BRAY, Jan de
(b. ca. 1627, Haarlem, d. 1697, Haarlem)

The Regents of the Children's Orphanage in Haarlem

Oil on canvas, 188 x 249 cm
Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem

Frans Hals was the unrivalled master of the group portrait in seventeenth-century Haarlem. He was around eighty years old when he painted his last portraits of regents and regentesses of the Old Men's Almhouse in 1664. At that time new orders for group portraits went to younger artists.

Jan de Bray, having a reputation as a portraitist in Haarlem, painted his first picture of this kind in 1663. His approach was different from that of Frans Hals. Whereas Hals portrayed his characters in a variety of poses, facing in different directions and with their heads at different levels, De Bray's scene is meticulously organized. The table, covered with a costly Oriental carpet, is set at a slight angle in the room. All men look directly at the observer. Although the men's heads are in slightly different positions, their black hats are all at roughly the same level. As we can just see the top of the table, we, as observers, view the scene from the vantage point of a child who has just entered the regents' chamber: the men have turned to look at us and wait for us to speak.