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Portrait of a Thirty-Year-Old Man

Frans van Mieris (Leiden 1635 – 1681 Leiden)
oil on panel with arched top
23.5 x 16.8 cm
signed information

signed and dated in dark paint, center left, left of figure’s upper arm, AE in ligature: “AE T. 30 Fvan Mieris Ao 1669”

inventory number

Buvelot, Quentin. “Portrait of a Thirty-Year-Old Man and Portrait of a Twenty-Five-Year-Old Woman” (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).

In 1669 Cosimo III de’ Medici visited a number of painters in their studios as a part of his “grand tour” through the Northern Netherlands. In his travel journal he referred to three painters as being famous: Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69), Rembrandt’s pupil Gerrit Dou (1613–75), and Frans van Mieris, “pittore assai celebre.” Cosimo visited the latter artist in Leiden on 22 June 1669, the year Van Mieris executed these pendant portraits of an unknown couple, which are among the best portraits to have emerged from that important seventeenth-century artistic center.

Like most of his genre pieces, Van Mieris’s portraits are small and executed in a very refined technique. These pendant paintings, which have a long and distinguished provenance but whose whereabouts were unknown for more than half a century, are the only pair of his portraits of a husband and his wife that has not been separated over the course of time (see FM-109). The two panels show Van Mieris’s great qualities as a portraitist. We see a young couple (according to the inscriptions, “At. 30” and “AET. 25,” the husband was 30 and his wife five years his junior) standing in the open air before a dwelling in a parklike setting. That they belong to the upper classes is evident from their expensive clothing. He is dressed in a fashionable Japonse rok with lace chemise, while she wears a white and red silk dress decorated with red bows. Her hands, neck and hair all are decorated with expensive strands of small pearls, and the large wedding ring on her pinky finger can hardly be missed.

The poses are remarkably lively and interrelated: the man leans on the balustrade in a relaxed manner and gazes at his wife who turns slightly toward him while looking out at the spectator. In the garden behind the man, a sculpture, probably depicting Venus, the goddess of love, is a counterpoint to the sculpture of Cupid with his arrow behind the woman. This juxtaposition of pictorial elements suggests that a loving bond exists between the spouses. She smiles enigmatically, holding her hand on her belly, as if to suggest she is with child. Indeed, the gesture can be linked to a Dutch expression of “pushing one’s apron to a side,” meaning to be pregnant.

The arrangement of these pendants, with the husband placed on his wife’s left, is traditional for such a pairing, an approach from which Van Mieris departed four years later when he painted another set of pendants depicting a married couple (see FM-109). These four panels are the only pendant portraits by Van Mieris that are still extant. Despite the different orientation in the two sets, many similarities exist in Van Mieris’s approach. In both sets of paintings, the man gazes at his wife, while she looks at the viewer. They also share a similar contrast between the dress of the male, who wears a comfortable Japonse rok, and that of the female, who is decked out in a satin dress with many ribbons.

Contemporary viewers would have admired the exquisite rendering of virtually every conceivable texture in these paintings, especially the various fabrics of the figures’ clothing. When the French connoisseur and scholar-diplomat Balthasar de Monconys (1611–65) visited Leiden on 13 August 1663, he met “ce fameux Peintre Mirris” (this famous painter Mieris). In his travel journal, De Monconys extolled the red velvet cloak of the woman in Van Mieris’s Doctor’s Visit (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles) and noted that her cream-colored satin dress was executed so well that it looks real: “si bien faits qu’on eust assuré que c’estoit de l’estoffe.” In 1675 Joachim von Sandrart (1606–88), describing The Cloth Shop (Gemäldegalerie, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), the subject of which is germane to this theme, emphasized that the painter had depicted a wide range of fabrics and done so with total conviction. In order to render convincingly shimmering fabrics such as satin, Van Mieris applied extremely fine, fluid brushstrokes with infinite patience, to convey folds, gleams of light, or reflections. It is in fact the subtle rendering of the light reflected by the different fabrics that makes them so convincing, almost tactile. The painter’s great eye for detail is also evident from the small chips in the stone balustrade that he depicted with the utmost care.

Only four names of those depicted in Van Mieris’s 20 extant portraits can be identified with some certainty, but these sitters indicate the prominent status of his clientele. The earliest identifiable portrait is the striking depiction of Ulrik Frederik Gyldenløve, a Danish count who visited Leiden briefly in 1662. The other known sitters are all important Leiden citizens: Agatha Paets, whom Van Mieris portrayed in 1665, was the wife of Cornelis Paets (1636–94), who served several terms as burgomaster of Leiden and was an important client of the artist; Florentius Schuyl (1619–69), a Leiden professor whom Van Mieris portrayed in 1666, this time painted on copper; and, finally, Franciscus de le Boë Sylvius (1614–72), a professor of chemistry and medicine, and his second wife, Margareta Lucretia Schlezer (see FM-104), who sat for a double portrait by the artist in 1672 ().

The names of the sitters in most of Van Mieris’s portraits are unknown because, as is the case here, identifications were often omitted at public sales of family pieces. Buyers were interested more in acquiring a “Van Mieris” than in knowing who was represented, particularly once the paintings left Leiden. The history of Van Mieris’s portrait of Jacob van Heemskerck (1643–64), which the artist probably made in 1663, exemplifies the fate of a number of his portraits. The doors covering that portrait were removed in 1771 when the painting was sold at auction, likely because the doors displayed a family a coat of arms and the sellers did not want this information known. Making things more difficult, in the past the provenance of the portrait of Jacob van Heemskerk was confused with that of the male portrait discussed here, in part because both paintings are executed on panels of the same size. Whether or not the present pendant paintings once had covering doors is not known, but without identifying coats of arms it is unlikely that the identities of these charming sitters can be determined.

- Quentin Buvelot, 2017
  • Gerard Bicker, Lord of Swieten, The Hague, by 1738 (his sale, The Hague, 12 April 1741, nos. 60 and 61 [for 105 florins]).
  • Probably Gerret Braamcamp, Amsterdam (his sale, Van der Schley, de Bosch, Ploos van Amstel, de Winter and Yver, Amsterdam, 31 July 1771, no. 136 [Ploos van Amstel for 54 florins]).
  • Cornelis Ploos van Amstel, Amsterdam, 1771.
  • Possibly Simon Stinstra, Haarlem (his sale, Amsterdam, 26 March 1783, no. 82 [Fouquet for 30 florins]).
  • [Pieter Fouquet, Amsterdam].
  • Charles-Ferdinand, Duc de Berry, Paris, before 1820.
  • His widow, Marie-Caroline de Bourbon, Duchesse de Berry, Galerie du Palais l’Elysee Bourbon, Paris, 1820–37 (put up for sale in London, 17 April 1834, nos. 76 and 78, not sold; sale Paillet, Paris, 4–6 April 1837, nos. 66 and 67 [Prince Demidoff for 4,200 and 5,250 francs, respectively]).
  • Anatole N. Demidoff, Prince of San Donato (1812–70), Florence, by 1837 (his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 18 April 1868, nos. 7 and 8 [Madame de Caussin for 10,700 francs]).
  • Adèle Caussin, “Madame la Marquise Landolfo Carcano” (1831–1921), Paris, 1868–1912 (her sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 30 May 1912, nos. 164 and 165 [Baron Cassel van Doorn for 15,200 francs]).
  • Baron Cassel van Doorn, Brussels, by 1912.
  • Collection of Mrs. Jacobs, New York.
  • Collection of H. Moser, Berlin and Aerdenhout (his sale, Mensing, Amsterdam, 9 April 1940, no. 719 [for 3,600 florins]).
  • Private collection, Netherlands; by inheritance to the son of this Dutch couple, until 2003.
  • [Marina Aarts, Amsterdam, 2003; Bijl-van Urk, B. V., Alkmaar, 2003].
  • From whom acquired by the present owner.
  • London, Messrs. Christie, Manson and Woods, “Catalogue of the Matchless Collection of Dutch and Flemish Pictures of His Late Royal Highness the Duke de Berri,” April 1834, 36, nos. 76 and 78.
  • Haarlem, Frans Hals Museum, “Winter-tentoonstelling van oude kunst uit particulier bezit,” 20 January–14 February 1940, 6, nos. 43 and 44.
  • Laren, Singer Museum, “Kunstbezit rondom Laren, 13de–20ste eeuw: Schilderijen-beeldhouwwerken,” 3 July–31 August 1958, 28, nos. 112 and 113.
  • 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. 24 [lent by the present owner].
  • Hoet, Gerard, and Pieter Terwesten.  Catalogus of naamlyst van schilderyen, met derzelver pryzen, zedert een langen reeks van jaaren zoo.  3 vols.  The Hague, 1752–70, 2:16, nos. 60–61.
  • Catalogue of the Matchless Collection of Dutch and Flemish Pictures of His Late Royal Highness the Duke de Berri. London 1834, 36, nos. 76 and 78.
  • Smith, John.  A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters.  9 vols.  London, 1829–42, 1: 71; suppl., 1842, 9:49–50, nos. 50 and 51.
  • 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, 10: 83, no. 307, 89, no. 330. 8 vols. London, 1907–28. Originally published as Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der   hervorragendsten höllandischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen, 1907–28.
  • Bille, Clara.  De Tempel der Kunst of het Kabinet van den Heer Braamcamp.  2 vols.  Amsterdam, 1961, 2:106, no. 136.
  • Naumann, Otto.  Frans van Mieris (1635–1681) the Elder. 2 vols.  Doornspijk, 1981, 1: 139 n. 253; 2:88–89, nos. 73 and 74.
  • 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 Hermann Lunsingh Scheurleer, Cornelia Willemijn Fock, and A.J. Van Dissel, 6a: 25. 10 vols.  Leiden, 1986–92.
  • Buvelot, Quentin, Otto Naumann, and Eddy de Jongh. Frans van Mieris 1635–1681. Edited by Quentin Buvelot, 40–41, figs. 23 and 24, 235, nos. 73–74. Exh. cat. The Hague, Mauritshuis; Washington, National Gallery of Art. Zwolle, 2005.
  • Weller, Dennis P. Small Treasures: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and Their Contemporaries. Exh. cat. Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art; Birmingham, Birmingham Museum of Art. Raleigh, 2014, 138-41, no. 24.

The support, a single plank of vertically grained and vertically oriented rectangular oak with an arched upper edge, has bevels on all four sides and a shim glued along the lower edge.

The unthinned and uncradled panel has machine toolmarks along the right bevel, one red wax collection seal with a crisp impression of an octagonal-shaped starburst (similar to the impression on the seal on the panel reverse of the companion portrait FM-110.b), remnants of additional red wax, and an old paper label identifying J. C. Verhoeven as having restored the painting in 1949. Vertical scrapes expose light-colored wood below the restorer’s label (similar to the scrapes on the panel reverse of the companion portrait FM-110.b), but there are no import stamps, stencils or panel maker’s marks.

The paint is applied over a smooth light-colored ground in successive thin layers with low brushmarking and transparent glazing. Visible strokes of brushwork occur along the folds of the figure’s white shirt, jacket and sash, as well as along the balustrade. Lively brushwork is found through the upper third of the sky and to the left of the tree.

The painting is signed and dated in dark paint to the left of the figure’s upper arm.

No underdrawing is readily apparent in infrared images captured at 780–1000 nanometers. Compositional changes revealed in the images include a slight shift to the left of the vertical architectural element behind the figure’s head, which was originally located above the part in the figure’s hair.

The painting, which was cleaned and restored in 2003 and revarnished in 2009, remains in an excellent state of preservation.

Versions and Copies

  1.  Oil on panel, 22 x 16.5 cm, sale, A. Wollenberg, Berlin, Lepke, 17 March 1932, no. 202, probably identical with the painting that appeared at sale, Sotheby’s, Amsterdam, 22 May 1990, no. 91, Sotheby’s, Amsterdam, 12 May 1992, no. 20, bought in, and Sotheby’s, Amsterdam, 7 May 1993, no. 62; Otto Naumann, Frans van Mieris (1635–1681) the Elder, 2 vols. (Doornspijk, 1981), no. 73a.
  2. Oil on panel, 22 x 17 cm, sale, Spitzer et al., Luzern, Fischer, 10 May 1939, no. 1595 and fig. Tafel 31; Otto Naumann, Frans van Mieris (1635–1681) the Elder, 2 vols. (Doornspijk, 1981), no. 73b.
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