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Portrait of a Fifty-Two Year Old Man

Frans van Mieris (Leiden 1635 – 1681 Leiden)
oil on panel
19.2 x 15 cm
signed information

signed and dated, upper left corner, over sculptural niche: “AET. 52. (AE in ligature) / F. van Mieris / 1665.”

inventory number

Buvelot, Quentin. “Portrait of a Fifty-Two Year Old Man” (2017). In The Leiden Collection Catalogue, 4th ed. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Elizabeth Nogrady with Caroline Van Cauwenberge. New York, 2023–. (accessed July 13, 2024).

The refined paintings that Frans van Mieris produced with saintly patience made him renowned during his lifetime both in his own country and abroad. Like Gerrit Dou (1613–75), he was among the best-paid painters of the Golden Age. From the voluminous book of inventories of the estates of people living on Rapenburg in Leiden, it can be inferred that Van Mieris’s paintings were always more highly valued than those by his contemporaries. These inventories also provide a unique picture of the varied social status, financial position and religious background of some of his buyers, as well as the composition and size of their collections. Van Mieris built a devoted clientele in Leiden that included Franciscus de le Boë Sylvius (1614–72), an internationally famous professor of chemistry and medicine whom Houbraken described as Van Mieris’s patron. The 1673 inventory of Sylvius’s estate—his house at Rapenburg 31 still stands today—indicates that he possessed seven works by Van Mieris and an astonishing eleven by Dou. Houbraken states explicitly that Sylvius gave Van Mieris regular commissions and had the first right of purchase of his works for a fixed fee.

Among the works by Van Mieris described in the inventory of Sylvius’s estate was a painting of “the deceased with his second wife by Van Mieris.” Without doubt, the overly labored double portrait of a couple of 1672 in Dresden is the painting described in the inventory, which was drawn up only a year after the completion of the painting (). This hypothesis was first proposed by Otto Naumann, who noticed that the face of the man, with his wide, flat and square chin, is identical to that in the engraving of Sylvius that Cornelis van Dalen (1638–64) made in 1659 (). The convincing likeness is confirmed by a description of the painting in the 1678 inventory of Sylvius’s nephew Jean Rouyer: “The portrait of Professor Sylvius and his wife playing the lute.” The genre-like portrait is in effect an “in memoriam” painting for Sylvius’s second wife, Margareta Lucretia Schlezer, who died before it was finished. The lute is a well-known reference to the harmony of love. The professor is known to have owned at least six portraits of himself, painted, drawn, and engraved, including the 1659 print.

Naumann has tentatively proposed that the present painting, fully signed and dated 1665, also represents Sylvius; however, this identification cannot be supported. The inscription in the upper left corner of the present painting, “Aetatis 52,” which is repeated on the back of the panel, clearly gives the age of the sitter as fifty-two, but Sylvius would not reach that age until 15 March 1666. Moreover, the sitter does not resemble the man portrayed in Van Dalen’s 1659 engraving. Although the moustache and goatee are comparable, his face is narrower and his hair is less curly. Finally, the inventory of Sylvius’s estate lists all the paintings in his collection, including the family portraits, but this work is not among them.

The sitter’s rich black cloak, which typifies the man as a well-to-do burgher from Leiden, is brilliantly rendered, much to the liking of contemporary viewers (for more on this subject, see FM-110.a and FM-110.b). In its depiction of such vestments, the portrait is akin to Portrait of a Man of 1663 (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) and Portrait of Florentius Schuyl of 1666 (Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague). The simplicity and balance of the present painting is striking, as Van Mieris’s portraits of male sitters are usually somewhat labored. The backdrop of architecture with a classical ambience and a cloudy sky that Van Mieris introduced in this work adds to the sitter’s grandeur. In a similar manner, Van Mieris modeled the man’s elegant gesture on the portrait idiom of the Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck (1559–1641), whose famous series of portraits, the Iconographie, had been engraved in 1645.

- Quentin Buvelot, 2017
For further discussion about this artwork, see Leiden Fijnschilders and the Local Art Market in the Golden Age.
  • Probably Adam Gottlob, Count Moltke, Copenhagen; by inheritance to Frederik Christian Moltke van Bregentved, Copenhagen, until 1931 (Moltke sale, V. Winkel & Magnussen, Copenhagen, 1 June 1931, no. 85).
  • (Sale, Stockholm, Bukowski, 27 April 1955, no. 177).
  • (Sale, Paris, Drouot, Rieunier & Bailly-Pommery, 24 March 1999, no. 19, not sold; Paris, Drouot, Rieunier & Associés, 2 December 2002, no. 58 [Otto Naumann Ltd., New York, 2003].
  • From whom acquired by the present owner.
  • Catalogue des tableaux de la collection du comte de Moltke. Copenhagen, 1885, 25, no. 44.
  • Champlin, John Denison, and Charles C. Perkins, eds.  Cyclopedia of Painters and Paintings.  3 vols.  New York, 1887, 3:265.
  • Von Wurzbach, Alfred. Niederländisches Künstler-Lexikon: Auf Grund Archivalischer Forschungen Bearbeitet. 3 vols. Vienna and Liepzig, 1906–11, 2:165.
  • 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 translated by Edward G. Hawke. 8 vols. London, 1907–28, 10:77, no. 287. Originally published as Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten höllandischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907–28.
  • Naumann, Otto.  Frans van Mieris (1635–1681) the Elder. 2 vols.  Doornspijk, 1981, 1:70, 138, 2:78–79, no. 62.
  • Lunsingh Scheurleer, Theodoor Hermann, C. Willemijn Fock, A. J. van Dissel. Het Rapenburg: Geschiedenis van een Leidse gracht. 6 vols. Leiden, 1986–92, 3a: 291, 292, fig. 6, 353 n. 102.
  • Ekkart, Rudolf E.O.  “Leidse Burgers in Beeld: Portrettisten in Leiden van de late zestiende tot de vroege achttiende eeuw.”  In Het Rapenburg: Geschiedenis van een Leidse gracht. Edited by Theodoor Herman Lunsingh Scheurleer, Cornelia Willemijn Fock, and A.J. van Dissel. 6a:24–25. 6 vols. Leiden, 1986–92.
  • Sluijter, Eric Jan.“‘All striving to adorne their houses with costly peeces’: Two Case Studies of Paintings in Wealthy Onteriors.” In Art & Home: Dutch Interiors in the Age of Rembrandt. Edited by Mariët Westermann, 102–27, 228 no. 27. Exh. cat. Newark, Newark Museum; Denver, Denver Art Museum. Zwolle, 2001.
  • Buvelot, Quentin, Otto Naumann, and Eddy de Jongh. Frans van Mieris 1635–1681. Edited by Quentin Buvelot, 40, fig. 22, 41, 235, no. 62. Exh. cat. The Hague, Mauritshuis; Washington, National Gallery of Art. Zwolle, 2005.

The support, a single plank of vertically grained, rectangular-shaped oak, has bevels and wood shims adhered with brads along all four sides. The unthinned and uncradled panel has machine tool marks along the left side of the reverse but no wax collection seals, import stamps, labels or panel maker’s marks.

A light-colored ground is followed by a dark underlayer. The image was constructed with thin layers of transparent glazing through the background and somewhat thicker paint along the figure’s black cape, white collar, cuff, and proper right hand.

The painting is signed and dated in dark paint over the arched niche in the upper left corner. The upper edge of the AE written in ligature is cropped, which suggests the upper panel edge has been trimmed slightly.

No underdrawing or compositional changes are readily apparent in infrared images captured at 780–1000 nanometers or in the X-radiograph.

The painting was cleaned and restored in 2003 and remains in a good state of preservation.

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