Dutch and Flemish Art

Michiel Sweerts (Flemish, Brussels 1618 - 1664 Goa [India])
Self-Portrait, ca. 1656-58
Oil on canvas
37 1/4 x 28 7/8 in. (94.5 x 73.4 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1941
AMAM 1941.77

Listen to a podcast about this artwork here

An inventive Flemish painter of religious scenes, genre paintings and portraits, Sweerts has represented himself as a gentleman-artist, posed dramatically before a mountainous Italianate landscape.

Sweerts's Self-Portrait belongs to a long tradition in Netherlandish art, that of painters depicting themselves with the implements of their craft. He was probably aware of the series of engraved artists' portraits compiled by Domenicus Lampsonius and published in Antwerp in 1572.1 His elegant garb, and particularly the emphasis on the aristocratic, tapering hand holding the paintbrush, also recalls the portraits of artists in Anthony van Dyck's Iconography, published in Antwerp between 1636 and 1641. Raupp notes that such elegantly formed hands command respect and indicate inner nobility; the overall message of artists' likenesses in the Iconography--and the same might be said of Sweerts's Self-Portrait--is one of self-control and inner order and harmony, a virtuoso ideal combining aristocratic bearing, intellect and prestige.2

There are at least two other self-portraits by the artist extant, and others are mentioned in contemporary sources.3 Each painting presents the artist in a different context, with different attributes.

An early likeness, probably painted about 1648-50, shows the artist as "bohemian," wearing a beret with a swooping feather.4 In another self-portrait, probably painted about 1655, the artist points to a skull as a vanitas reminder.5 A third "self-portrait," attributed to Sweerts by Ben Broos, is probably not by him.6

Martin, in 1907, dated the Oberlin Self-Portrait to about 1656, based on a comparison with the only dated portrait by the artist, the Portrait of a Young Man of 1656.7 Stechow dated the painting somewhat later, about 1658-60, based on the painting's more "Dutch" character, as well as on an erroneous assumption that the artist was born in 1624.8 Kultzen has suggested that the Oberlin Self-Portrait was "fairly certainly" executed in Amsterdam (thus either implying a date of ca. 1660 for the portrait, or that Sweerts was in Amsterdam by 1658-69), because of its similarities to the fashionable ideal represented in that city in the portraits of Bartholomeus van der Helst (1613-1670), as well as to that artist's specific coloristic effects.9

However, the Oberlin painting appears to depict a man in his mid- to late thirties, making a date of about 1656-58 more convincing. Moreover, this date, during Sweerts's Brussels period, is further supported by the artist's documented interest in the training and professional status of artists. At this time he not only operated a drawing academy from 1656, but also published a series of prints designed to serve as artisticexempl², and painted numerous scenes of drawing lessons and artists' studios. It seems reasonable that Sweerts would choose to depict himself as a gentleman-painter, to honor and ennoble his profession as he sought to impart his knowledge and experience to young artists.

Sweerts reproduced the painting (in mirror image) in an etching inscribed Michael Sweerts Eq. Pi. et fe.10 The artist claimed the title "Eques" (knight) or "Cavaliere" from as early as 1651, although it is not clear how he might have acquired the title. The artist apparently presented the Brussels St. Luke's Guild with a self-portrait in 1660, the year after he joined the guild.11 Schaar12 and others have tentatively identified this work with the Oberlin painting, as an appropriate monument to Sweerts's conception of himself and his profession.

M. E. Wieseman

Biography
Sweerts was baptized in Brussels on 29 September 1618. By the mid 1640s, he was living in Rome, where he remained until at least 1652. Back in Brussels, Sweerts opened an academy for life drawing in 1656, and became a member of the St. Luke's Guild in 1659. During a brief stay in Amsterdam in about 1660-61, he became a lay brother in the Lazarist Société des Missions Étrangères, and joined their mission to the Orient in late 1661. He was dismissed from the mission in 1662 because of his mental instability and ungoverned zeal, and died at the Portugese Jesuit colony at Goa in 1664.

In addition to portraits, Sweerts painted genre scenes and history paintings that combine stark chiaroscuro and blunt realism with a serene, almost classical simplicity.

General References
Martin, Willem. "Michiel Sweerts als schilder." Oud-Holland 25 (1907), pp. 133-56.

Kultzen, Rolf. Michael Sweerts (1624-64). Hamburg, 1954.

Kultzen, Rolf. Michael Sweerts en Tijdgenoten. Exh. cat., Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1958.

Kultzen, Rolf. Michael Sweerts, Brussels 1618-Goa 1664. Translated and edited by Diane L. Webb. Doornspijk, 1996.

Provenance13
Collection William Twopenny, London

Collection Edward Twopenny, Woodstock Castle, Sittingbourne, Kent

His sale, London (Foster), 5 March 1902, lot 57 (as "Portrait of Gerard Terborg [sic]"; £189, to Buttery)

With Thomas Agnew and Sons, London

Collection Washington B. Thomas (1857-1929), Boston, ca. 1902-1929

By descent to Mr. & Mrs. William Tudor Gardiner (née Thomas), Gardiner, Maine, 1929-ca. 1941

With M. Knoedler & Co., New York, from whom purchased in 1941

Exhibitions
Boston, Copley Society, 1903. A Loan Collection of Pictures by Old Masters and Other Painters. Cat. no. 86.

Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 1939. Art in New England. Paintings, Drawings, Prints from Private Collections in New England. 9 June - 10 September. Cat. no. 129.

Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, 1958. Michael Sweerts en Tijdgenoten. 4 October - 23 November. Cat. no. 43 (also shown at Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Palazzetto Venezia [Michael Sweerts e i Bamboccianti]).

Kenwood, London County Council, 1962. An American University Collection: Works of Art from the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio. 3 May - 30 October. Cat. no. 32.

The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1973. Dutch Art and Life in the Seventeenth Century. 10 July - 2 September. No cat.

The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1975-76. Extended loan for exhibition with permanent collection. 9 April 1975 - 22 December 1976. No cat.

The Hague, Mauritshuis, 1990-91. Great Dutch Paintings from America. 28 September - 13 January 1991 (also shown at The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco). Cat. no. 64.

Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 1993-94. The Age of Rubens. 22 September - 2 January (also shown at Toledo Museum of Art). Cat. no. 57.

Literature
Moes, E. W. Iconographia Batavia. Vol. 2. The Hague, 1905, cat. no. 7756.

Martin, Willem. "Michiel Sweerts als schilder." Oud-Holland 25 (1907), pp. 136, 138-40, 145, no. 1.

Wurzbach, Alfred von. Niederländisches Künstler-Lexikon. Vol. 2. Vienna and Leipzig, 1910, p. 684.

Trautschold, E. In U. Thieme and F. Becker. Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. Vol. 32. Leipzig, 1938, p. 348.

Allen Memorial Art Museum Acquisitions 1941-1942. Oberlin, 1942, cat. no. 16.

Stechow, Wolfgang. "Die Sammlung des Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio." Phoebus 2, no. 3 (1949), p. 121.

Bloch, Vitale. "Nederland en Italië." Maandblad voor Beeldende Kunst 26 (1950), p. 218.

Stechow, Wolfgang. "Some Portraits by Michiel Sweerts." Art Quarterly 14 (1951), pp. 211-14, and n. 18.

Stechow, Wolfgang. "A Self-Portrait by Michael Sweerts." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 9, no. 2 (Winter 1952), pp. 64-65.

Ebbinge Wubben, J. C. "Een Romeins straattafereel door Michael Sweerts." Bulletin Museum Boymans Rotterdam 4 (1953), p. 4 n. 3.

Kultzen, Rolf. Michael Sweerts (1624-64). Hamburg, 1954, vol. 1, pp. 139-141, 143; vol. 2, p. 300, no. 69.

Kultzen, Rolf. Michael Sweerts en Tijdgenoten. Exh. cat., Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1958, pp. 25, 54, cat. no. 43.

Gerson, Horst. "Michael Sweerts en tijdgenoten: Tentoonstelling in het Museum Boymans." Het Vaderland, 15 November 1958, p. 14.

Waddingham, Malcolm R. "The Sweerts exhibition in Rotterdam." Paragone 9 (1958), p. 71.

Kultzen, Rolf, et al. Michael Sweerts e i Bamboccianti. Exh. cat., Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Palazzetto Venezia, Rome, 1958-59, pp. 50-51, cat. no. 44.

Incisa della Rocchetta, G. "La mostra di Michael Sweerts a Roma." Arte Antica e Moderna 2 (1959), p. 117.

Hamilton, Chloe. "Catalogue of R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund Acquisitions." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 16, no. 2 (Winter 1959), cat. no. 44; no. 3 (Spring 1959), ill. p. 237.

Schaar, E. "Michael Sweerts e i bamboccianti, Ausstellung im Palazzo Venezia in Rom." Kunstchronik 12 (1959), p. 44.

Bedo, R. "Ein doppelporträt des Michael Sweerts." Acta Historiae Artium 8 (1962), p. 107.

N[icholson], B[enedict]. "Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions." The Burlington Magazine 104 (1962), p. 310.

Hall, H. van. Portretten van Nederlandse beeldende kunstenaars. Amsterdam, 1963, p. 323.

Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 145-46, fig. 66.

Bloch, Vitale. Michael Sweerts. The Hague, 1968, pp. 24-25, fig. 25.

Portretten van Kunstenaars 1400-1800. Exh. cat., Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1969, p. 50.

Bodart, Didier. Les Peintres des Pays-Bas méridionaux et de la principauté de Liège à Rome au XVIIième siècle. Vol. 1. Brussels, 1970, p. 424 n. 2.

Bader, Alfred. "An Unknown Portrait of Michael Sweerts." The Burlington Magazine 114 (1972), p. 475.

Bader, Alfred, and Wolfgang Stechow. Milwaukee, 1974, under no. 24.

Sutton, Denys. "A Collection for Connoisseurs." Apollo 103, no. 168 (1976), p. 85, ill. p. 82.

Waddingham, M. R. "Michael Sweerts, Boy Copying the Head of a Roman Emperor." The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin 63 (1976-77), pp. 59, 64 n. 14.

Chiarini, Marco. "L'Autoritratto di Michael Sweerts già nella collezione del cardinale Leopoldo di Medici." Paragone 30, no. 355 (1979), pp. 63-64.

Gli Uffizi. Catalogo Generale. Florence, 1980, p. 1014, under no. A920. Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, p. 211.

Kultzen, Rolf. "Michiel Sweerts als Bildnismaler." Wiener Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte 40 (1987), p. 217.

Broos, Ben, and J. Roeding. In Great Dutch Paintings from America. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis, The Hague, and The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1990-91, pp. 442-47.

Langendijk, Karla. Die Selbstbildnisse der Holländischen und Flämischen Künstler in der Galleria degli Autoritratti der Uffizien in Florenz. Florence, 1992, p. 188, fig. 35a.

Pestilli, Livio. "'The Burner of the Midnight Oil': A Caravaggesque Rendition of a Classic Exemplum. An unrecognized self-portrait by Michiel Sweerts?" Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 56, no. 1 (1993), pp. 132-33, fig. 10.

Wieseman, Marjorie E. In The Age of Rubens. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1993-94, pp. 388-90.

Kultzen, Rolf. Michael Sweerts, Brussels 1618-Goa 1664. Translated and edited by Diane L. Webb. Doornspijk, 1996, pp. 1 n. 6, 7 n. 46, 9 n. 53, 25, 60, 62, 63, 67, 116, cat. no. 89, ill. frontispiece and pl. 88.

Technical Data
The painting is in good structural condition, but there are areas of extensive damage to the paint surface.14 The canvas was lined prior to acquisition by the Museum, probably in the early 20th century. A partial removal of overpaint in the area of the palette was conducted in 1954; varnish and overpaint were removed and losses inpainted in 1957; and the painting was cleaned and the inpainting adjusted in 1983. There are scattered losses throughout the painting, a thin line of loss in the sitter's proper right forehead, and large flake losses in the paint and ground layers at the top and bottom edges, which have been filled and repainted. Additional lines of loss parallel to the edges of the canvas at the right and left edges were probably caused by the flexing of the canvas over the stretcher. These losses, and the frayed and torn edges of the original canvas (tacking margins have been lost), suggest that the canvas was extremely slack and poorly mounted prior to relining. A toned varnish (old restoration) in the sitter's proper right sleeve minimizes extensive abrasion in this area.

The ground is applied in two thin layers: the lower white, containing chalk; the upper grey, probably charcoal in a matrix of white lead. The grey "halo" around the head of the sitter was examined by Mark Bockrath in 1983 with a microscope and under ultraviolet and infrared lights, and was determined to be the artist's original intent and neither pentiment nor restoration. The light tones of the sky are painted into and over the hair and blended in an alla prima technique to produce an effect of backlighting in the outline of the hair. The pigments on the palette held by the sitter were analysed in detail in 1954 by Richard Buck and R. J. Gettens, and can be identified as (counterclockwise, from upper right): vermillion, red lake (madder?), white lead, yellow ochre, red ochre or Venetian red, terra verte, a warm brown lake, a cool brown pigment (unidentified), raw sienna, Van Dyck brown (or carbon black), and unidentified (pigment lost; possibly originally blue).

Footnotes
1. Dominique Lampson. Les effigies des peintres célèbres des Pays-Bas, facscimile ed. by J. Puraye (n.p., 1956); for an analysis of the text, see J. Becker, "Zur niederländischen Kunstliteratur des 16. Jahrhunderts: Domenicus Lampsonius," Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 24 (1973), pp. 45-61.

2. Hans-Joachim Raupp, Untersuchungen zu Künstlerbildnis und Künstlerdarstellung in den Niederlanden im 17. Jahrhundert (Hildesheim and New York, 1984), pp. 96-126, passim; see also Ben Broos and J. Roeding, in Great Dutch Paintings from America (exh. cat., Mauritshuis, The Hague, and The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1990-91), pp. 445-46.

3. Pjer Strolenberg, of The Provenance Index, Getty Art History Information Program (letter dated 17 January 1990), notes a self-portrait by Sweerts listed in the inventory of Geertruyd Bicker (wife of Joan Deutz the elder [1618-1673]), Amsterdam, 16 April 1712: "Conterfijtzel van Swart door hemzelffs" (notary Wm. Denijs; GAA, NA 6670, fol. 601). Also mentioned in the inventory are a "conterfijtsel van de Hr Deutz door Swarts" (fol. 599) and a "vlugt van Egipten door Swarts" (fol. 601). Deutz and his brothers Jeronimo and Joseph purchased several paintings directly from the artist in Rome around 1650, including portraits "na't leven" (from life) (mentioned in the cash books of their mother, Elisabeth Coymans [Amsterdam, Gemeentearchief, Deutzen Hofje Archief 234, nr. 276], entries dated 31 December 1650 [p. 367] and 31 December 1651 [p. 535]). As there are at least two other self-portraits by the artist, it is not possible to identify the Oberlin portrait with the painting listed in the inventory of 1712. Coymans's cash books do not specifically mention a self-portrait by Sweerts, and it is not known whether the family had any subsequent contact with the artist.

4. Oil on canvas, 54 x 43 cm, Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, inv. 1633; see Marco Chiarini, "L'Autoritratto di Michael Sweerts già nella collezione del cardinale Leopoldo di Medici," Paragone 30, no. 355 (1979), pp. 63-64.

5. Oil on canvas, 78.7 x 60.3 cm, Milwaukee, collection of Dr. and Mrs. Alfred Bader; see Alfred Bader, "An Unknown Portrait of Michael Sweerts," The Burlington Magazine 114 (1972), p. 475; and Alfred Bader and Wolfgang Stechow, Selections from the Bader Collection (Milwaukee, 1974), under no. 24.

6. Oil on canvas, 66 x 48.3 cm, Cambridge, Mass., Fogg Art Museum, The Harvard University Art Museums, inv. 1941.110; see Ben Broos and J. Roeding, in Great Dutch Paintings from America (exh. cat., Mauritshuis, The Hague, and The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1990-91), pp. 444-45. This painting has been attributed to Jan van Dalen in E. P. Bowron, European Paintings before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, Mass., 1991), p. 104, 176 ill.

7. Oil on canvas, 114 x 92 cm, St. Petersburg, Hermitage, inv. 3654; Willem Martin, "Michiel Sweerts als schilder," Oud-Holland 25 (1907), p. 136.

8. Wolfgang Stechow, "Some Portraits by Michiel Sweerts," Art Quarterly 14 (1951), p. 211.

9. Rolf Kultzen, Michael Sweerts (1624-64) (Hamburg, 1954), p. 143; and idem, Michael Sweerts, Brussels 1618-Goa 1664, trans. and ed., Diane L. Webb (Doornspijk, 1996), p. 62. Kultzen notes, however, that van der Helst's influence was laready noticeable while Sweerts was still in Brussels (ibid., p. 9). The relationship with van der Helst was noted also by Wolfgang Stechow, "Some Portraits by Michiel Sweerts," Art Quarterly 14 (1951), p. 211.

10. Bartsch 3; AMAM inv. 41.84.

11. A. Wauters, "Essai historique sur les tapisseries...," Bulletin des commissions royales d'art et d'archéologie 16 (1877), p. 306.

12. E. Schaar, "Michael Sweerts e i bamboccianti, Ausstellung im Palazzo Venezia in Rom," Kunstchronik 12 (1959), p. 44.

13. For self-portraits by Sweerts mentioned in contemporary documents--which may or may not be identical to the present work--see above, note 3.

14. For a detailed discussion, see the condition report and treatment proposal compiled by Richard D. Buck, 8 March 1954, with an addenda dated 13 October 1954 (ICA no. 12/54); and the condition report by Mark Bockrath, dated 2 January 1984 (ICA no. 32/84) (museum files).