Michiel van Mierevelt’s portrait factory

eyes

hands

book-page / mouth

lace

Recently I visited a fascinating exhibition in the Prinsenhof Museum in Delft. I had intended to write about it earlier, but I think I was too overwhelmed to know what and how to write about it. I was quite surprised by my own reaction; I had not expected to be overwhelmed by an exhibition of this kind of art…

Meer Van Mierevelt The exhibition is called: “Michiel van Mierevelt’s portrait factory” and it can be seen in the Prinsenhof Museum in Delft, NL, until the beginning of January 2012. There are two publications regarding this exhibition, a small one with the title “Meer van Mierevelt” which is given to everyone purchasing a ticket, and a larger book, a catalogue, with the same title as the exhibition. The exhibition and the two publications are the results of a three-year long study of the work of this Dutch artist. Nobody seems to know this artist nowadays, but in his time (1566-1641) he was the most successful portrait-painter of the Republic. His success was not only due to his great talent and capabilities as a painter,book-cover MvMierevelt but also due to his talent, insight and cleverness as a businessman. His career takes off in 1607 when -already an experienced painter- he paints a portrait of Prince Maurits. Very quickly after this many prominent people want their own portrait painted by him or a portrait of the prince for in their homes. Van Mierevelt makes numerous copies of his portrait of Prince Maurits, in various sizes, and has them in stock in his ‘shop’. Shortly after making the first portrait of the prince he commissions Jan Muller to make an engraving of his painting and he gets the copyright patent for the reproduction of this engraving. Whoever copies the portrait in spite of the copyright, ends up paying a large fine. Researchers are convinced that he had the intension of making multiple copies of his own paintings already from the beginning; he had been using a drawing with small holes to transfer the same design on numerous panels and canvasses.

Painting of Prince Maurits

This all might seem as a commercial advertisement to you, but I don’t mean it like that. I am really, honestly very enthusiastic about this exhibition… Why? I don’t really know, that’s why I’m rambling about it here: to find out! I suppose that I’m so enthusiastic about it because of any – or all – of the following reasons:

  • I have been concentrating on my own work for too long and too closely and it is very inspiring to look at something totally different for a change.
  • Since last spring I’ve been considering starting a series of portraits: I am not good in portraits and I thought of it as my challenge till the end of the year; now it is an even bigger challenge!
  • The museum-building itself with its unique history is fascinating and intriguing; the place to be for historians, storytellers and daydreamers….
  • The combination of Michiel van Mierevelt’s qualities: talented artist – smart businessman intrigues me. He is one of the few artists who become recognized and rich while still alive…
  • The structure of the exhibition is very good and clear. You can get a lot of information without it being boring.
  • The old techniques and know-how of the 16th-17th century (of painting and of the preparation of the panels) are very well presented and explained in the exhibition: not only in a video-loop, but also in a live manufacturing of a copy of one of the paintings with the traditional techniques. Also van Mierevelt’s way of copying his own work is shown clearly.
  • A large painting is being cleaned and restored within the exhibition space and during opening hours. We usually don’t get the chance to see this kind of work; it takes place in special workshops.
  • Both publications are very good! (I say this even if I haven’t read them totally yet…)
  • Special workshops are offered at various dates: the public gets the chance to paint a self-portrait in van Mierevelt’s technique. I have worked with these techniques ages ago in art school, I thought it might be fun to do it again, so I subscribed too! I’m very curious …
  • Experiencing a feeling of general joy, bliss and inspiration – something that often happens when a period of intense work is combined with seeing a good exhibition.

I spent almost three hours in the museum looking around, absorbing everything. The next day I went again with my daughter, her classmates and their teacher, to help out with the elementary-school-educational-program. After a short but intense tour through the exhibition, the children got instructions how to make their own self-portraits. They made line drawings (with the help of pictures) on panels. Time was up before we knew it, so we took the panels with us back to school, where they will be finished in two weeks. In the picture below you can see the children at work. I deliberately manipulated this picture so that the children won’t be recognizable.

school project van Mierevelt

For more information you can visit the site of the museum:

http://www.prinsenhof-delft.nl

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4 thoughts on “Michiel van Mierevelt’s portrait factory

  1. What a fascinating article. Thank you. I am currently reading about William Hogarth and he also took a very businessmanlike approach to his work and produced engravings of his paintings and also was very shrewd about doing occasional paintings for charity, which raised his profile and popularity immensely.

    • Thanks for your compliment! I didn’t know that Hogarth also had such a businessmanlike approach to his work. Thanks for letting me know, I’ll try to find some information about how he did it and compare it to van Mierevelt’s way. Hogarth lived and worked a century later, so I’m wondering what the differences and similarities are.

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