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Picture of the month

March 2019

Though small in scale, Frans van Mieris the Elder's portrait of his wife is rich in detail

Dutch artist Frans van Mieris the Elder painted this tiny portrait of his new wife Cunera van der Cock around 1657, when she was 27, to celebrate their marriage.

He likely intended it as a gift for her, or for them to enjoy together, in their home in Leiden. He made a matching self-portrait to go with it, which is now in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin.

Van Mieris specialised in miniatures and small-scale portraits that were remarkable for their meticulous realism. He was also known for his many scenes of everyday life (often featuring Cunera as the model), which were a major inspiration to the artist Vermeer.

In contrast to Vermeer, who was only modestly successful in his lifetime but has been rediscovered in modern times, van Mieris’s paintings sold to wealthy collectors for more than 1500 guilders (the price of a house), but are now less familiar to many of us.

Here the artist shows his wife, gazing quietly to the left, in direct light. The detail is astonishing; we can imagine the feel of her clothes – the white fur and burgundy red velvet of her jacket, and the crisp linen of her headdress.

Their son, Willem van Mieris, also became a painter, and although it is currently in store, you can see Willem’s Woman and a Fish-pedlar in a Kitchen in our collection, along with his father's paintings in Room 16