BIJLERT, Jan van
(b. 1597/98, Utrecht, d. 1671, Utrecht)


Jan Harmensz. van Bijlert (also spelt Bylert), Dutch painter. He was the son of the Utrecht glass painter Herman Beerntsz. van Bijlert and Elisabeth Willemsdr van Laeckervelt. Jan must have trained first with his father but was later apprenticed to the painter Abraham Bloemaert. After his initial training, he visited France and travelled to Italy, as did other artists from Utrecht.

Jan stayed mainly in Rome, where he became a member of the Schildersbent; he is recorded in Rome in 1621 as 'Giovanni Bilardo', but was known as 'Aeneas' by the bentveugels, the Dutch painters working in Italy.

In Rome he and the other Utrecht artists had come under the influence of the work of Caravaggio; after their return home, this group of painters, who became known as the Utrecht Caravaggisti, adapted the style of Caravaggio to their own local idiom. The Caravaggesque style, evident in van Bijlert's early paintings, such as St Sebastian Tended by Irene (1624; Rohrau, Schloss) and The Matchmaker (1626; Brunswick, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum), is characterized by the use of strong chiaroscuro, the cutting off of the picture plane so that the image is seen close-up and by an attempt to achieve a realistic rather than idealized representation. Van Bijlert returned to Utrecht in 1624 and continued to paint in this style throughout the 1620s, a particularly productive period.

Bijlert returned to Utrecht in 1625 and became a prominent figure in the artists' guild there. He painted history scenes, genre subjects and portraits. He had a predilection for simple, life-size half figures and regularly painted both formal and allegorical portraits.

He was married in Amsterdam in 1625, on which occasion he gave his age as twenty-seven. In 1630, he became a member of the Reformed church. In 1630, Jan van Bijlert joined the Guild of St Luke in Utrecht; he was appointed dean of the guild from 1632 to 1637. His pupils included Bertram de Fouchier (1609-1673), Abraham Willaerts and Ludolph de Jongh. Rather surprisingly, the marine painter Willaerts later moved to Paris to study under the celebrated French master Simon Vouet.

In 1634, Jan van Bijlert joined the brotherhood of the Sint Jobsgasthuis, where he was housemaster in 1642-1643. He was married several times after the death of his first wife, lastly to Cecilia van Gelove, the widow of a house painter and paint merchant. Van Bijlert continued to serve on the board of the guild, as dean in 1654 and as headman in 1655 and again in the period from 1667 to 1670. He died in 1671 and was buried in the Nicolaaskerk on 13 November of that year.