Jan de Bray
Dutch, about 1627 ‑ 1697
A Couple Represented as Ulysses and Penelope, 1668
Oil on canvas
43 7/8 × 65 3/4 in. (111.4 × 167 cm.)
Gift of the Charter Collectors 1975.24
What’s the Backstory?
In 1668, artist Jan de Bray married Maria van Hees. To commemorate their union, de Bray painted this major token of love and affection, depicting himself and Maria as characters from Homer’s Odyssey. In the story, Ulysses leaves his beloved wife Penelope to fight in the Trojan War and encounters many obstacles on his journey home. For twenty years, Penelope cleverly puts off her numerous suitors by promising that she will remarry only after she finishes weaving a shroud. Every night, she secretly unravels her progress at the loom, patiently awaiting the return of her husband. Maria holds a loom and places her hand over her heart as a gesture of devotion, while their loyal dog (a traditional symbol of fidelity) jumps up to greet his master. The painting is signed and dated 1668 on the loom. Unfortunately, the marriage was tragically brief, since Maria died during childbirth the following year.