Born in Haarlem the son of the painter Salomon de Bray, and most likely his pupil, Jan's adult life was littered with tragedy. His first wife, Maria van Hees, whom he married in Haarlem in 1668, died after only a year's marriage. He married for a second time in 1672, this time in Osdorp to Margaretha de Meyer but again, his wife lasted little over a year. In 1678 he married his third wife, Victoria Stalpert van der Wielen, the daughter of a distinguished Catholic family, but she died in childbirth after less than two years marriage in 1680. However, this last marriage did finally bear a son, Johan Lucas, although he is believed to have died young. Jan's personal finances fared little better than did his wives and he was declared bankrupt in 1689.
All of this misfortune, however, did not prevent him from achieving considerable success in public life. As an outstanding portrait and history painter he was appointed warden of the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke in 1667, and was elevated to dean of the Guild on four separate occasions, in 1671-2, 1676, 1681 and 1684-5. In 1688, at the age of sixty-one, he was still working as an architect and in that year presented a detailed proposal to the burgomasters of Amsterdam on the construction of a freshwater reservoir near the Amstel river; he may thus be considered as the originator of present-day water towers. Such was his reputation in Amsterdam public life that he was appointed burgher to the city in 1692. He died in 1697 and was buried in Haarlem on 4 April in that year.
Although unidentified, the presence of the crucifix would suggest that the sitter in this work is a priest. Indeed, the very same crucifix appears on the desk in two other portraits of Catholic priests by De Bray, Portrait of Pieter van der Wiel of 1666, and Portrait of Josephus de Kies van Wissen of 1672, the former now in the Castle at Osnabruck, on loan from the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum, Berlin, and the latter in the Museum in Emden, likewise on loan from the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum.1 The similarities continue to the clothing, with all three sitters wearing near-identical vestments.
We are grateful to Fred G. Meijer and Dr. Rudi Ekkart of the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie for endorsing the attribution to Jan de Bray following first hand inspection.
1. See J.W. von Moltke, 'Jan de Braij', in Marburger Jahrbuch fur Kunstwissenschaft, vol. 11/12, 1938/1939, cat. nos. 69, 70, reproduced figs. 10 and 14 respectively).
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