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Jan van Mieris

(Leiden 1660 – 1690 Rome)
2 works in the Collection

Bakker, Piet. “Jan van Mieris” (2017). Revised by Piet Bakker (2020). In The Leiden Collection Catalogue, 3rd ed. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Lara Yeager-Crasselt. New York, 2020–. (accessed July 15, 2020).


Jan van Mieris was born in Leiden on 17 June 1660 as the “eldest son of the widely famed Frans van Mieris the Elder (1635–81)” and Cunera van der Cock (1629/30–1700). Like his younger brother Willem van Mieris (1662–1747), Jan initially received instruction from his father. However, given “that his natural artistic drive tended most toward the painting of life-size objects,” his father wanted to apprentice him to Gerard de Lairesse (1641–1711). Frans ultimately abandoned that plan, “because [Lairesse’s] conduct bore no resemblance whatsoever to his exemplary artistic ability,” and decided to train his son himself.

Van Mieris’s name first appears in an official document in 1684. He witnessed the posting of the banns of his brother Willem and Agneta Chapman (1663–1744), at which time he stated that he was living on the Bloemmarkt. Two years later, he joined Leiden’s Guild of Saint Luke. The buyers of his work came from the same families that patronized the other members of his artistic family, including the De la Courts. In 1707, for instance, the sale of the collection of Petronella de la Court (1624–1707) included eight works by Van Mieris, among them “A little lady counting money, with a jolly old woman,” which is currently in The Leiden Collection. A Portrait of Mr. Pieter de la Court by Jan van Mieris, not among those works in the sale, had previously been mentioned in her inventory. This could be a portrait of Petronella’s cousin, Pieter de la Court the Younger (1618–85), or his son, Pieter de la Court van de Voort (1664–1739). The latter, the most important patron of Willem van Mieris, owned five works by Jan. In his inventory, Pieter noted next to “a young woman feeding a little sparrow [titmouse?]” and a “student with a trick-track table” that Van Mieris had “painted [them] here for me.”

Pieter’s annotation implies that Van Mieris painted these two works before 1688, for in that year he left Leiden and traveled to Italy via Germany. In a letter to his mother from Venice on 14 January 1689, Van Mieris wrote that he had already painted some works for “the most eminent citizens of Venice, yet wished that they were as cordial and generous as they are polite.” The letter shows that he was lonely and missed his daily visits to his brother-in-law, “swager van der Eijck” in Leiden. This “swager” has to be Mathijs van der Eijck, who was married to Van Mieris’s sister Christina (1657–85), and who made a living as an innkeeper at the Voorste Doelen. Van Mieris’s mother was charged with conveying her son’s greetings to Van der Eijck, as well as to “Mr. Heemskerck.” Van Mieris also relayed to his mother that he had yet to sell the paintings he had taken along with him from Leiden. He thus conceived a plan to travel to Florence to investigate “whether better opportunities could be found there,” but noted, “it appears that we are among the unlucky ones. It is rumored that the Duke of Tuscany wants to hand over power to his son and has become so devout that he is hardly involved in worldly matters anymore.” Van Mieris was introduced to the grand duke’s court through friends of his father and, as noted by the biographer Johan van Gool (1685–1763), would have done well “had he been able to reconcile his conscience with the religion of the court; but being firmly and irrefutably wedded to the precepts of his faith and unwilling to embrace any other religion than that into which he had been born and raised, he elected to follow the pure Truth.” When the grand duke realized that Van Mieris would not adopt his convictions, he withdrew his offer to take him into service, whereupon Van Mieris left for Rome. His stay in the Eternal City was short lived, however: he died, unwed and childless, on 17 March 1690, just a few months before his thirtieth birthday. Shortly before his death in Rome, he had met the Leiden cloth manufacturer Jan Poelaert (1653–1701), brother-in-law of Pieter de la Court van der Voort, to whom he sold a “Samaritan woman at the well.” According to Allard de la Court (1688–1755), a later owner of the painting, it was “the last picture that Van Mieris painted.”

- Piet Bakker, 2017; revised in 2020
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