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Diana, Goddess of the Hunt

Willem van Mieris (Leiden 1662 – 1747 Leiden)
oil on panel
18 x 14.4 cm
signed information

signed and dated in dark paint, lower right corner: “W. V. Mieris. Fet.  1686”

inventory number

Buvelot, Quentin. “Diana, Goddess of the Hunt” (2017). In The Leiden Collection Catalogue, 3rd ed. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Lara Yeager-Crasselt. New York, 2020–. (accessed August 01, 2021).

Frans van Mieris the Elder (1635–81) trained his sons Jan (1660–90) and Willem in the fijnschilder tradition. Unfortunately, Jan died at a young age in Rome before he produced many works, but Willem continued to paint well into the eighteenth century. His works, which are rather slick in execution, were in great demand and fetched high prices. He painted many of the same subjects as his father, but he also produced many history pieces and, after 1700, kitchen and shop scenes. These pieces, with their Gerrit Dou–like stone window framing devices (), were fairly old-fashioned by this time, though they were still popular with collectors.

Willem van Mieris painted this work in 1686 when he was about 24 years old. Here, a woman dressed à l’antique in a gold-colored robe with a red sash stands before an idealized hilly, wooded landscape opening up to ruins and a distant mountain. Van Mieris effectively used the muted tonalities of this evocative Arcadian landscape to set off the woman’s light-filled and sensual form. The delicacy of the artist’s painterly touch, so reminiscent of that of his father (see FM-103), is particularly evident in the shimmering blue of her scarf () and in the individual brushstrokes that model the blue and white ostrich feathers in her hair.

The woman is without doubt meant to represent Diana, the goddess of the hunt, who is also known by her Greek name Artemis. Although the painter omitted the crescent moon, Diana’s primary attribute, she is depicted holding an arrow taken from the quiver lying on the rocky ledge before her. In Van Mieris’s day, Diana was associated with elegance and purity. The latter association may be somewhat surprising, as the woman’s plunging décolleté reveals a nipple that gives the painting an erotic charge. It is not known whether this painting had a pendant, but the gaze of the goddess would seem to suggest that there was one, probably Diana’s twin brother, Apollo, the patron god of music and poetry.

At first glance, this scene with Diana appears to be a portrait historié, a painting in which a real person is depicted as a historical, biblical, or mythological figure, but this is far from certain. The painting was described as a portrait historié as early as 1842, when the English dealer John Smith published it as “A Young Lady, in the character of Diana.” Smith’s description was paraphrased in a Paris sales catalogue only two years later, and the notion that the painting is a portrait historié has appeared frequently in the literature. Diana’s face, however, lacks the kind of individualized features seen in Van Mieris’s female portraits. Her doll-like face with its double chin and thick neck resembles that of other stereotypical female figures in Van Mieris’s history paintings, as in his painting The Repentant Mary Magdalene, 1701 (). As Junko Aono has noted, Van Mieris’s paintings are populated by highly idealized women with “marble-like smooth skin, graceful poses and gestures and an almost sculpted classical profile.” Van Mieris used panels of almost the same size to paint other scenes of women from history, including a painting of Mary Magdalene dated 1709, in which the saint, like Diana here, is portrayed looking to the left in front of an idealized landscape.

Portrait historié or not, this small jewel-like panel painting, which measures only 18 by 14.4 centimeters, is an exquisite example of Willem van Mieris’s skillful handling of paint at the beginning of his career. The smooth, blended brushstrokes he used to model the ivory-colored flesh tones and bolder touches he applied to accent the woman’s elegant wardrobe are techniques that helped establish his reputation as one of the finest painters of his day.

- Quentin Buvelot, 2017
  • Private dealer, Paris, 1837.
  • M. Martini Collection, Paris, by 1837 (his sale, Bonnefons, Paris, 23 March 1844, no. 10 [for 1140 francs]).
  • Private collection, Paris.
  • (Probably sale, Piasa & E. Madec, Paris, July 1997).
  • [Haboldt & Co., Paris].
  • [Artemis Fine Arts S. A., London, 2000–1; Salomon Lilian B. V., Amsterdam, 2004].
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2004.
  • Athens, National Gallery/Alexandros Soutzos Museum and Netherlands Institute, “Greek Gods and Heroes in the Age of Rubens and Rembrandt,” 28 September 2000–8 January 2001, no. 50; Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum, 3 February–8 May 2001, no. 50 [lent by London, Artemis Fine Arts S. A.].
  • Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art, “Small Treasures: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and Their Contemporaries,” 12 October 2014–4 January 2015; Birmingham, Birmingham Museum of Art, 1 February–26 April 2015, no. 26 [lent by the present owner].
  • Beijing, National Museum of China, “Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 17 June–3 September 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund, “Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 23 September 2017–25 February 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • Smith, John. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters. 9 vols. London, 1829–42, suppl., 1842, 9: 63, no. 34.
  • Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century Based on the Work of John Smith. Edited and t ranslated by Edward G. Hawke, 10: 212, no. 412. 8 vols. London, 1907–28. Originally published as Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten höllandischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907–28.
  • Sluijter, Eric Jan. “Artemis.” In Greek Gods and Heroes in the Age of Rubens and Rembrandt. Edited by Peter Schoon and Sander Paarlberg, 62. Exh. cat. Exh. cat. Athens, National Gallery–Museum Alexandros Soutzos and Netherlands Institute; Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum. Athens, 2000.
  • Enklaar, Marlies. “Artemis.” In Greek Gods and Heroes in the Age of Rubens and Rembrandt. Edited by Peter Schoon and Sander Paarlberg, 256–57, no. 50. Exh. cat. Athens, National Gallery–Museum Alexandros Soutzos and Netherlands Institute; Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum. Athens, 2000.
  • Surh, Dominique. “Portrait of a Woman as Artemis.” In Salomon Lilian Old Masters. Sales cat. Amsterdam, Salomon Lilian B.V. Zwolle, 2004, 54–55, no. 17.
  • Weller, Dennis P. “Portrait of a Woman as Artemis.” In Small Treasures: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and Their Contemporaries. Exh. cat. Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art; Birmingham, Birmingham Museum of Art. Raleigh, 2014, 146-49, no. 26.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Diana, Goddess of the Hunt.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 104, no. 42, 182, no. 42. Translated by Li Ying. Exh. cat. Beijing, National Museum of China. Beijing, 2017.
  • Long Museum, West Bund. Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Exh. cat. Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund. Shanghai, 2017, 124–25.

The support, a single plank of vertically grained, rectangular oak with bevels on all four sides, is unthinned and uncradled. All four outer edges of the panel reverse have been routed 1 cm in width and 0.5 cm into the panel’s thickness. Adhesive residue and wood remnants along the routed surfaces suggest wood additions have been removed. The panel reverse has a few small remnants of paper tape or paper labels but no wax seals, import stamps or panel maker’s mark.

Gero Seelig, from the Staatliches Museum Schwerin, Germany, held a symposium at the 2011 CODART meeting regarding the unusual construction of three-panel paintings from that collection, one by Willem van Mieris. According to Seelig: “In all three, a smaller panel is inlaid into a larger one so that only the front surface of the smaller one—surrounded by the surface of the larger panel—shows. The actual painting extends over both surfaces. Art historians have automatically assumed that this construction is a later alteration of the original panel. However, conservators can demonstrate that this is not the case. Nevertheless, in the past the supposed ‘enlargement’ was removed.” Further investigation is required to determine what modification this panel may have undergone.

A light-colored ground has been thinly and evenly applied followed by paint applied smoothly in successive thin layers of transparent glazing with slightly raised low brushmarking along the tree foliage, blue plumes and drapery folds, as well as along the quivers and the blue outline and details of the quiver case.

No underdrawing is readily apparent in infrared images captured at 780–1000 nanometers. The images reveal a compositional change along the blue sash above the figure’s proper left hand, which was shifted higher during the paint stage.

The painting is signed and dated in dark paint along the lower right corner.

The painting has not undergone conservation treatment since its acquisition and remains in a good state of preservation.

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