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Jan van Bijlert, 'Portrait of an Elderly Man and Two Women', probably 1660s

Key facts
Full title Portrait of an Elderly Man and Woman, and a Younger Woman, outside a House
Artist Jan van Bijlert
Artist dates 1598 - 1671
Date made probably 1660s
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 127 × 101 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1889
Inventory number NG1292
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Portrait of an Elderly Man and Two Women
Jan van Bijlert

We don't know who these people are, but they wear the restrained costume of prosperous, Protestant Dutch people in the 1660s. Either woman could be the man’s wife; it has also been suggested that the younger woman is a maid, or the couple’s daughter.

There may be some clues. The younger woman holds a rose, perhaps a symbol of love, and points out of the painting; she looks down with an intent expression. The man rests one hand on the globe, which is possibly a symbol of faith, and points at the fruit on the table with the other. The older woman holds a peach, perhaps symbolising truth.

For some reason, half a globe on half a plinth appears to cut off the composition in an odd and rather unsatisfactory way – perhaps there was once a companion piece that completes the story. In its absence, you are left to decide on an interpretation of the symbols and, from them, the painting’s meaning.

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