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As the first full-length monograph of Hague portraitist Jan Mijtens (1613/14 - 1670), Alexandra Nina Bauer's meticulously researched and sumptuously illustrated catalogue raisonné joins those on Gerrit van Honthorst by J. R. Judson and R. E. O. Ekkart (1999) and on Caspar Netscher by Marjorie Wieseman (2002) as a welcome addition to our understanding of portrait painters working in the city dominated by the House of Orange.
Bauer grounds her study in excerpts from nearly 140 previously unpublished documents - excerpted in an appendix - that provide a rich picture of Mijtens' life, social milieu and workshop practices. Born the son of a saddle-maker in about 1613-1614 (the date estimated from his age inscribed on a family portrait), Jan was well connected to the court and potential patrons through numerous members of his extended family. His teacher remains unknown, but may have been his uncle Isaak in the late 1620s. During the 1640s and 1650s Mijtens was among the leading portrait painters of The Hague, along with Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656), Adriaen Hanneman (ca. 1604-1671) and Pieter Nason (c. 1612 - c. 1688/ 90) and, after Honthorst's death, was favored in particular by the House of Orange-Nassau. His active role in the public life played an important part in introducing him to the men and women who would commission portraits from him. Jan joined the Guild of St. Luke in 1639 and in 1654 was elected a hoofdman; two years later he became a founding member of the confraternity De Pictura, for which he served as a hoofdman and later four times as Dean. In 1646 he was a Deacon of the Reformed Congregation of the Groote Kerk, which would have brought him into contact with the Stadhouder's court at the wedding ceremonies of Louise Henriette, daughter of Stadhouder Frederik Hendrik and Amalia von Solms. He was named Captain of the witte vendel (white banner) of the St. Sebastian shooting company in 1661 (and possibly 1660), and died in 1670 at the age of 56 or 57.
Bauer's annotated catalogue raisonné, fully illustrated with more than 100 pages of black and white photographs and 35 color plates, presents Mijtens' securely attributed works - not counting copies - that include 146 painted portraits, 4 Biblical histories, 3 mythological histories, 3 non-portrait pastorals, 5 genre images, and 2 drawings. The author also catalogues works that are doubtful (9), rejected (85), known only from descriptions (121), and reproduced after lost works (6). The text lays out the artist's patrons, stylistic development and followers. The identities of more than half of his sitters are known. Together with the documents, these are used to trace some of the potential personal links that may have brought the artist his commissions.
Mijtens is best known for more than 35 portraits of families in a landscape setting, over three-fourths of which date from before 1660. A number of his sitters owned country houses around The Hague and Utrecht. His portraits for these and other regents and government officials, along with family connections such as Jan's stepbrother, the goldsmith Thomas Cletcher the younger, who worked for the court in The Hague, must have been helpful in attracting the attention of the court, who provided him with the majority of his commissions after 1660.
Bauer suggests that prototypes for these compositions were works by such painters as Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, Isaack de Colonia, and Jan Daemen Cool, although Mijtens adds a personal touch. Some of his portraits include deceased children as putti, a wife hovering in the clouds as an angel, or even situated among the portrayed family as if still alive. The physiognomy of the deceased was sometimes adapted from earlier portraits. Moreover, as families grew or members died, figures were sometimes added to already finished paintings of Mijtens and some - but not all - fashions updated. Most of his portraits depict families in sumptuous clothing, some with an archaizing drapery, and pastoral settings and motifs: sons sport attributes of the hunt while daughters pluck fruits and flowers or weave garlands. Among these, the sober clothing of Cat. A 114 and A115 stand out; moreover, the slightly stiff poses and less detailed physiognomy raise the question of whether or not these are autograph works.
Bauer divides Mijtens' single figure portraits comprising 24 males, 80 females, and 8 pendant pairs, into two broad types that are linked to the social position and aspirations of the sitter. "Bürgerliche Porträts", that customarily show the figure in half-length, dressed in dark jacket with white collar and set against an undefined light brown or grey-brown background, appear most frequently in his work in this format during the first half of his career. "Höfische Porträts", normally for sitters of higher social standing or court circles, display their subjects in more colorful garments or military dress in a pastoral setting. These were popular particularly after 1660.
Although pastoral themes dominate Mijtens' work from the 1660s, the "van Dyckean" element for which the artist is known appears already in a family portrait of 1638 (Cat. 110). Here one of the children is modeled after Anthony van Dyck's portrait of Willem II, at the time in the collection of Frederik Hendrik and Amalia von Solms (ill. V5). Beyond noting the popularity of the pastoral in plays and texts particularly in court circles, it would have been fruitful to explore more extensively with which specific patrons this style was popular, and more importantly, why.
During the First Stadhouderless period (1651-1672) Amalia von Solms and members of the court continued to influence the Hague culture through their portraits - among other means - and Mijtens was a favored artist. Around 90 original works by Jan are listed among the possessions of the House of Orange. In addition, family members owned a large number of original replicas and copies by other artists after his work. Art historians have debated whether the political allegiance of a patron might have determined their choice of artist. As Bauer demonstrates, artists such as Mijtens acquired commissions through social contacts. Thus, while an anti-Orangist sitter may not have wished to be portrayed in format and motifs associated with the court, one must question the suggestion sometimes proposed that Mijtens was hired on the basis of his political sentiments rather than for the qualities and cost of his product. Documents reveal that although he was paid quickly for small sums, Mijtens could wait months and even years for substantial payments from the court. In tracing payments - and debts - to Mijtens through documents, Bauer convincingly concludes that the artist may have been popular with these financially strapped clients during the Stadhouderless period because he charged less than his rival Adriaen Hanneman.
Unpublished letters suggest that some of Mijtens' commissions from Orange princesses who had married foreign princes and thus lived far from home were arranged by Hague agent Pieter Vastrick. Directions for canvas size were made by means of "ingeleijde rollckens" sent to Vastrick, probably rolled up cords or threads that corresponded to the desired dimensions, which would have prevented confusion about the different units of measurement in different cities.
Among the students in what must have been an active workshop over the course of thirty years, the names of eight are known. The high number of copies after Mijtens and reproductions of his compositions and figural poses, particularly from the 1660s to which at least 90 paintings may be assigned, make attribution difficult. Some of the copies by other hands may have been produced in Mijtens' studio by assistants, although no such copies are documented. Moreover, members of the House of Orange-Nassau, responsible for a large percentage of his portrait commissions in this decade, provided a high demand for copies as gifts for relatives, friends, and diplomats which necessitated rapid execution. In 1666, Henriette Catharina von Anhalt-Dessau, for example, went so far as to commission copies after a portrait by Mijtens that she had not yet seen. They also commissioned other portraitists - including Poul and Jan van der Stock, Jean Gericot, and perhaps Jan de Baen - to make copies after Mijtens' work.
More than 100 portraitists were active in The Hague over the course of the 17th century. Mijtens' success is attested to by the estate worth 27,000 guilders that he left upon his death, considerably more than most of his contemporary portraitists. Given Mijtens' popularity, the prominence of his patrons, and the sheer visual quality of his portraits, it is surprising that he was quickly forgotten. Bauer explains this in part by his appearance in contemporary literature only by his last name, readily confused with other relatives. Following Cornelis de Bie's Gulden Cabinet of 1661, Arnold Houbraken in 1718 confused Jan Mijtens with the Brussels-born Johannes Meyssens, and the artist quickly slid into historical obscurity. The ligated form of his signature was easily misread as A. Mijtens, as his paintings became detached from his name. By the end of the nineteenth century, with the rise in popularity of Netherlandish realism and domestic subjects, his courtly style was no longer valued. It was not until Cornelis Hofstede de Groot's 1902 publication that Jan was rescued from oblivion, but it remained until Bauer's study for him to receive the critical treatment that he deserves.
While it does directly address substantive broad issues, Bauer's monograph presents a wealth of data, much of it new, as well as good descriptive analysis of the data and paintings that will serve as a solid foundation for future studies.
Ann Jensen Adams