July 26th

Michael Sweerts — Self-portrait.

Very nice selfie from 400 years ago. It seems some things don’t change — the posturing and need to appear different (more interesting?) from real life is not only recent social media development. And in the case of painting from the late Renaissance / early Baroque, it actually required a lot more than just taking a photo and fixing it in Photoshop. Here is a young, unknown painter who (I don’t think) is well off, and yet he felt the need to paint a self-portrait, using his time and resources (canvas and paints) without any hope for making a sale. I mean, Flemish or Dutch merchants and aristocrats were the only social groups at this time that could afford to pay for art — and why would any of those sensible people pay for a painting of an unknown, rather vain young man.

But I digress — this is a beautiful, melancholic, and poignant work of art. Very unusual head angle being propped on a hand in a self-portrait. Also, he has very interesting facial features — pensive and thoughtful with just a touch of a smile. There is some money on the table but scholarly books and inkwell as well — that covers all of the life’s angles I guess — got money to spend but is studious as well.

I wonder if the painter ever thought if that painting will survive for so many years and be prominently exposed in one of the major art museums in the world (the Hermitage)? It seems to me that it was rather an exercise for him, to work on composition and slight chiaroscuro technique that was en vogue at the beginning of the XVII century. Or it was possibly a keepsake he intended for a woman he fancied? Anyway — he was very successful in this endeavor.



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