Shipbuilder and his Wife, 1633 by Rembrandt

In around 1634, Rembrandt painted the double portrait of the shipbuilder Jan Rijcksen and his wife, Griet Jans, he at work at his desk looking over his building plans and she entering the room and interrupting him with a letter bearing the remains of an inscription identifying the couple.

Although husbands and wives were often assigned different roles in Dutch marital portraits of this period - the men more confident and assertive and the women more demure - Rembrandt goes much further than this in his quest for narrative interest. His picture combines traditional depictions of a scholar in his study with the genre motif of a messenger delivering a letter. Thus, the situation dominates over mere presentation as the artist devises an incident that will bring his couple to life.