Oil on panel: 55,5 x 45 cm;
signed ‘Jv. bylert. fe:’ (u.r.)
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Jan van Bijlert was born in Utrecht, the son of the stained glass worker Herman Beernts van Bijlert. He may have had some training by his father. Subsequently, he became a student of Abraham Bloemaert. Like other painters from Utrecht, he travelled in France and Italy. In 1621 he was, along with Cornelis van Poelenburch and Willem Molijn, a founding member of the circle of Dutch and Flemish artists in Rome known as the Bentvueghels. It was the custom among the Bentvueghels to adopt a nickname. Van Bijlert’s nickname was “Aeneas”.
By 1625, he had returned to Utrecht, where he married and joined the schutterij. In 1630, he became a member of the Utrecht Guild of St. Luke and the Reformed church. During the years 1632-1637 he was active as deacon of the guild, and in 1634 he was appointed regent of the Sint-Jobsgasthuis. In 1639, he helped form a painter’s school, the “Schilders-College”, where he served as regent. He died in Utrecht.
Upon his return from Rome he, like other Utrecht artists who had come under the influence of Caravaggio’s work, painted in a style derived from that of Caravaggio. These Utrecht artists are referred to as the Utrecht Caravaggisti. The Caravaggesque style of van Bijlert’s early paintings shows itself in the use of strong chiaroscuro, the cutting off of the picture plane to create a close-up image and the realism of the representation. Van Bijlert continued to paint in this style throughout the 1620s.
This Caravaggesque style is clearly to be seen in this painting.
Dr. Paul Huys Janssen has endorsed the attribution to Van Bijlert on the basis of photographs. This fine portrait compares to several others
datable to 1625 – 1630, when the artist had just returned from Rome.
The model for this work appears to be the same person as the one portrayed in several other portraits by the artist, such as his ‘Shepherd with a staff’ in an English private collection, the ‘Young man with a Tankard’ and the ‘Young man with a flute’ (see P. Huys Jansen, ‘Jan van Bijlert’, 1998, cat. nos. 77, 103 & 104, 40, 42 & 44). All are datable to 1625 – 1630, the years following on the artist’s return from Rome. The positioning of the figure and especially that of the hand, may suggest that this panel once had a pendant, showing a female counterpart. Old sale records mention many such pairs made by Bijlert, such as the one with similar dimensions, representing a ‘Soldier’ and ‘Young woman holding a letter’ in the collection of J.D. Nijman, which was sold in Amsterdam, van der Schley, 16 Aug. 1797 (see P. Huys Jansen, cat. nos. 128 & 129, pl. 72.
Only one such pair remains intact, a ‘Shepherd and Shepherdess’ in the Schönborn collection, Pommersfelden (P. Huys Jansen, cat. nos. 90 & 91, pl. 36 & 37).