A Nurse and a Child in the Foyer of an Elegant Townhouse, signed and dated 1663, represents Jacob Ochtervelt at his artistic height. It depicts a young boy about five years old offering alms to a family of beggars. The household’s maid tenderly holds his hand while his parents, visible through the open doorway, proudly observe their son’s charity—a virtue taught in the home and of great importance to the Dutch. The beggar boy sets his foot cautiously on the hall floor to receive a coin while his mother holds a nursing infant to her breast. Because the patrician boy is still so young he wears his hair in long curls and is outfitted in a freshly ironed white dress, as was common for boys until the age of around seven. Ochtervelt masterfully contrasts the privileged world of the aristocratic family with the uncertainties of the life of the poor by differentiating the dark, ragged clothing of the beggars with the splendid marble hallway and luminous attire of the house’s inhabitants.
Throughout his career, Ochtervelt focused on patrician life and leisure—men and women reading and writing letters, eating and drinking, and making music. However, his most innovative scenes were those depicting the interactions between the upper and lower classes at the threshold of an elegant townhouse. These are known as “voorhuis” (front hall) scenes. A Nurse and a Child in the Foyer of an Elegant Townhouse is one of his most elegant voorhuis paintings, characterized by Ochtervelt’s clarity of light and of color, and by his sympathetic rendering of people from all social classes. A native of Rotterdam, Ochtervelt spent the majority of his successful career in that great port city before moving to Amsterdam in 1674, where he lived until his death.