|Title||Two Children with a Dove|
|Collection||Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum|
|Artist|| After Bray, Jan de (Dutch painter, ca. 1627-1697)
Previously attributed to Flinck, Govaert (Dutch painter, draftsman, 1615-1660)
|Description||It has been suggested that this type of two-figure composition was inspired by similar works produced by Frans Hals (1581/85-1666) in the 1620s, in which the artist juxtaposed one figure in the central foreground with a second figure behind or to the side, e.g. Two Singing Boys (about 1623-25; Kassel) or St Matthew (about 1625; Odessa). De Bray may in his turn have derived his composition from either Hals himself or from the work of the two younger painters.|
|Current Accession Number||LEAMG:A393.1953|
|Inscription||front lr '1653, 12/24'(?)|
|Subject||figure; animal (dove); allegory; everyday life|
|Measurements||41.5 x 31.5 cm cm (estimate)|
|Material||oil on panel|
|Acquisition Details||Bequeathed by Captain Mark Field 1953.|
|Provenance||Purchased from the Strasser collection later by Captain Mark Field 1940s.|
|Publications||Von Moltke, J. W., 'Jan de Bray', Marburg Jahrbuch Kunstwiss, vols. 11-12, 1938-9, pp. 421-523; Blankert, A., (ed.), Gods, Saints and Heroes: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt, Washington, 1980-81, pp. 224-29; Blankert, A., et al. (eds), Hollands Classicisme in de zeventiende-eeuwse schilderkunst, exhibition catalogue, Rotterdam, 1999, pp. 276-303; Welu, A.W., et al. (eds), Judith Leyster: A Dutch Master and her World, Zwolle, 1993, esp. cat. nos. 3, 13, 20, 30.|
Jan de Bray was the son of the painter, architect and designer Salomon de Bray (1597-1664), who had moved from Amsterdam to Haarlem. Jan was born there around 1627 and was probably trained by his father; his two brothers Dirck (d. 1678) and Joseph (d. 1664) were also to become painters. In 1650 Jan started a successful career as a portrait painter in Haarlem and he played a prominent role in the local painters' Guild of St Luke between 1667 and 1685. Privately, he was less fortunate: he first lost his father, two brothers and two sisters in the plague that struck Haarlem in 1664. He then married relatively late and well, but his three successive wives all died within a few years of marriage, and it may have been the resulting inheritance disputes that led to his bankruptcy in 1689. He had already settled in Amsterdam by this time, but the financial disaster may have affected his artistic drive as well as his social standing. Jan de Bray died in Amsterdam in late 1697, but he was buried in Haarlem. He is likely to have been a Catholic. Jan de Bray made a career as a portrait painter and received a number of very prestigious commissions for group portraits. He also produced history paintings and at times combined the two genres, e.g. the classicist portrait of a married couple dressed as Penelope and Ulysses (Louisville, Kentucky). He must have been familiar with the work of his townsman and fellow portraitist Frans Hals and his circle, but the two artists' styles were very different. Jan de Bray's approach developed from realistic to more academic in the classical style that was so admired in the later seventeenth century, although the taste for classicism subsequently declined; interest in the works of the Dutch classicists has been revived in a number of recent exhibitions.
The painting shows a bust-length image of a young girl holding a white-headed dove in her right hand while looking out earnestly at the viewer. She is dressed in what may be a pastoral costume with a dark-green cloak draped around her arms over a loose white shift, and a bow with feathers in her hair. Behind her on her left is a younger boy who has his right hand on her right shoulder, while wagging his left hand as if to emphasise a message to the viewer. The Leamington Spa painting was identified by Fred Meijer of the RKD in The Hague as a copy of a painting by Jan de Bray dated 1652, which was advertised in Apollo by the Dennis Vanderkar Gallery in London and sold in the 1960s and later offered for sale again by Richard Green in London. It is on panel, 36.4 x 27 cm. It is clearly not a copy by the artist himself, but may have been executed by a pupil or assistant in his studio, or by a follower working in his circle.
Animals often featured in portraits of children in this period; sometimes just as pets but also often with an allegorical meaning. De Bray's picture of two children with a dove is not a portrait, but one could consider the possibility of its being a depiction of everyday life. Two of De Bray's fellow painters in Haarlem, Judith Leyster (1609-60) and her husband Jan Miense Molenaer (about 1610-68), painted several pairs of playful children holding a cat, such as Two Children with a Cat (1629?; private collection) by the former or the latter's Children Playing with a Cat (several versions, of which one in Dunkirk); Leyster's painting was engraved by Cornelis Danckerts, albeit with an attribution to 'F. Hals'. One important difference is, however, that the children in Molenaer's and Leyster's paintings wear contemporary dress, whereas the girl in De Bray's work appears to wear the kind of draped costume that one tends to find in allegorical paintings.
However, at least one of Leyster's two-figure compositions is also not quite straightforward in its interpretation. Her Children with a Cat and an Eel (about 1630; National Gallery, London) has been the subject of an ongoing debate. It shows a boy with a cat on his right arm while holding aloft an eel (sometimes also interpreted as a slow-worm) in his left hand; the girl on his left is pulling the cat's tail while wagging her right index finger at the viewer. Some scholars have interpreted this painting as an illustration of the Dutch proverb §Een aal bij de staart hebben§, which means that just because you have managed to get hold of something does not necessarily mean that you can keep hold of it. The girl's gesture does indicate some (probably moralistic) message for the viewer, but pulling the cat's tail might also be seen as childish mischief. An allegorical engraving of Pueritia or Childhood by Crispijn de Passe the Elder, in which two young naked children are teasing a cat, seems to suggest that such behaviour is emblematic of children, as perhaps also illustrated by the still current Dutch expression 'kattekwaad' for any form of childish mischief (although 'kattekwaad' is probably a comparison of childish behaviour with that of mischievous kittens or cats).
In the case of De Bray's painting, the costume especially makes it more likely an allegorical work, but one without a suggestion of mischief. The key element is the dove: the bird of Venus, it could also represent marital chastity, according to Cesare Ripa's Iconologia (first illustrated edition published in 1603), yet it is debatable whether this could be relevant in a depiction of two children. The dove also had a biblical significance when combined with the snake. This combination is found in the 1600 posthumous portrait of Nicolaas Stochius (private collection, Canada) by the Leiden painter Isaac Claesz. Swanenburgh (1537-1614), in which the eleven-month-old infant in his robe is holding a rattle in his right hand and a dove on his left, with a snake wriggling on the floor on his right. The meaning of this combination of animals is explained in the two lines of text below the portrait: 'Niclaes die haest, deur haest, quaem in't droef leuen: Tot Godts vrees spoeyt, hy sal snel t'heylsaem geuen / Serpenten-wys end' Duyuen-slecht t'goet werckt. Soo ghy ionck breeckt weest wis dat Godts Stock Sterckt'. Although parts of this text are unclear, the important words and 'Serpenten-wys end' Duyuen-slecht', which are a direct reference to Matthew 10. 16: §Behold, I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves§. It was not only Dutch artists and viewers who were familiar with these words: in his famous posthumous portrait Venetia, Lady Digby, as Prudence (about 1633-34; National Portrait Gallery, London), Sir Anthony van Dyck also presented Venetia with a serpent in her right hand and two doves by her left. The Leamington Spa copy, and the original De Bray painting in London, only feature the dove, without the serpent. However, E. K. Waterhouse noted in 1953 an old printed label on the back of the Leamington Spa panel with the German text: '70 Gewaert Flinck. Zwey Compagnon, davon jeder zwey Figuren vorstellt, auf Holz'. Although Waterhouse seemed to think that the label merely described this painting, the label appears to indicate that there were originally two pendant paintings on panel, each depicting two figures. One wonders whether not only the copy, but also the original De Bray painting of two children with a dove, once had a pendant showing two children with a serpent.
If the date of 1653 on the Leamington Spa painting is authentic, then the unknown artist produced his copy fairly soon after the original was painted in 1652. If the copyist was working in De Bray's studio at the time, which seems more than likely, he could also have seen and even copied another two-figure composition produced by the master around the same time, which is what the label on the back of the Leamington Spa copy suggests. If true, it might be that the slightly earlier Dublin portrait was copied as a pendant or, alternatively, that there were originally two allegorical paintings jointly illustrating a proverb or allegory familiar to seventeenth-century viewers.
|Rights Owner||Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum (Warwick District Council)|