Press release

Culture Minister defers export of striking historical painting

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export bar on the painting David and the Return of the Ark of the Covenant

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export bar on the painting David and the Return of the Ark of the Covenant by 17th century Dutch artist Jan de Bray.  This will provide a last chance to raise the money to keep the painting in the United Kingdom.

The Minister’s ruling follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). The Committee recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the painting is of outstanding significance for the study of 17th century Dutch art.

De Bray was one of the leading practitioners of the classicist style in Haarlem during the 17th century.  His personal approach is sometimes evidenced by the use of his family as models and he enhanced the realism of his paintings with subtle, lifelike details.  In David and the Return of the Ark of the Covenant these realistic details can be seen in the tanned hands and face of the candle bearer, astutely depicting a working man.

Old Testament themes were very popular in Dutch art of the 17th century, although the subject matter addressed in this painting is very rare, having only been found in one other work by Leonard Bramer.
De Bray’s work is not common in the UK, and David and the Return of the Ark of the Covenant is a particularly fine example. 

Johnny van Haeften, Reviewing Committee member, said:

“This painting shows the influence of not only Rembrandt but also the Italian School, and of Guercino in particular.  It will be even more impressive once cleaned and the subject matter, style and quality would befit a national museum.”

The decision on the export licence application for the painting will be deferred for a period ending on 4 January 2011 inclusive. This period may be extended until 4 April 2011 inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the painting at the recommended price of £1,622,260.13 (including VAT) is expressed.

Offers from public bodies for less than the recommended price through the private treaty sale arrangements, where appropriate, may also be considered by Ed Vaizey.  Such purchases frequently offer substantial financial benefit to both parties by the sharing of tax advantages.

Anyone interested in making an offer to purchase the painting should contact the owner’s agent through:
The Secretary
The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
Grosvenor House
14 Bennetts Hill
B2 5RS

Telephone 0121 345 7428

Notes to Editors

  1. For all media enquiries please contact Senior Media Relations Adviser Sunita Sharma on 020 7273 8299, email:

  2. For enquiries on the operation of and casework arising from the work of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) please contact Sean BC Farran, RCEWA Secretary, on 0121 345 7428, email

  3. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by MLA, which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria. Where the Committee finds that an object meets one or more of the criteria, it will normally recommend that the decision on the export licence application should be deferred for a specified period. An offer may then be made from within the United Kingdom at or above the fair market price.

  4. The scale and inventive staging of de Bray’s depiction make it unique. It represents two important themes in Dutch painting of the 17th century - large-figured history pieces and the classical tradition - that are not well represented in public collections in the UK.

  5. Old Testament themes were enormously popular in Dutch art of the 17th century.  The reasons for this are varied and complex, but can be traced at least in part to the availability of vernacular translations of the Bible and an avid readership for them in a predominantly Protestant nation; a vibrant local community of Jewish scholars and art patrons; an antiquarian interest in the Bible as history; and an enduring fascination on the part of both artists and collectors with both the affective interpretation and the religious significance of these dramatic tales. 

  6. The details of the painting are:
    Jan de Bray (Dutch, 1626/7 - 1697)
    David and the Return of the Ark of the Covenant, 1670
    Signed and dated on the foot of the candlestick: JdBray
    Oil on canvas, 142 x 154 cm

(possibly) collection Arnold van Halen, Amsterdam; (possibly) sale Gerard Godaert, baron Taets van Amerongen et al., Amsterdam, 3 July 1805, lot 10 (erroneously as by Salomon de Bray; fl.100, to Coclers); (possibly) sale Amsterdam, 23 August 1808, lot 10 (fl. 105, to J. A. Spaan); collection tenth Earl of Wemyss and March, 1914 (but possibly in the family earlier).

Dutch Pictures 1450-1750 (London, The Royal Academy, 1952-3), no. 637; Pictures from Gosford House lent by the Earl of Wemyss and March (Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland, 1957), no. 26; Dutch Art and Scotland: A reflection of taste (Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland, 1992), no. 9; The Glory of the Golden Age. Dutch Art of the Seventeenth Century: Paintings, Sculpture, and Decorative Arts (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, 2000), no. 172; Painting Family: The De Brays, Master Painters of 17th Century Holland (Haarlem, Frans Hals Museum and Dulwich Picture Gallery, 2008), no. 34

(possibly) Arnold Houbraken, De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlandsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen  (Amsterdam, 1718), vol. 1, fol. 176 (mentions a painting by de Bray of this subject in the collection of Arnold van Halen in Amsterdam, but dated 1697); (possibly) Jacob Campo Weyerman, De Levens-beschryvingen der Nederlandsche Konst-schilders en Konst-schilderessen (The Hague and Dordrecht, 1729-69), vol. 1, p. 398 (repeats information from Houbraken but does not indicate date for the painting); J. W. von Moltke, ‘Jan de Bray’, Marburger Jahrbuch fur Kunstwissenschaft XI/XII (1938/1939), p. 465 no. 7b; in addition see the detailed entries in the catalogues to the various exhibitions listed above.

The paint surface has a reasonably even but discoloured varnish layer and the painting should respond extremely well to cleaning. The painting appears to be in very good and stable condition with the potential to be transformed by cleaning, restoration and revarnishing.

Press Enquiries: 020 7211 2210
Out of hours telephone pager no: 07699 751153
Public Enquiries: 020 7211 6000

Updates to this page

Published 8 November 2010