MYSTERIOUS MASTERPIECE (Cold Case Torrentius) is a documentary film by Maarten de Kroon, one of the makers of the prizewinning documentary Dutch Light. Made in cooperation with Jeanne van der Horst, the film investigates the incredible case of the 17th century Dutch painter known as Johannes Torrentius, born Johannes Symonsz. van der Beeck (1589-1644). A hallucinating story about a libertine and genius painter, tolerance and intolerance and torture and one mysterious painting.

It is an explosive cocktail of a genius painter, a libertine life, sex and heresy, tolerance, freedom of speech and religion in 17th century Holland (or maybe the lack of tolerance), pushing the limits, torture and punishment. What remains is an incredible story and one unique painting, now part of the collection of the Rijksmuseum, that is a mystery: the ‘secret’ medium the painter used to mix his paint was never discovered.


Johannes Torrentius became a wealthy and famous painter. He moved from Amsterdam to Haarlem and was, according to Constantijn Huygens, the best still life painter of his time. He sold his work to the rich and famous, and lived the life of a libertine, dressed like a dandy, made jokes about religion, heaven and hell. He was jailed in 1627 and put under brutal torture by order of the courts of the City of Haarlem. He was accused of many things: awful blasphemy, heresy, satanic beliefs…

He was almost convicted to burning on the stake, and finally condemned to a 20 year prison sentence during a much discussed show trial. Diplomatic pressure applied by none less than the ruling King of England, Charles I, one of the richest art-collectors of his time, and the Prince of Orange, got Torrentius released. He left for London in 1630 and from that moment on vanished into thin air. He died and was buried in Amsterdam, in 1644.

In the end: all his works were either lost, destroyed in Haarlem or sold and disappeared after the brutal death of Charles I. Only one piece survived, and was discovered by pure chance in 1913. The painting, a wooden circular panel, was used for a long time as lid on a raisin barrel in a grocery shop in Enschede, a town in Holland. Nowadays it is part of the collection of the Rijksmuseum. And even after extensive research of his Still life with a bridle, it is not known yet how exactly Torrentius made his painting.

In Mysterious Masterpiece (69 minutes) we will re-open the case. What is known, what will new extensive research done by the Rijksmuseum show? What medium did Torrentius use? No traces of oil, no traces of a brush – as if one is looking at a 17th century photograph. His binding-medium is still not known. Did he or did he not use a camera obscure, and if so: how did he work with it? Did all of his work but his still life disappear? Will we be able to find any lost paintings? Did Torrentius really stay for so long in London? And what about tolerant Holland in the 17th century? What about his ties with the Rosicrucians? An international team of witness specialists will be consulted to get closer to Torrentius’ mysteries.


For a close look: rijksmuseum.