JAN VAN BIJLERT (Utrecht 1597/98 – Utrecht 1671)
Portrait of Johan van Ravenswaey
signed Jv bijlert fe with the first two initials conjoined, inscribed Æ:52., and dated 1631 in the upper right, and inscribed with the Van Ravenswaey coat-of-arms in the upper left
oil on canvas
29 ¾ x 24 ⅝ inches (76.8 x 63 cm.)
Lord Somers, Eastnor Castle, Ledbury, Herefordshire
Thomas Agnew & Sons Ltd., London, 1919
Leggatt Brothers, London, 1926
Charles Russel, Esq., London
His estate sale, Important Old Master Paintings, Sotheby’s, London, December 7, 1960, lot 7, illustrated (as a Portrait of Van Wevell of Overyssel, Gelderland), where purchased by
Property of a Lady, Fine Old Master Paintings, Phillips, London, July 1, 1997, lot 78, illustrated (as a Gentleman of the Van Wevell Family of Overyssel, Gelderland), where purchased by
Jack Kilgore & Co., New York, from whom acquired at TEFAF by a
Private Collector, The Netherlands, late 1990s until the present time
London, British Institution for promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, 1866, no. 86 (as Vylert)
Arundel Club, London, (portfolio) no. 8, 1911, entry 13
G.J. Hoogewerff, “Jan van Bijlert, schilder van Utrecht (1598–1671),” Oud Holland 80, 1965, no. 103 (as a member of the Bentinck Family)
Paul Huys Janssen, Jan van Bijlert (1597/98 – 1671), schilder in Utrecht = Jan van Bijlert (1597/98 – 1671), painter in Utrecht, Ph.D. dissertation, Universiteit Utrecht, 1994, pp 220 – 222, no. 157, illustration 20
Paul Huys Janssen, Jan van Bijlert, Catalogue Raisonné, John Benjamins Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1998, pp. 52; 67; 165, no. 174; p. 327, pl. 157
Jan van Bijlert (or Bylert) was the son of the glass painter Herman Beerntsz. van Bijlert. His initial training must have been with his father but later apprenticed with Abraham Bloemaert, probably from 1612–1613. Around 1617, he traveled to France and arrived in Italy by 1621. There, he stayed mainly in Rome, where he became a member of the Schildersbent. It was also in Rome that he, along with other fellow Utrecht artists, came under the influence of Caravaggio. Van Bijlert returned home to Utrecht by 1624, and he, along with this same group, became known as the Utrecht Caravaggisti, having adopted the Master’s style as their own.
Evident in the Portrait of Johan van Ravenswaey are the Caravaggesque features that characterized Van Bijlert’s early work. These included the use of dramatic chiaroscuro, the cutting off of the picture plane so that the image is viewed close-up, and a striving to achieve realism over idealism. His range of subjects were Biblical, historical, and genre as well as portraits. In 1630, Van Bijlert joined the Guild of St. Luke in Utrecht and from 1632–1636 served as its dean. His pupils included Ludolf de Jongh, Bertram de Fouchier, and Abraham Willaerts. In the 1660s, Matthias Wytmans was also a pupil. During the course of the painter’s career, several works were acquired by royal collections, including those of Stadtholder Frederik Hendrik, The Hague, and the Winter King, Frederik of the Palantine in Rhenen, by the early 1630s. Today, the largest collection of van Bijlert’s paintings is in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht. Other works can be found in museums throughout the world.
Bijlert painted at least 45 portraits, mostly in the later part of his career. The Portrait of Johan van Ravenswaey (1578–1639) is among one of the few known from his early period, at a time when he was more focused on historical subjects and genre, and the Utrecht portraiture market was ruled by Paulus Moreelse and Gerard van Honthorst. In Bijlert’s depiction a powerful looking man of fifty-two directly engages the viewer. Rendered truthfully, while lacking in all artifice, Ravenswaey’s visage is one that could easily fit into modern times. Only his subtle but rich costuming serves to define his own period. The former confusion as to the true identity of the sitter was due to a misinterpretation of the coat-of-arms in the upper left corner. The coat-of-arms is that of the van Ravenswaey family, and this was correctly identified as a portrait of Johan van Ravenswaey by S.A.C. Dudok van Heel. (For a complete discussion of the coat-of-arms, see Janssen, 1998, op. cit., p. 165, no. 174.)
The facts known about Van Ravenswaey are: He married Baertraet (Baete) Wellensdr van Weede (d. 1632) in Utrecht on May 2, 1607. He lived in a house named “de Overhorst” near Amsersfoort. He was also possibly related to Andries van Ravenswaey who, on November 18, 1642, lent to the Van Bijlert family 2,000 guilders.
 Biographical information taken from Paul Huys Janssen, op. cit., 1998 pp. 38, 40, 42-43, 50; and Paul Huys Janssen, “Jan (Hermansz.) van Bijlert” in From Rembrandt to Vermeer, 17th-Century Dutch Artists, The Grove Dictionary of Art, St. Martin’s Press, 2000, pp. 25-26.
 Janssen, 1998, pp. 67; 165, no. 174.