SWEERTS, Michiel
(b. 1618, Bruxelles, d. 1664, Goa)


Flemish painter, an enigmatic and exceedingly attractive artist. Nothing is known of his training or early career. From about 1646 to about 1656 he was in Rome, where he came into contact with the Bamboccianti. He painted genre scenes in their manner, but his work is in a class apart because of the quiet, melancholy dignity of his figures and his exquisite silvery tonality. His other pictures in Rome included views of artists' studios (an example dated 1652 is in the Detroit Institute of Arts). By 1656 Sweerts had returned to his native Brussels, where in 1659 he became a member of the painters' guild.

In 1661 he was in Amsterdam, where he joined a missionary group, and he sailed from Marseilles to the Orient in the following year. Sweerts was found quarrelsome and unsuitable, however, and was dismissed; he died at Goa in India. Towards the end of his career, Sweerts seemed to have worked mainly as a portraitist. Like his genre scenes, his portraits are distinguished by delicate and subdued colour harmonies and great sensitivity of expression and handling. They have often been compared with the work of Vermeer, to whom Sweerts's Portrait of a Girl (Leicestershire Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester) was once attributed.

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