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Friday, October 23, 2009

Portrait of a Marriage






Jan de Bray (c. 1627-1697)
De Haarlemse drukker Abraham Casteleyn en zijn echtgenote Margarieta van Bancken./ Portrait of the Haarlem printer Abraham Casteleyn and his wife Margarieta van Bancken 1663
OIl on canvas 83 cm x 106.5 cm
The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam




Jan de Bray (c. 1627-1697)
Haarlem Printer Abraham Casteleyn and His Wife Margarieta van Bancken
c. 1662-3
Pen and brush, 102 x 203 mm
Fondation Custodia, Paris


The couple are portrayed in an informal setting, relaxing on the terrace.

The portrait was painted in 1663: Casteleyn and his wife had by then been married for two years.

This informal pose and the cheerful faces are far from common in seventeenth-century portraiture.

The way they hold each other's hands symbolises their marital fidelity. The vine to the right of Margarieta represents the mutual commitment between husband and wife.

Their clasped hands, again symbolising fidelity, suggest that marriages based on love and respect were part of the uniquely modern phenomenon that was the Netherlands in the seventeenth century.


Abraham Casteleyn was the publisher of one of the earliest news sheet, De Opregte Haerlemse Courant, which was published in Haarlem from 1656 to 1642. Abraham Casteleyn’s Oprechte Haerlemse Courant had a deserved reputation for its international coverage. Note the bust of Laurens Janszoon Coster, a Haarlem printer who the town claimed as the original inventor of book printing

The setting is his study surrounded by books and tools of his business. She gestures towards the outdoors, the garden.

This pen drawing was an outline of the proposed painting. The children on the right, climbing some steps and carrying produce from the garden, were omitted from the painting.

De Bray was the son and pupil of an architect, poet and artist, Salomon de Bray. His two other brothers were also artists. He spent most of his career working in Haarlem, where he was for many years dean of the painters' guild.

He and his family were continuously challenged in a Protestant-dominated society. His extraordinary family of Catholic Remonstrants were, alongside the better-known Frans Hals, very much at the centre of the artistic scene in Haarlem in the golden age of Dutch painting

As in Utrecht most of the painters in Haarlem remained Catholic. Tragedy struck the family when both of his parents and four of his siblings died in a plague. De Bray suffered further losses when all three of his wives died within a short time of the marriages

His brother Dirck (d.1694), the painter of the extraordinary still-lifes had a deeply held faith,and later entered an Augustinian monastery as a lay brother at the age of 45.

When he died in 1697 Jan was financially ruined, and forgotten.