The National Gallery in London is making headlines after it was discovered that the institution was housing a portrait of the most dripped-out eight-year-old from the 17th century. Visitors have been pointing out that the little boy in Ferdinand Bol’s “Portrait of Frederick Sluysken” (1652) appears to be wearing a pair of Nike trainers as a white mark on his left shoe bears a striking resemblance to the Nike swoosh emblem.
Since the painting has graced the gallery walls, visitors from all over have been enjoying the discovery of this little bit of contemporary culture shown in a historical work, joking that the boy must have been either “a time-traveler” or the owner of the first pair of Nike shoes ever made.
The subject of the painting has recently been identified as Frederick Sluysken, the second cousin of Bol’s wife. As it turns out, Sluysken’s good taste is not only evident in his trendsetting footwear that predates the commercial market by nearly 400 years, but also in all the finer things in life as he was the son of a wine merchant. And let’s be real here — the kid is serving face and he knows it based on his pose!
“It resonated with followers of our social media when we put out a tweet on the artist’s birthday last year asking people to see if they could spot a more ‘modern’ detail by taking a closer look at the shoes of the 8-year-old boy in the portrait,” a spokesperson for the National Gallery said in a statement to Hyperallergic.
The Dutch painter’s work was reportedly on loan from a private collection and was on view at the National Gallery until last February. The painting was auctioned off in 2015 through Sotheby’s London, garnering a hammer price of £5.19M ($6.44M). Although little is known of the painting’s earlier history, Sotheby’s catalogue notes indicate that the work is “surely Ferdinand Bol’s finest portrait” and that it was a defining moment in Bol’s career outside the shadow of his mentor, the Dutch Golden Age painter Rembrandt. According to the condition report, the painting has been remarkably untouched with minimal and inconspicuous retouching efforts considering its large size and storage in a Yorkshire castle.
While the white mark on Sluysken’s fancy-heeled shoe is almost certainly a view of his sock from the opening where the back heel meets the ‘latchet’ (a slender strip of leather that fastens the shoe to the wearer’s foot), sneaker collector Brandon Martinez said that the first thing he thought of when he saw the painting was the rare 2012 Nike Wingtip “Mission Control” collaboration between Nike, Cole Haan, and controversial artist Tom Sachs — who was reportedly dropped by Nike following several exposes detailing allegations of abuse in his studio. Though it’s not a perfect match, the leather loafers are probably the closest we’ll get to what Bol depicted.
“A more modern version would be the Nike ‘Kwondo 1’ sneakers,” Martinez told Hyperallergic, providing an image of a sleek set of black-and-white leather sneakers with laser-cut perforations from a Nike collaboration with South Korean rapper G-Dragon’s PEACEMINUSONE.
“The shape of the shoe in the painting is just totally off for a sneaker,” Martinez remarked. “The wide, flat forefoot looks wildly uncomfortable. The slim ‘swoosh’ in the painting does look like the original design though,” he continued, referring to the original Nike emblem that was created by then-graphic design student Carolyn Davidson in 1971. The iconic “swoosh” was meant to emulate the wing shape of Nike, the Ancient Greek goddess of victory.
Uncomfortable or not, Sluysken is taking it like a champ as he looks dignified and in control in his portrait. “I guess if I was a time traveler flexing in some rare Nikes, I’d be pulling off a similar pose,” Martinez concluded.