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Title

: Michael Sweerts, Boy Copying the Head of a Roman Emperor

Author

Malcom R. Waddingham

Date

1976

Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
To some connoisseurs the authorship of many paintings is quickly discernible; to others, certain pictures set swift images and analogies darting through the mind in quest of the elusive master. With the Boy Copying the Head of a Roman Emperor (figure 1) as a test, and shutting the eye to the monogram on the circular tray on the floor (this would spoil the game for an honest player) we find the canvas slipping into our second category, where stylistic echoes and hints abound. The child, with charcoal and chalk between his fingers, sits before a plaster cast derived from antique sculpture and draws it on a slightly convex panel resting on a worn book on his knees. His plump unblemished face, its freshness subtly enhanced by contrast with the inanimate grayness of the bust, is at once redolent of Gerard ter Borch; the latter's small picture, Boy Searching for Fleas in His Dog (Alte Pinakothek, Munich) flits into memory (figure 2). But would this artist have wanted to underline so sensitively the contrast between an innocent childish face and the bloated head of an emperor? The coarse facial expression of the sculpture is explicable when the features are recognized as those of one of the successors of Nero: Vitellius, the ruler famed for gluttony and vice. The juxtaposition with all its insinuations touches lightly on a moral theme, unusual for ter Borch; and would he have been inclined to depict a student learning his art by copying a classical object? At this point art historical knowledge intervenes.Seventy years ago, several paintings attributed to ter Borch were correctly switched to a virtually forgotten artist whose early experiences in Rome—colored by knowledge of the earthy street-life scenes of Pieter van Laer, and transmuted by respect for antique art—often marked his figure compositions with affectedly classical strains.1 The allusion is to Michael Sweerts, and confirmation of his authorship of the Boy Copying the Head of a Roman Emperor appears in the neat letters on the container behind the crisply drawn roll of paper, close to the clipped wings used by the student to flick the charcoal dust and chalk from the panel.2To those familiar with the works of northern artists living in Italy during the seventeenth century, the name of Sweerts conjures up a number of pictures produced by him in Rome (some of them still in collections in that city) which may not at first glance be easy to equate stylistically with the Minneapolis example. One has only to recall the Peasant Woman Spinning in the Pinacoteca Capitolina and the monogrammed A Woman at Her Toilet from the Accademia di San Luca.3 With their invasive shadows both betray the vibrant warmth of the south, and this Italian atmosphere is intensified by the vivid splashes of white in the costumes, relieving the darkness. In the Boy Copying the Head of a Roman Emperor there is no blatant evidence of Sweerts having spent time in Italy: the indications are subdued and delicate, which in itself is worthy of note.With the name of the master found, it does not follow that every painting will reveal new facets of his art and activity, but the value of this recently discovered masterpiece consists partly in the way it throws fresh light on details of Sweerts's career and chronology after his return from Italy to the Netherlands, a period not lacking in problems. To appreciate this aspect of the picture, and how and why it may differ in style and poetic quality from other works by him, an outline of Sweerts's enigmatic life and some knowledge of the man are requisite.4Until very recently, it was believed that Sweerts was born in 1624; research has now revealed that this son of David Sweerts, a linen merchant, and Martina Ballu was baptized on 29 September 1618 in the Catholic church of Saint Nicolas in Brussels.5 Despite his obvious ability to paint by the time he arrived in Rome, nothing is known of his artistic preparation, when or where it began, nor of his movements until as late as 1646. In Easter of that year he was recorded, not in Flanders, but in the parochial registers of Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome. On 7 October of this same year he is cited in the minutes of the Academy of St. Luke as functioning as an “aggregato” (an unofficial assistant) involved in collecting contributions for the feast of St. Luke.6 It is not unlikely that he subsequently became a member of this institution.7 He is also mentioned in another document as having connections with members of the Virtuosi al Pantheon, a fraternity made up mostly of artists with ideals of charity and the glorification of the Catholic faith; no concrete proof exists that he was ever himself a member.References to Sweerts living from 1646 to 1651 in the Via Margutta (the street famous as a residential quarter for foreign artists), and two pictures, The Studio of an Artist in the Institute of Arts, Detroit, and Tric-Trac Players from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, both signed and dated 1652 Rome, prove that he was there in those years. His sojourn in the city, while no longer documented, may have continued until 1654.8Sweerts's stay in Italy is the most amply recorded period of his life, and it undoubtedly affected him deeply in vision and aims. Consequently, some knowledge of his methods there contributes to an understanding of his achievement in the more Northern Boy Copying the Head of a Roman Emperor, first because this was by no means the primary occasion on which he had depicted an artist at work. Already towards the beginning of his career in Rome, Sweerts had represented a contemporary draughtsman in An Artist Copying Bernini's Neptune and Triton at the Villa Montalto (Boymans Museum, Rotterdam).9 How a painter prepared himself, not just in the studio but in the open air, intrigued him from the outset, as is shown by further pictures like The Artist Sketching by a Fountain, in a private collection, Rome,10 and An Artist Drawing with Beggar Approaching, formerly in Dr. C. A. van Hees's Collection, Reewijk.11 The repeated choice of this subject must have reflected a preoccupation with his own approach to painting, and one wonders if the seated artist in the last example can be read as a self-portrait.Without some sympathy for the earlier art of Pieter van Laer, “il Bamboccio,” who reduced the relatively life-size naturalism of Caravaggio to a much more diminutive scale for describing the humble side of Rome, Sweerts would not have painted initially as he did.12 His gradual fusion of light into darkness and the pathetic element in the shadows go back to van Laer. At the same time, the 1652 Studio of an Artist now in Detroit and The Inn Interior with Properties of a Painter's Studio in a Roman private collection,13 with their abundance of gesso casts, demonstrate Sweerts's fascination with antique sculpture. So it is not surprising that many characters in his earlier and subsequent paintings quietly reflect classical postures.Sweerts's reaction to antithetical traditions, the classical one and the naturalistic, less idealized bambocciante movement, cannot be properly construed in terms of ambivalence. The problem is subtler and may be explained in the following way.No proof exists of Sweerts having a master in Brussels or Rome. If he was thus free of external discipline, he may have responded intensely to varied types of beauty and been left, belonging to no specific school, with the task of blending in an individual fashion—not always successfully—two different attitudes. The pictorial challenge cannot have been a simple one, and it may well have provoked moments of anguish. In many of his figures, especially those focused in the sunlight and distinct from companions in the shade, a mood of detachment and melancholy prevails. This feeling may well reflect something of Sweerts's personal creative situation.Returning to Brussels from Italy in or after 1652, Sweerts possibly passed through Paris; this would explain his probable knowledge of the work of the Le Nain brothers. Back home we first hear of him in 1656 planning to found a drawing school, an “academie van die teeckeninghen naer het leven.” This idea of starting a private school in Brussels was surely influenced by Italian practice, going back to prototypes like Baccio Bandinelli's 1531 Accademia in Belvedere, Rome, and on 3 April Sweerts received permission from the magistrature to open one. At the same time he produced and signed there a set of original etchings to be used as models for teaching young people how to draw. The young student absorbed in Vitellius may well have been taught by this method prior to copying casts. Sweerts was again operating in an original way: it was rare for an individual to organize an academy, even of brief duration, and there is good reason to believe that it may have been part of a serious endeavor to stimulate apprentices to work for private patrons in portraiture and also to encourage their employment on cartoons for the tapestry industry.Nothing in Sweerts's life is entirely simple; problems remain even when documents attest his movements, and this is true of his post-Italian Netherlandish period. In 1659 he entered the Brussels Guild of Painters, and in the following year appears to have given them a self-portrait. Mention of his presence in the city from 1656 to 1661 has nonetheless to be accorded with presumptions, based on analyses of style made by several art historians, of a visit to Amsterdam about 1658, and before his definite residence there in 1661. It may well be that scholarly speculation is rivaling that of the subject of the studies in complexity. First, if Bartholomeus van der Helst's influence on Sweerts's portraiture has not been considerably exaggerated, it is probable that works by this Dutch artist could be seen in Flanders. With this in mind there is no absolute reason for accepting the undated Portrait of a Painter from the Allen Memorial Museum, Oberlin,14 or any other work with so-called Dutch echoes, as evidence that the artist lived in Amsterdam in 1659.15 On the other hand, it has to be said that the distance between Brussels and Amsterdam was not considerable, and Sweerts, who knew Dutchmen in Rome, could have visited Holland briefly and more than once without any lengthy stay before 1661.In this context, an underestimation of his passionately held religious beliefs can easily distort the shape of his movements, while some understanding of them—and we are aided by mention of him in sacerdotal writings—clarifies to some degree the ultimate years of his life. In 1660 Sweerts is first mentioned in the archives of the Société des Missions Etrangères, a Catholic missionary group founded in Paris for proselytization in the Far East. According to the diary of a Lazarist priest connected with this society, he, together with a French Franciscan lay brother called de Chameson, met Sweerts (who had recently joined the mission) in Amsterdam in the middle of 1661. We learn that the artist “ate no meat, fasted almost every day, slept on a hard floor, gave money to the poor, and took communion three or four times a week.” The Lazarist, moreover, considered him “one of the greatest, if not the greatest painter in the world.” More acute was his note that Sweerts was “a remarkable person, in whom he believed he could discern fanatical religious traits.”16When the ship built in Amsterdam for a missionary voyage to the Orient sank on its maiden trail in December, 1660, it is fair to speculate, considering Sweerts's fanaticism, that he traveled to Amsterdam at that time to commiserate or help; or that he visited Holland a year or two before this disaster during the time the vessel was being constructed. What is definitely known is that the bishop of Heliopolis, Francis Pallu, the superior of the missionary enterprise, left Paris for Marseilles on 8 November 1661 with Sweerts as a lay brother in his group. Towards the end of December in Marseilles the artist did a portrait of the bishop (now lost) before their departure for the East on 2 January 1662. After due warning at Aleppo in Syria where Sweerts, oblivious to climate and considerations of health, had successfully produced some paintings but had offended his companions, Pallu reluctantly asked him to leave the mission at Tabriz in Persia, where they had arrived in June. Pallu wrote of the episode, “I do not think that the mission was the right place for him, nor he the right man for the mission.” But even after this expulsion, Pallu in referring to the escapades of Sweerts still mentioned that he had “many merits and his virtue constitutes for me a constant reproach and a spur to march on without surcease.” Because of illness and death, only four of the ten missionaries who set out with the bishop arrived at Aynthia in Siam, the advance base of the mission.From 1662 to 1664, almost nothing is known of Sweerts's life, except that he visited a settlement of Portuguese Jesuits on the west coast of India, and apparently died at Goa in 1664.17 Unfortunately, none of his paintings done after he left Europe is known to survive.18With Sweerts the man and his function as an artist we are confronted with a spiritual outlook that provoked turbulent grapplings with his subjective human weaknesses. Both factors, his personality and his art, were interrelated, but their fusion and dispersion must surely have given to some of the characters in his paintings a touch of sadness, ephemerality, silence and pensiveness. It may be that as a reply to the transience of life Sweerts reacted more than most artists by frequently expressing with his brush, consciously or unconsciously, autobiographical elements of his career, whether in Rome, at home in Brussels, or in Amsterdam. The difficulty is to read these fugitive hints correctly. If we could be certain that the School of Art in the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, was carried out in Holland, as Kultzen assumed—and it is indeed simpler, in the Dutch manner, than the more classical and elegantly tiled Studio of a Painter in the Rijksmuseum, with its variety of casts after the antique—this would certainly help to clarify the place in his chronology of the Minneapolis Boy Copying the Head of a Roman Emperor, and set it in 1661, his last year in Amsterdam.The student is seated on a low stool in the corner of an unpretentious room; the unusually steep rise of the floor (significantly similar in angle to that in the Haarlem School of Art, but delicately modified by the horizontal graining of the timber and the partition of the planks), the table too small for the size of the bust, and the restrained bourgeois simplicity of the neophyte artist's shoes and clothes—all these elements denote Holland more than Catholic Flanders. An Amsterdam origin would also explain Sweerts's sensitivity to ter Borch in the fineness of the youth's complexion and the shine of his hair. Nor would it be difficult to imagine this child among the draughtsmen, at a later phase of his training, copying the naked model posed on the platform in the center of the Haarlem School of Art.Since Sweerts conceived several paintings of artists busy in their studios, the question arises: did he make any other version of this Boy Copying the Head of a Roman Emperor? With the present knowledge of his oeuvre the answer remains in the negative; it is worth noting, however, that an almost identical cast of Vitellius, but with the scalp intact (for Sweerts the harshly damaged skull of a reprobate may have had a symbolic meaning), occurs in a Seated Youth Drawing (figure 3) by Wallerant Vaillant in the Louvre and in another version in the National Gallery, London.19 Coincidence in art is never impossible, yet the profiled view of this boy studying his book of drawings is not unrelated to Sweerts's child assiduously copying the bust. Since a picture of a similar subject by Vaillant is signed and dated 1658 when he was in Frankfort,20 and the London and Paris examples were undoubtedly painted earlier, it is hard to know if any direct relationship existed between Sweerts and Vaillant, apart from their common roots in Flemish culture. That there probably was is suggested by the fact that Vaillant mezzotinted a portrait of Johannes Lingelbach by Sweerts, which has unfortunately been missing since the eighteenth century.21 Even so it is hazardous to guess at the true nature of this contact and at which of the two was indebted to the other.This same problem has helped to confuse, in my opinion, the answer to the authorship of the Young Draughtsman (formerly in the Cook Collection, Richmond), where the young man is copying a Battle Scene by Palamedes Palamedesz. In a review of the Sweerts exhibition in Rotterdam,22 where it was exhibited under this artist's name, I suggested that Vaillant was the more appropriate attribution.23 In this particular instance, the artist was certainly as perceptive and skilled as Sweerts and it is without doubt his chef d'oeuvre.That Vaillant's interest in the theme of the artist at work continued, whether stimulated by Sweerts or independent of him, is proved by a further signed Young Draughtsman in the Museum of Fine Arts, Lille.24 Ultimately, what emerges from all these comparisons—above all from the more loaded composition and reflections of French culture in Vaillant's Lille version, surely executed between 1659 and 1665 during his Paris period—is an enhanced appreciation of Sweerts's sensibility and restraint in his interpretation now in Minneapolis. One has only to notice the way he cleverly avoids the monotony of a dark cloth hanging from the table by displaying the white sheets of an open book trapped beneath the base of the cast.Analysis of style and the search for analogies or possible sources should never become so pedantic as to divert attention from the intrinsic quality of a painting, especially when it is as evident as in the Boy Copying the Head of a Roman Emperor. Yet one Further point deserves some mention: Two Boys before an Easel (figure 4), in the London National Gallery,25 in my view justly ascribed to Jacques van Oost the Elder, includes a profile (the figure to the right) that has certain affinities to the draughtsman in the Sweerts. Except for the blunter, turned-up nose, the boy's chubby features and his concentration on the grisaille have much in common with the pupil caught in his rendering of the Vitellius bust. This is not to suggest that Sweerts was attempting to achieve something close to van Oost's head or was directly influenced by it, but just to point out that the elder painter, who had also passed several years in Italy, though somewhat earlier, could have foreshadowed or, it might be truer to say, matched the fresh, candid faces of Sweerts. The strict profile of the older boy before the easel is close in sentiment and immediacy of regard to some of the heads of Sweerts's Brussels and Amsterdam periods.26 There is of course no reason why the two painters should not have known each other: Bruges was not far from Brussels, and their common experience of Italy could have created a mutual sympathy. More important, however, is the recognition that both these men of Flemish blood often used a kindred language with inflections of attenuated Caravaggism. The Boy Copying the Head of a Roman Emperor makes clear the difference between their idioms, and the distinctions have significance.27 The Dutch intonations apparent in the child engrossed in Vitellius, and Sweerts's susceptibility to ter Borch's finesse in complexion and costume, stress the painting's origin in Amsterdam, just before Sweerts's departure for Marseilles and the Far East. This is supported by comparisons with other works ascribed to this time.The first that comes to mind is the Inn with Four Companions from the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, with the same horizontal grained planks of the floor and the figures seated in close proximity to the spectator.28 Little effort is made to define recession in linear terms, a technique used by Pieter de Hooch, who popularized such subjects; distance is suggested by a refined bambocciante interplay of light and shadow. The coloring and intimacy of this quickly caught moment of relaxation of very Dutch-looking adolescent drinkers is consonant with the child absorbed in his drawing of Vitellius. For comparable innocence of expression one also thinks of the Portrait of a Boy in the Groningen Museum.29 There is little difference in age and vulnerability to the world, and it is indicative too that this youngster, so evidently Dutch, was also once attributed, in 1907, to ter Borch.Admittedly, Sweerts had his fallibilities, sometimes undisguised in the fashion in which he composed his figures spatially in their environment; but in most cases he expressed the intrinsic, individual poetry of a moment through a single look or gesture. He was never reluctant to present the simplest incident in the sparest interior, as in A Mother Searching for Fleas in Her Child's hair (Musée des Beaux Arts, Strasbourg) and an Old Man Asleep and a Child (formerly Vitale Bloch Collection, The Hague).30Sweerts never married and in mature age may have known little of domestic family life. In paintings like these there is a sharp awareness of the uniqueness of an instant and a realization of being finally alone with oneself. It is this very insight that Sweerts has crystallized in the child lost in the drawing of Vitellius. The nature and essence of this message heighten for us the value of the recent acquisition of this late major work of Sweerts by The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. A second is snatched and kept clear across the centuries.Malcolm Waddingham, a graduate of Oxford University, spent six consecutive years studying European collections. He has written extensively on those seventeenth-century Netherlandish and German artists who visited Italy.Endnotes
  1. See W. Martin, “The Life of a Dutch Artist in the Seventeenth Century,” The Burlington Magazine, May and September 1905, pp. 125-128, 416-427; and his fundamental article, “Michiel Sweerts als schilder,” Oud Holland 25 (1907): 133-156, where he describes the artist's style: “zijn wijze can uitbeelden is Terborch-achtig deftig, kalm en voorzichtig,” (p. 142). It should be remembered that this scholar believed Sweerts was a Dutchman.
  2. Of just over a hundred paintings by Sweerts, no more than eleven are monogrammed or signed.
  3. These two paintings were exhibited in Michael Sweerts e i bamboccianti, Rome 1958, nos. 6, 8, figs. 7, 9. All catalog entries and illustrations of works included in the Sweerts exhibitions in Rotterdam and Rome refer in my notes to the Italian catalog.
  4. Sweerts is reputed to have spoken seven languages; this alone is enough to stimulate curiosity. C. Cerwoerd, “Michiel Sweerts een nederl. Kunstschilder uit de XVIIe aspirant broeder-missionaris,” Het Missiewerk 18 (1937): 166-68.
  5. For this correct date of birth and an account of his life see Didier Bodart, Les Peintres des Pays-Bas méridionaux et de la principauté de Liège à Rome au XVIIe siècle (Brussels/Rome, 1970), vol. 1, pp. 419-31. A very detailed record of his life by Rolf Kultzen (though with the erroneous year of his birth) is to be found in the 1958 Rotterdam/Rome exhibition catalogs.
  6. Melchoir Missirini, Memorie per servire alla storia della Romana Accademia di S. Luca (Rome, 1823), p. 472.
  7. But Sweerts never belonged to the Schildersbent, a seventeenth-century band of Netherlandish painters in Rome, who organized to protect their interests. For further knowledge of this group and its members, the Bentvueghels (birds of a flock), it is worth consulting G. J. Hoogewerff, De Bentvueghels (The Hague, 1952). This book also includes a useful brief English summary of the Dutch text.
  8. Sweerts acted as an agent for the Amsterdam silk merchant, Jan Deutz, and on 1 June 1651 received from him power of attorney to collect woolen goods from the Roman customs office. This connection was possibly helped by his father's trade as linen merchant. That some contact with the Deutz family continued is borne out by Sweerts's later execution of a portrait of a relative, Jeronimus Deutz (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), exhibition catalog no. 43, fig. 42.
  9. Exhibition catalog no. 3, fig. 3. For Bernini's marble fountain group refer to John Pope-Hennessy, Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, 1964), vol. 2, pp. 596-600, vol. 3, figs. 629-31, where Sweerts's picture is mentioned and the fanciful nature of the garden is noted.
  10. Exhibition catalog, no. 2, fig. 2.
  11. Ibid., no. 1, fig. 1.
  12. Pieter van Laer (Haarlem, 1599-1642) was in Rome from 1625 to 1638. As with Sweerts, nothing is known of the training or masters of this important and original Dutch master. In Rome he was called Bamboccio, a nickname ridiculing his deformed body. Bamboccio means a large fat child or an awkward or stupid person.
  13. Illustrated, Bodart, Peintres des Pays-Bas, vol. 2, fig. 235.
  14. The conjectural date of this portrait is the only basis for all the suppositions that Sweerts visited the city in 1658. Wolfgang Stechow, “Some Portraits by Michael Sweerts,” The Art Quarterly 14 (1951): 206-15, first elaborated this thesis, followed by Kultzen in his 1954 Hamburg dissertation on Sweerts and his Rotterdam/Rome exhibition catalog biography and entries, and followed by many later historians. Eckhard Schaar was one of the first to query these assumptions; see his review, “Michael Sweerts e i bamboccianti,” Kunstchronik (February 1959), pp. 41-44.
  15. This problem is aggravated by disparate suggestions for the chronology of other portraits. The only incontrovertible evidence, thanks to signature and date, is the 1656 Portrait of a Man in the Hermitage, Leningrad, which is illustrated in Vitale Bloch, Michael Sweerts (The Hague, 1968), fig. 19. Despite its Dutch intonations, the picture was undoubtedly painted in Brussels. In this same monograph, Bloch surprisingly places both the Rijksmuseum Portrait of Jeronimus Deutz and the Portrait of a Young Officer from a private collection, Dallas (fig. 24), in his Roman years, whereas both were surely conceived in the Netherlands, and possibly in Amsterdam. Bloch's dating of the portrait in the Wallace Collection, London (fig. 23), once attributed to Dujardin, is much more understandable as a rare example from this Roman period. To this must be added a Portrait of a Young Man (private collection, England), later cut into an octagonal format, which shows connections with van Laer's Self-portrait in the Pallavicini Gallery, Rome, and strong affinities with the one in the Uffizi, Florence. I shall publish this and other works by Sweerts in a forthcoming article.
  16. Stechow, “Some Portraits,” gives an excellent résumé of many of the details concerning Sweerts and the mission, which are derived from L. Baudiment, “F. Pallu, principal fondateur de la Societé des Missions Etrangères (1626-1684)” (Paris, 1934); and from C. Verwoerd, “Michiel Sweerts,” pp. 166-68. See too a short informative essay by Jean Guennou, “Sweerts et les missions étrangères,” which is included in Bloch, Michael Sweerts, pp. 94-97.
  17. See Adrian Launay, “Lettres de M. Pallu,” vol. 1, pp. 6-7; vol. 2, pp. 9, 331; but the source of this information is not acknowledged.
  18. Stechow believes the contrary (p. 212 ff.). His suggestion that one of the figures in Sweerts's Double Portrait from A. Schwarz's collection (ex. cat. no. 58, fig. 56) is a self-portrait and that the canvas was painted in Asia because of the turbans is extremely tenuous and unconvincing. Many pictures by Terbrugghen and other Caravaggesques would by that reasoning have to have been painted outside of Europe. Nor is it by any means certain that Sweerts portrayed himself, even though the same head occurs in another Double Portrait (private collection, Budapest), illustrated by R. Bedo, “Ein Doppelporträt des Michael Sweerts,” Acta Historiae Artium 8 (1962): 107-110, fig. 4. When it belonged to lord O'Hagen, this painting was exhibited in the Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1932-3 as “Dutch School;” it was subsequently attributed to Jacques van Oost the Elder.
  19. Neil Maclaren, National Gallery Catalogues, The Dutch School (London, 1960), p. 411, no. 3591. This entry contains a detailed discussion of this and the superior Louvre version, and Vaillant's mezzotint of the composition.
  20. Ibid., p. 412 where this picture is noted.
  21. Sweerts's authorship is recorded on the engraving. Cf. ex. cat. “Incisioni,” p. 80, no. 20.
  22. Paragone 107 (November 1958): 67-73, figs. 20-8. In the Rotterdam exhibition catalog, the Cook Draughtsman is no. 39, fig. 39b; in the Rome catalog no. 40, fig. 37. It was later sold at Christie's on 25 November 1966 (lot 65) and is now in a private collection, England.
  23. I believe this view is now prevailing. In “Pictures within Pictures,” The Burlington Magazine, August 1969, p. 517, fig. 42. Vitale Bloch attributed it “not without hesitation” to Sweerts; he also included it in his earlier monograph as by this master, while subtly hinting the possibility of Vaillant. J. Foucart, L'Oeil, January 1970, p. 31, would prefer the second name. Vaillant's responsibility for this painting also emerges from comparisons with the long curly hair of A Boy Drawing, illustrated in The Burlington Magazine 246 (1923): 183.
  24. Included and illustrated in the catalog Cent Chefs-d'oeuvre du Musée de Lille, 1969, no. 55; also in Meisterwerke aus dem Museum in Lille, Berlin 1964, no. 45. Further comparatie material includes A Young Man Writing in a Book, in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, and A Boy Copying a Bust on Table, Brodie Castle, Forres (shown in the exhibition “A Virtuous and Noble Education,” Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh 1971). The first is illustrated in G. Isarlo, “Les Trois le Nain et leur suite,” La Renaissance, March 1938, pp. 1-58, fig. 101. This article also contains references to Sweerts.
  25. Gregory Martin, The Flemish School, London 1970, p. 104, no. 3649. The catalog entry also notes that the canvas has been significantly cut down, especially at the bottom.
  26. Compare also van Oost's 1640 Calling of St. Matthew (Notre Dame, Bruges) where the back view of the seated central figure foreshadows Sweerts. See D. Roggen, Gentse Bijdragen 13 (1951): 176, fig. 3.
  27. This difference is also evident from comparisons of the Minneapolis youngster with the kneeling boy in van Oost I's Adoration of the Shepherds (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) and with the child standing in the lower right of this artist's St. Augustine in the Musée Communale des Beaux-Arts, Bruges.
  28. Exhibition catalog, no. 41, fig. 38.
  29. Ibid., no. 48, fig. 47; and V. Bloch, 1968, fig. 20.
  30. Exhibition catalog, nos. 14, 15, figs. 14, 15.
Referenced Works of Art
  1. Michael Sweerts
    Flemish, 1618-1664
    Boy Copying the Head of a Roman Emperor, about 1661
    Oil on canvas, 19-1/2 x 16
    The Walter H. and Valborg P. Ude Memorial Fund, 72.65
  2. Gerard ter Borch
    Boy Searching for Fleas in His Dog
    Alte Pinakothek, Munich
  3. Wallerant Vaillant
    Seated Youth Drawing
    Musée du Louvre
  4. Jacques van Oost the Elder
    Two Boys before an Easel
    Reproduced by courtesy of the Trustees, The National Gallery, London
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Source: Malcolm R. Waddingham, "Michael Sweerts, Boy Copying the Head of a Roman Emperor," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 63 (1976-1977): 56-65.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009