The present work is a tender, naturalistic depiction of the Virgin and Child. The Virgin, with her full eyebrows, dimpled chin and contoured face appears highly individualized, while Christ's tilted head, round belly and hand resting gently on mother's collar evokes the affectionate gestures of a real child. As noted by Ann Jensen Adams, the composition recalls Caravaggio's masterpiece Virgin of the Rosary (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; see New York 1988, op. cit., p. 36), a painting which was already in Amsterdam by 1617. It was then the collection of the artist Louis Finson, into whose family Van Bijlert's daughter later married (see Greenwich 2002, p. 69).
Jan van Bijlert counts among the Utrecht Caravaggisti. After training with Abraham Bloemaert in Utrecht, Van Bijlert, like his fellow townsmen Gerrit van Honthorst and Hendrick ter Brugghen, traveled to Italy, where he encountered and absorbed the works of Caravaggio. Returning home to the Northern Netherlands, Utrecht Caravaggisti produced works that employed the Italian painter's half-length, life-size compositions and taste for genre subjects, yet made these elements their own through the use of brighter tonalities and more colorful palettes. Moreover, these Dutch artists looked not only to Caravaggio himself, but also to the international group of artists working from his model. In theme and composition, the present painting closely resembles pictures by the French painters Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674) and Simon Vouet (1590-1649). En route to Italy, Van Bijlert traveled to France and may have made a second trip to Paris in the 1630s, where he could have encountered half-length images of the Virgin and Child in which Vouet specialized. Bolstering this hypothesis is the fact that Van Bijlert's pupil Abraham Willaerts studied under Vouet (see Greenwich 2002, loc. cit.). In Vouet's Virgin and Child in the Hermitage (inv. 1216), the Virgin wears a similar red dress, blue and white shawl and turban, while the background includes an analogous classical pillar.
The present work is not dated, but Paul Huys Janssen has characterized it as one of Van Bijlert's masterpieces and the earliest in a series of half-length images of the Virgin and Child and related allegories of Caritas (another subject featuring a mother with infants) which Van Bijlert began in the 1630s (Huys Janssen, op. cit., p. 27).
New York, National Academy of Design, Dutch and Flemish Paintings from New York Private Collections, 1988, pp. 20, 36, no. 4, fig. 4.
Greenwich, Bruce Museum, Pleasures of Collecting: Part I, Renaissance to Impressionist Masterpieces, 21 September 2002-5 January 2003, pp. 16, 69.
O. Granberg, Trésors d'art en Suède, Stockholm, 1912, II, p. 312, fig. 65, as 'unknown Flemish master'.
A. von Schneider, Caravaggio und die Niederländer, Marburg/Lahn, 1933, p. 132, as 'Jan van Bijlert'.
G.J. Hoogewerff, 'Jan van Bylert, Schilder van Utrecht (1598-1671)', Oud Holland, LXXX, 1965, p. 24, no. 7.
Burlington Magazine, advertisement, CXVIII, May 1976, p. lxiv.
B. Nicolson, The International Caravaggesque Movement, Oxford, 1979, p. 27.
R. Klessman, ed., Die holländischen Gemälde, Braunschweig, 1983, pp. 42-43, under no. 510.
B. Nicolson, Caravaggism in Europe, Oxford, 1989, I, p. 70, fig. 1338.
P. Huys Janssen, Jan van Bijlert, Philadelphia, 1998, p. 27, 97-98, 12, pl. III.
Baroness Sigrid Rãlamb, Stockholm, 1912, as 'unknown Flemish master'.
Friherre Rãlamb, Stockholm, 1934.
Hägglöf collection, Stockholm.
Generalkonsul Söderberg, Stockholm, 1958.
Barbo Stigsdottir; sale, Bukowski, Stockholm, 15 November 1975, p. 994, as 'French School, 17th century'.
with Leger Galleries, London (advertisement, The Burlington Magazine, CXVIII, May 1976).
Private collection, Canada.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 4 June 1980, lot 142 ($16,000).
Mr. and Mrs. Morton B. Harris Collection, New York.
with John H. Schlichte Bergen, Amsterdam, from whom acquired by the present owner.