Nike Shoe in 17th-Century Painting Sparks Modern Mystery

A Historical Portrait with a Modern Twist

The National Gallery in London is making headlines with a portrait from the 17th century that has a contemporary detail. Visitors have noticed a white mark on the left shoe of Ferdinand Bol’s “Portrait of Frederick Sluysken” (1652) that bears a resemblance to the Nike swoosh emblem.

People have been amused by the discovery, joking that the boy must have been a time-traveler or the owner of the first pair of Nike shoes ever made. The subject of the painting, Frederick Sluysken, has been identified as the second cousin of Bol’s wife, known for his trendsetting footwear and being the son of a wine merchant.

The painting showcases Sluysken's pose and fashion sense, capturing the essence of the 17th century. It is intriguing to see a touch of contemporary culture in this historical work.

A Social Media Sensation

The painting gained popularity on social media when the National Gallery tweeted about a 'modern' detail on the boy's shoes. The artwork, on loan from a private collection, was on view until February and was auctioned off in 2015 for £5.19M ($6.44M). Sotheby's catalog highlighted it as one of Ferdinand Bol's finest portraits and a defining moment in his career.

While little is known about the painting's earlier history, it has remained remarkably untouched. The condition report mentions minimal retouching efforts, considering its large size and storage in a Yorkshire castle. The attention brought by social media shows the impact of discovering hidden details in historical art.

The Debate of the Shoe

Although the white mark on Sluysken's shoe is likely a view of his sock, sneaker collector Brandon Martinez suggests a resemblance to the rare 2012 Nike Wingtip 'Mission Control' collaboration. However, the shoe depicted in the painting does not perfectly match any modern designs.

Martinez suggests the Nike 'Kwondo 1' sneakers as a more fitting modern version. The painting's shoe shape appears uncomfortable for a sneaker, with a wide, flat forefoot. Nevertheless, the slim 'swoosh' in the painting resembles the original Nike emblem, designed to emulate the wing shape of the Greek goddess of victory.

The debate around the shoe in the painting showcases the intersection of historical art and contemporary culture, sparking discussions among art enthusiasts and sneaker collectors alike.

A Dignified Portrait

Despite the debate over his footwear, Sluysken's portrait exudes dignity and control. The young boy looks heroic, displaying a timeless pose that captivates viewers. The discovery of the shoe detail adds another layer of interest to the painting, making it even more intriguing.

In the world of art, unexpected details can often evoke a sense of wonder and spark conversations about the artist's intentions and the historical context. The inclusion of a modern element in a 17th-century portrait showcases the magic of art, transcending time and capturing the imagination of viewers.


Rhea Nayyar. (May 23, 2023). Is That a Nike Shoe in a 17th-Century Painting?.

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