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Portrait of the Artist in His Studio

Michiel van Musscher (Rotterdam 1645 – 1705 Amsterdam)
oil on panel
37.4 x 28.6 cm
inventory number

Van Tuinen, Ilona. “Portrait of the Artist in His Studio” (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 April 16, 2024).

The young Michiel van Musscher sits in his workshop and looks straight at the viewer with supreme self-confidence. He is fashionably dressed in a brown velvet beret and a purplish brown, satin Japonse rok tied around his waist with a pink, patterned silk scarf. His eyebrows are slightly raised and his lips are parted, as though he is preparing to engage in conversation with us. In his right hand he holds a palette, brushes, and a mahlstick, whereas his left hand is partially raised in a rhetorical gesture, directing the viewer to an exquisite display of objects on a narrow stone ledge in front of him: an open watch attached to a pink ribbon, a blue sheet of paper partially revealing a washed drawing of a female nude, a tattered sketchbook, an open book with geometrical drawings resting on a large, closed book, and a celestial globe. In the background, in an opening framed by the figure on the left and a rich tapestry hanging on the right, is an easel standing by a window and containing an unfinished painting with three figures.

This early painting by Van Musscher is executed with an astounding level of detail, and foreshadows the artist’s interest in depicting different fabrics, which would come to full development in his late career. Van Musscher achieved the glistening quality of the satin rok, possibly the actual “paerse sautijne Japonse Rock” listed in Van Musscher’s posthumous 1705 inventory, by applying highlights along the folds of the garment with a thick brush (), and by offsetting the rok against the finely painted bare floorboards behind him. He also achieved a remarkable realism in the tapestry, especially in the extraordinary detail of the slightly frayed edges, by alternating short, opaque brushstrokes with tiny dots to simulate the weave pattern (). The care Van Musscher took to depict his objects down to the most minute details is particularly evident in the open book, which has been identified as two pages from the 1555 Dutch edition of Sebastiano Serlio’s (1475–1554) famous treatise Tutte l’opere d’architecttura et prospetiva. These pages explain how to draw an octagonal shape in perspective (). The globe showing a hint of the star sign Ursa Major has been executed with such precision that it has been identified as the celestial globe engraved by Pieter van den Keere (1571–ca. 1646) after a design by the Dutch astronomer and cartographer Petrus Plancius (1552–1622) of around 1625 ().

Although the painting is unsigned and undated, an old and now illegible inscription on the back of the panel once read: Pinxit 1673 [or 1683]. Around 1932 this work was attributed to Van Musscher on an RKD (Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie/Netherlands Institute for Art History) photo mount, an attribution that was generally, though not unanimously, adopted in the literature. It does seem certain, however, that Van Musscher painted this self-portrait. The figure’s facial features, especially the prominent, straight nose and almond-shaped eyes, are consistent with those in the artist’s signed self-portraits, as, for instance, his 1679 Self-Portrait in Rotterdam () and his 1685 Self-Portrait in Amsterdam (). Moreover, Serlio’s book and Plancius’s celestial globe also appear in Van Musscher’s Rotterdam painting. Finally, the execution of the painting is consistent with that seen in Van Musscher’s other works. The handling of the shimmering silk and the almost porcelain-like flesh tones, for example, are comparable to those in Van Musscher’s 1687 pendant portraits of Pieter Ranst Valckenier and Eva Suzanna Pellicorne, (see MM-102.a–b).

If, as seems probable, Van Musscher indeed executed this painting in 1673, he would have been at that time 28 years old. He was just starting his successful career as one of the most important portraitists in Amsterdam. It has been suggested that the young artist created this painting to showcase his abilities as a portraitist and as a craftsman who could realistically render the materials and textures of the world around him. In doing so, Van Musscher apparently took as his model one of Gerrit Dou’s most famous and important self-portraits, which the Leiden master had painted some eight years earlier in ca. 1665 (). The two compositions are remarkably similar, especially the postures of the artists, the manner in which they hold their palettes, and the views into the studio with its easel. In each work, moreover, a tapestry is elegantly draped from the upper edge of the composition. The two paintings are also thematically related; neither artist is dressed in a painter’s smock, but rather in an upper-class wardrobe that suggests his erudition: Dou in the fur tabbaard worn by scholars in his day, and the younger Van Musscher in a modern, fashionable rok. This theme of the intellectual artist is reinforced in both paintings by the presence of the globe and the books. At the same time, by including an open watch Van Musscher was also touching upon the concept of vanitas, he was perhaps hinting that his art will triumph over his own mortality.

The fact that the book and the globe in this self-portrait are identifiable sets this work apart from Dou’s self-representations. The Leiden master depicted books and globes generically for their symbolic value. By specifically including Serlio’s book and Plancius’s celestial globe, Van Musscher asserted the full range of his artistic expertise, which included a command of perspective and an ability to render abstract concepts. The drawing directly under the book emphasizes his skills as a draughtsman. The ultimate testimony to Van Musscher’s talents is, however, provided by the actual painting’s beautiful execution, which is every bit as impressive as the expertise suggested by the painted objects.

- Ilona van Tuinen, 2017
  • (Possibly sale, Johan van der Marck Aegidiusz, Amsterdam, 25 August 1773, no. 464, as by Dominicus van Tol [to Fouquet for 200 guilders]).
  • Possibly Comte Du Barry (his sale, 21 November 1774, no. 70, as by Dominicus van Tol [to Langlier for 656 livres]).
  • Unknown collection, Russia.
  • [Dr. Curt Benedict, Charlottenburg, Berlin, by June 1932.]
  • [Otto Naumann Ltd., New York, by 1997.]
  • Bert van Deun, Oberageri, Switzerland; by descent to his widow [Otto Naumann Ltd., New York, 2004].
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2004.
  • Amsterdam, Museum van Loon, “Michiel van Musscher (1645–1705): The Wealth of the Golden Age,” 9 March–10 June 2012 [lent by the present owner].
  • Charlottesville, VA, University of Virginia, Fralin Museum of Art, “A Portrait of the Artist, 1525–1825,” January–June 2015 [lent by the present owner].
  • The Hague, Mauritshuis, “Dutch Self-Portraits: Selfies of the Golden Age,” 8 October 2015–3 January 2016 [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].
  • Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 28 March 2018–22 July 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 5 September 2018–13 January 2019 [lent by the present owner].
  • Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi, “Rembrandt, Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age. Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre,” 14 February–18 May 2019 [lent by the present owner].
  • Van Hall, Hermine. Portretten van Nederlandse Beeldende Kunstenaars. Amsterdam, 1963, 223, no. 6.
  • Van Thiel, Pieter J. J. “Michiel van Musscher’s vroegste werk naar aanleiding van zijn portret van het echtpaar Comans.” Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum 17 (1969): 33 n. 21, no. 4.
  • Van Thiel, Pieter J. J. “Andermaal Michiel van Musscher: zijn zelfportretten.” Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum 22 (1974): 147 n. 10, as probably not by Michiel van Musscher.
  • Raupp, Hans-Joachim. Untersuchungen zu Künstlerbildnis und Künstlerdarstellung in den Niederlanden im 17. Jahrhundert. Hildesheim and New York, 1984, 292.
  • Russell, Margarita. “The Artist in His Studio: A Self-Portrait by Michiel van Musscher.” Apollo 127 (1988): 13, 15, no. 6.
  • Gerhardt, Robert E. “Biography: The Man and the Artist.” In Michiel van Musscher (1645–1705): The Wealth of the Golden Age. Edited by Robert E. Gerhardt, Tonko Grever, and Francis Griep-Quint, 12–15. Exh. cat. Amsterdam, Museum van Loon. Zwolle, 2012.
  • Jonker, Michiel. “Tapijtenkoning.” Museumtijdschrift 2 (2012): 48–50.
  • Te Rijdt, Robert Jan. “Het toeval helpt een beetje: Tibout Regters—Jan Verkolje—Dominicus van Tol.” In Face Book: Studies on Dutch and Flemish Portraiture of the 16th–18th Centuries: Liber Amicorum Presented to Rudolf E. O. Ekkart on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday. Edited by Edwin Buijsen, Charles Dumas, and Volker Manuth, 469–72, fig. 7, as by Dominicus van Tol. Leiden, 2012.
  • Van Suchtelen, Ariane, and Diane Webb. Dutch Self-Portraits of the Golden Age. Exh. cat. The Hague, Mauritshuis. Zwolle, 2015, 104–5, cat. no. 21.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Portrait of the Artist in His Studio.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 146; 187, no. 63. 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, 152–53.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara and Alexa McCarthy. “Portrait of the Artist in His Studio.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 146–47; 239–40, no. 40. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina. Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “The Leiden Collection and the Dutch Golden Age.” In Rembrandt, Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age. Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre. Edited by Blaise Ducos and Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 25, 28. Exh. cat. Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi. London, 2019. [Exhibition catalogue also published in French and Arabic.]
  • Blanc, Jan. “Being Modern, Being Dutch: The Seventeenth-Century Invention of the Golden Age.” In Rembrandt, Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age. Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre. Edited by Blaise Ducos and Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 42. Exh. cat. Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi. London, 2019. [Exhibition catalogue also published in French and Arabic.]
  • Ducos, Blaise, and Lara Yeager-Crasselt, eds. Rembrandt, Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age. Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre. Exh. cat. Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi. London, 2019, 54, 116, no. 45. [Exhibition catalogue also published in French and Arabic.]
  • Lores-Chavez, Isabella. “Plaster Casts in the Life and Art of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Painters.” PhD diss., Columbia University, 2022, 170; 360, fig. 3.43.

The support is a single plank of vertically grained, rectangular, wedge-shaped oak with bevels along all four sides. The unthinned and uncradled panel has machine toolmarks, a red wax seal, an import stamp, a label remnant, and various handwritten inscriptions, including an illegible three-line handwritten ink inscription previously wet out with varnish, but no stencils or panel maker’s mark.

A dark brown-colored radio-opaque ground has been thinly and evenly applied, followed by oil paint smoothly applied with extremely fine detail that includes strokes of dots and dashes to create the illusion of the tapestry pile and fringe and no use of impasto. 

The X-radiograph reveals two significant compositional changes made during the paint stage and a number of minor shifts in positions of objects. The two significant changes are as follows. First, originally the upper edge of the painting had been painted as a continuous arch, which formed an architectural niche; the left side of the arch remains visible, whereas a tapestry swag added to the upper and right edges obscures the right side of the arch. Second, the open book on perspective lying on a closed leather-bound book was added. Originally a rolled document, oriented parallel to the lower panel edge, lay on the cover of the closed leather-bound book.

The figure drawing on blue paper was added after the sheet of white paper lying directly on the table had been completed. The left edge of the sheet of white paper was shifted to the right, and the corner hanging over the table edge was changed from one that formed a right angle to one with an indented notch. The figure’s proper right hand has been raised and shifted away from the figure’s body. The angle of the mahlstick in the figure’s proper left hand has been lowered. Originally, the tip of the mahlstick was closer to the paintbrushes and the angle of the stick had been more parallel to the brushes. Lastly, the figure’s face is particularly radio-opaque and the wisps of hair along the figure’s forehead are not visible in the X-radiograph at all.

No underdrawing is readily apparent in infrared images captured at 780–1000 nanometers. The images reveal the rolled document was originally depicted resting on the cover of the closed leather-bound book, and the positions of the palette and the figure’s thumb have been shifted slightly forward, away from the figure’s body (similar to the shift of the proper right hand visible in the X-radiograph).

The painting is unsigned and undated although the illegible inscription along the reverse may include a date of 1673.

The painting was cleaned and restored in 1996 prior to its acquisition in 2004 and remains in an excellent state of preservation regardless of areas of thinness through the background.

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