Pensioner at Prayer

  • Jan van Bylert
  • Utrecht 1597/8–1671
  • Oil on oak panel
  • 23 ¾ x19 ¾ in / 60.33 x 50.13 cm

Excellent condition in period style frame

Pensioner at Prayer, Jan van Bylert

Although his art developed within the local ambience of Abraham Bloemaert, Paulus Moreelse and Gerrit van Honthorst, his art is often in a similar classicizing vein – clear, harmonious, and polished, but on occasion van Bylert could paint with thicker impasto that recalled in discrete evidence of his awareness of the more vigorous handling of paint in Caravaggio’s circle of posthumous followers working in Rome during van Bylert’s own tyrostay there.  As seen in the rendering of the creased wrinkles around this figure’s eyes as alternated strokes of local and half-tone color, and in the emphatic definition of the structure and surface of the old man’s hand holding his rosary beads in a Catholic theme more probable in Catholic Utrecht than in Counter-Remonstrant Leiden, the painting nevertheless resembled Lievens’ paintings from the mid-1620s of Evangelists and their physiognomic ilk. Indeed, when discovered a generation ago, the painting bore a false and easily removed ‘Lievens’ signature, a sorry reflection of the general disinterest in van Bylert in the American art market of the later twentieth century before the current re-evaluation of his art and the exemplary publication of Paul Huys Janssen’s Jan van Bylert: Catalogue Raisonné, Amsterdam & Philadelphia,1998. 

The composition, proportion and placement of the figure as half-length within a close-up field, the placement of the hand before the chest, and even the patter of shadows on the brow can be matched to a number of van Bylert’s earlier paintings of single figures that combine his latent Caravaggism as graced by the classicizing polish of Honthorst and Moreelse as seen in several other works by van Bylert from the later 1620s. This painting is particularly close in proportion, chiaroscuro, facture – even the division of the forehead by a wedge of dark shadow, to the Man with a Pearl Necklace (Budapest; Janssen cat. no.126). Interestingly enough, the Budapest painting is part of a pair.  As this was a familiar custom among Utrecht artists, the present painting may yet be joined by a distaff partner – a female subject in similar scale, compatible costume, and further thematic allusions.