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Frans van Mieris the Elder, Self Portrait of the Artist, with a Cittern

Key facts
Full title Self Portrait of the Artist, with a Cittern
Artist Frans van Mieris the Elder
Artist dates 1635 - 1681
Date made 1674
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 17.5 × 14 cm
Inscription summary Dated
Acquisition credit May Bequest, 1854
Inventory number NG1874
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Self Portrait of the Artist, with a Cittern
Frans van Mieris the Elder

Frans van Mieris painted this tiny self portrait three days before he turned 39 in 1674. By this time, he was highly successful. His work was bought, sometimes for vast sums, by nobility from abroad, including the Medici, the ruling family of Florence. Perhaps for this reason, van Mieris chose to show himself in the Italian version of the gorgeous costume of a character from the commedia dell'arte that originated in Italy.

His feathered hat is precariously balanced on the balustrade, adding to the whimsical, informal nature of the picture. Next to it is a glass, half full – for van Mieris, a wine glass would never have been half empty: there are several accounts of his heavy drinking. He shows his face ageing and, in other portraits, red-nosed and flushed. Popular and gregarious, he painted himself in many guises, most tellingly as a jolly drunkard – mostly smiling and always with laughing eyes, inviting us to share his appetite for life.

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