Friday, July 24, 2009

Jan de Bray et al

Jan de Bray. The Governors of the Guild of St. Luke, Haarlem, 1675.

This painting, while credited to Jan de Bray, is in actuality the work of four separate men. Jan de Bray is pictured here, second from the left. His drawing board is perched against the back of a companion, Jan de Jong. De Jong painted his own likeness, and is pictured here in a relaxed and contemplative pose. In the back left we see painter Jan van Hotingh seated in the shadows. Van Hotingh painted himself into the work, as well. And the seated man resting his head against his hand is none other than Jan de Bray's brother Dirck de Bray. For this painting the brothers de Bray painted one another. Jan is shown making a preliminary sketch of Dirck in a reference to the painting before its completion! A remarkable work, a great synthesis of talent and camaraderie.

The collaborative nature of the painting is most plainly evidenced by the sketch shown on the table.

We are unbelievably lucky that this sketch is extant! Good fortune has allowed the painting to survive. The mind can freeze when considering the survival of any fragile material through hundreds of years. Many of our favorite paintings benefit from their sheer size. It is unlikely that a stretched and painted canvas measuring many square feet could go missing but it is a true wonder that such a small scrap of paper could survive intact! Legend goes that in the early 19th century an art scholar by the name of Bartholomew Ionides discovered the sketch at a flea market in Antwerp. It is now in the collections at the Rijksmuseum. Here is the full scrap.

It is a revelatory sketch. The members of the Beatles achieved their greatest genius as group. While the four men were abundantly talented, each in his own right, their work was its best when made together. The painting of the governors alludes to the Fab Four and their famous collaborations. A majority of the Beatles' best-known songs were penned by Lennon and McCartney. Though the credits go to the men in front, the work would have been impossibly incomplete without the contributions of Harrison and Starkey. Surely, the same is true here. Without the added touches of de Jong, van Hotingh and brother Dirck de Bray Jan de Bray's painting would remain incomplete. May we delight with them in their friendship and admire their collective spirit!