Mimicry en koloniale identiteit in het zeventiende-eeuwse familieportret van Pieter Cnoll, Cornelia van Nijenrode en hun dochters

Translated title of the thesis: Mimicry and colonial identity in the seventeenth-century family portrait of Pieter Cnoll, Cornelia van Nijenrode and their daughters
  • C.P.T. Rijnberg

    Student thesis: Master's Thesis


    In 1665 the Dutch painter Jacob Janszoon Coeman finished a large group portrait of a prominent Dutch East Indian family. Its patriarch Pieter Cnoll, held the elite position of senior merchant in service of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). He had come to Batavia as a young assistant in 1647, and married Cornelia van Nijenrode, the Eurasian daughter of a Dutch merchant and his Japanese concubine.
    The family portrait depicts Cnoll and his wife, in the company of their two young daughters Catharina and Hester and two Asian slaves. The family is portrayed in much the same manner as other members of the Dutch colonial elite, but no effort was made by Coeman to obscure the Asian physical features of Cnoll’s Eurasian wife and daughters. This despite the strong ethnic biases which existed amongst the ranks of the Dutch East Indian elite in which the family was embedded. These biases could have had severe consequences for the family’s social status and the Eurasian daughter’s marriageability. The Dutch colonial elite attempted to create clear boundaries between their own social group, and the multicultural masses that inhabited Batavia in the seventeenth century. Only by successfully claiming an ethnic Dutch identity would it be possible for Catharina and Hester to wed into the elite circles into which they were born.
    By approaching the Cnoll family portrait through the concept of colonial ‘mimicry’, an attempt has been made to determine what role Coeman’s portrait played in ethnically repositioning this family within seventeenth-century Dutch East Indian society.
    In the portrayal of Cnoll’s family, a clear attempt was made by Coeman to present the Eurasian mother and daughters as steeped in elite Dutch culture and as possessors of the symbolic elements that identified them as ethnically Dutch. To counter imputations of colonial mimicry, resulting from their Asian physiques, Coeman emphasised the relative white skin colours of the Eurasian mother and daughters, in comparison to the Asian slaves depicted in the portraits background. Additionally, he stressed the idea of ‘ethnic mending’, by visualising how the Eurasian offspring of Pieter and Cornelia grew up to look slightly more ‘European’ than their mother. The portrait promoted an interpretation of Batavian social reality, in which Eurasian women were no longer thought of as heralds of ‘ethnic degeneration’, but as valued partners in the maintenance of Dutch elite ‘ethnic purity’ through ‘ethnic regeneration’. In doing so, the portrait subverted the stereotypical image of the ‘Eurasian woman’ in Dutch colonial society and helped to establish the Cnoll family as equal members of the Dutch East Indian elite.
    Date of Award14 Jul 2021
    Original languageDutch
    SupervisorFrauke Laarmann (Supervisor) & Caroline Drieënhuizen (Examiner)


    • identiteit en etniciteit
    • mimicry
    • 17e eeuwse familieportret
    • koloniale identiteit

    Master's Degree

    • Master Kunst en Cultuurwetenschappen

    Cite this