Jan de Bray almost certainly painted this compelling double portrait in May 1664 as a posthumous tribute to his parents, shortly after they had succumbed to the plague in Haarlem. This stark double-profile image has a timeless quality that is enhanced by the parents' simple black dress and austere surroundings. Jan represented Salomon (1597–1664) with his left hand outstretched as though he were about to speak, a rhetorical pose that identifies him as a man who excelled at intellectual pursuits. His skullcap, dark mantle, and simple white collar—all common scholarly attire—reinforce this association. De Bray stipulated in his will that the painting should be given to the city of Haarlem in order to preserve the memory of his parents as respected citizens of the city, a stipulation, however, that was never carried out.
The profile portrait was a common format on Roman coins, cameos, and celebratory medals depicting individuals of high birth and rank. The tradition of portraying famous men and women in this manner was revived in the Renaissance and continued in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, specifically in representations of the Prince and Princess of Orange. De Bray's use of overlapping profile portraits, however, is found only rarely in seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish painting; an important precedent, Agrippina and Germanicus, by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), is also in the National Gallery of Art’s collection. De Bray, who may have been familiar with that work, chose a similar pose to imbue this image of his parents with classical ideals of dignity and permanence.
Jan de Bray painted this remarkable double portrait of his parents in 1664, shortly after they had succumbed to the plague that ravaged Haarlem from 1663 to 1664.
Salomon de Bray was a painter, architect, and urban planner who probably learned to paint in his native Amsterdam before moving to Haarlem to study with
De Bray presumably painted this work between May 11, 1664, the date of his father’s death, and June 17, 1664, when the artist stated in his will that he would bequeath “the likeness of his foresaid deceased father and mother standing in a single piece and painted from the side” to Gaeff Meynertsz Fabritius (1602–1666), who was a goldsmith and, like Salomon, an important member of the Saint Luke’s Guild.
Technical examinations indicate that De Bray initially painted Salomon’s left arm hanging at his side: x-radiographs [see
The profile portrait was a common format on Roman coins, cameos, and celebratory medals depicting individuals of high birth and rank. This tradition was revived in Renaissance portraits of famous men and women and is also found in the seventeenth-century Netherlands, specifically in representations of the Prince and Princess of Orange painted in the early 1630s by
De Bray’s restrained brushwork and meticulous modeling of forms perfectly complemented the commemorative nature of this double portrait. He precisely rendered the specific physiognomy of each of his parents, from his mother’s high forehead and curved nostrils to the subtle creases around his father’s deeply set eyes. With great sensitivity to both line and volume he indicated the glistening strands of Salomon’s wavy hair and thin goatee. He captured the differences of texture in the clothes, from the soft, velvety quality of his father’s black robe to the smoothness of his stiff white collar, carefully bending up its lower edge to enhance the image’s three-dimensionality. Unlike his Haarlem compatriot
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
The artist [c. 1627-1697]; possibly bequeathed to Gaeff Fabritius, former burgomaster of Haarlem. John Charles Robinson [1824-1913], London; (his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 7-8 May 1868, no. 11); Reiset, for Princess Mathilde [1820-1904, née Mathilde L.M. Bonaparte], Paris; (her estate sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 17-21 May 1904, 1st day, no. 21). Agénor, duc de Gramont [1857-1925], Paris; (his sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 22 May 1925, no. 7); Joseph Fuller Feder [d. 1944], New York; by inheritance to his daughter, Mrs. George Monroe Moffett [d. 1956, née Odette Feder, formerly the Countess du Bourg de Bozas and Mrs. J. Ronald McCrindle], New York; by inheritance to her son, Joseph F. McCrindle [1923-2008], New York; gift 2001 to NGA.
- Loan to display with permanent collection, Brooklyn Museum of Art, 1957-1981.
- Dutch Seventeenth-Century Portraiture: The Golden Age, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, 1980-1981, no. 13, repro.
- Loan to display with permanent collection, The Art Museum, Princeton University, 1981-1999.
- Dutch and Flemish Paintings from New York Private Collections, National Academy of Design, New York, 1988, no. 6, repro.
- Dutch Classicism in Seventeenth-Century Painting, Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1999-2000, no. 53, repro.
- Small Northern European Portraits from The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000, brochure checklist no. 39.
- Jan De Bray and the Classical Tradition, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2005, brochure no. 2, repro.
- Dutch Portraits: The Age of Rembrandt and Frans Hals, The National Gallery, London; Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague, 2007-2008, no. 6, repro.
- Painting Family: The De Brays, Master Painters of 17th Century Holland, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem; Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, 2008, no. 29, repro.
The painting was executed on a panel constructed from three boards of vertically grained white oak. The back of the panel is beveled but shims have been attached to the beveled areas to accommodate a cradle. The ground is composed of two layers: a light gray layer under a brownish gray one. Though the green background paint was found to be consistent on all three boards, the layers between the ground and the green paint differ. Both the right and left boards contain a dark gray layer over the ground. This layer is absent from the center plank, but both the center and left boards contain a buff colored layer just below the green background, which is absent from the right plank. Despite these inconsistencies, the pigments of the green paint are consistent on all three boards and the brushstrokes of the green paint continue across the joins, indicating that the two outer boards were added by the artist before the background was painted.
De Bray used a series of short, discrete brushstrokes to apply the paint with low impasto. He built up the flesh tones with opaque paint, but used glazes in the dark areas. The X-radiographs show several artist’s changes: the woman’s dress was simplified and it originally had a collar that was painted out; the man’s arm was not originally raised.
The painting is in good condition. The panel exhibits a few short vertical splits extending down from the top edge and up from the bottom edge. There are minor scattered indentations and chips in the support along the edges. There is old damage in the lower right corner adjacent to the join line. The inpainting in this area has discolored. There is additional old inpainting in the man’s sleeve, close to his wrist. The painting has not undergone treatment at the National Gallery of Art.
 The wood was analyzed by the NGA Scientific Research department (see report dated December 29, 2010, in NGA Conservation department files). All three boards were found to be white oak.
 Cross-sections from all three boards were taken and analyzed with light microscopy as well as scanning electron microscopy in conjunction with energy dispersive spectroscopy (SEM/EDS) by the NGA Scientific Research department (see report dated December 29, 2010, in NGA Conservation department files).
- Moltke, Joachim Wolfgang von. "Jan de Bray." Marburger Jahrbuch für Kunstwissenschaft 11/12 (1938/1939): 426, 483-484, no. 177a.
- Marel, Ary van der. "De kunstschilders de Bray en hun familie." De Nederlandsche Leeuw 81 (January 1964): 6-26.
- Wilson, William Harry. Dutch Seventeenth-Century Portraiture: the Golden Age. Exh. cat. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, 1980: unpaginated, no. 13.
- Adams, Ann Jensen. Dutch and Flemish Paintings from New York Private Collections. Exh. cat. National Academy of Design, New York, 1988: no. 6, repro.
- Broos, Ben P. J., ed. Great Dutch Paintings from America. Exh. cat. Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The Hague and Zwolle, 1990: 193 fig. 2.
- Broos, Ben P. J., and Marijn Schapelhouman. Nederlandse tekenaars geboren tussen 1600 en 1660. Zwolle, 1993: 62, fig. d.
- Blankert, Albert. Dutch classicism in seventeenth-century painting. Exh. cat. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main. Rotterdam, 1999: 276-279, 299 no. 53, repro.
- Broos, Ben P. J., and Ariane van Suchtelen. Portraits in the Mauritshuis, 1430-1790. The Hague, 2004: 64.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Jan de Bray and the Classical Tradition. Exhibition brochure. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2004: 8-9, no. 2, repro.
- Van Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven, Anke A. "A Matter of Mistaken Identity. In Search of a New Title for Rubens's Tiberius and Agrippina." Artibus et historiae 26, no. 52 (2005): 116, 117 fig. 3, 126 n. 9.
- Ekkart, Rudolf E.O., and Quentin Buvelot. Dutch portraits: the age of Rembrandt and Frans Hals. Translated by Beverly Jackson. Exh. cat. National Gallery, London; Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague. London, 2007: 88-89, no. 6, repro.
- Biesboer, Pieter, ed. Painting Family: the De Brays: Master Painters of the 17th century Holland. Exh. cat. Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem; Dulwich Picture Gallery, London. Zwolle, 2008: 92-93, no. 29, repro.
- Grasselli, Margaret M., and Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., eds. The McCrindle Gift: A Distinguished Collection of Drawings and Watercolors. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2012: 5, 14, fig. 2, 19, repro. 184.
- Seifert, Christian Tico. "'in een stuck ende van ter seyden geschildert': Jan de Bray's Portrait of the Artist's Parents" in Face book: Studies on Dutch and Flemish portraiture of the 16th-18th centuries. Liber amicorum presented to Rudolf E.O. Ekkart on the occasion of his 65th birthday. Edited by Edwin Buijsen, Charles Dumas, and Volker Manuth. Leiden, 2012: 365-372, repro. 366.
- Wheelock, Arthur K, Jr. "The Evolution of the Dutch Painting Collection." National Gallery of Art Bulletin no. 50 (Spring 2014): 2-19, repro.
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