vain. It is chiefly owing to the latter feature of his character that he had himself portrayed on numerous occasions. Tromp’s high self-esteem led to numerous portrait commissions from the leading portraitists of his time, including Ferdinand Bol, Peter Lely and Jan Mijtens, which were displayed in his warship-shaped manor house ‘Trompenburgh’ in ‘s Graveland, The Netherlands.
Mijtens executed no less than four portraits of him, the present included. This portrait and another were made in 1661, while the other two portraits both date 1668. From the 1640s until his death in 1670 Jan Mijtens was the foremost portrait painter in The Hague, working for the aristocracy and the court.