Hans von Aachen (1552 Cologne – 1615 Prague)
Two Laughing Men (Self-portrait), Before 1574
oil, oak wood; 48×38.5 cm, acquired 1673, Olomouc Archbishopric – Archdiocesan Museum in Kroměříž, KE 3177, O 288
The painting of Two Laughing men holds a unique position in the history of portrait painting. It is surely a self-portrait of Hans von Aachen, a prominent artist at the Prague court of Rudolph II, who included himself twice in one painting, in both cases with a smile on his lips. Today we will probably fail to decipher the circumstances that brought about the creation of this painting, which is the oldest known work of this German artist with Dutch training. Was he a twin? Does the portrait have a deeper moralistic meaning? What is Hans von Aachen as the painter and the painted trying to tell us? Or, alternatively, is he trying to convey a message, or is the painting just a document about the joy of life and painting? The oak panel painted by the young artist before leaving for Italy in 1574, was probably not meant for the free market. It may have been a present for a friend or left behind in his birthplace of Cologne, as a memory of the constantly smiling youth. We do not know for sure. The portrait is mentioned in the rhymed list of paintings that the Imstenraedt brothers, art dealers from Cologne, unsuccessfully offered to Emperor Leopold in 1667, and that were six years later acquired by Olomouc bishop Karl Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn.