#FineArtFriday: The Lamentation by Michiel Sweerts  

Michiel Sweerts:  The Lamentation

Date:   between 1643 and 1661

Medium:          Etching and engraving on paper

Dimensions:    Height: 28.7 cm (11.2 ″); Width: 34.6 cm (13.6 ″)

About the technique of Etching (From Wikipedia):

Etching is traditionally the process of using strong acid or mordant to cut into the unprotected parts of a metal surface to create a design in intaglio (incised) in the metal. As a method of printmaking, it is, along with engraving, the most important technique for old master prints, and remains in wide use today.

In traditional pure etching, a metal (usually copper, zinc or steel) plate is covered with a waxy ground which is resistant to acid. The artist then scratches off the ground with a pointed etching needle where he or she wants a line to appear in the finished piece, so exposing the bare metal. The échoppe, a tool with a slanted oval section, is also used for “swelling” lines. The plate is then dipped in a bath of acid, technically called the mordant (French for “biting”) or etchant, or has acid washed over it. The acid “bites” into the metal (it dissolves part of the metal) where it is exposed, leaving behind lines sunk into the plate. The remaining ground is then cleaned off the plate. The plate is inked all over, and then the ink wiped off the surface, leaving only the ink in the etched lines.

Etchings were, in the 17th century, the way an artist could ensure his work was seen by the growing middle-class who would otherwise be unable to afford art for their homes. Once an artist mastered the technique, it was the most reliable way to earn money from his work.

About the artist, via Wikipedia:

Michiel Sweerts was born in Brussels where he was baptized on 29 September 1618 in the St. Nicholas Church as the son of David Sweerts, a linen merchant, and Martina Ballu.  Little is known about the artist’s early life and nothing about his training.

The surviving works by Sweerts mostly date to the period of his residence in Rome. Due to the difficulty of attributing works to the artist who rarely signed his works the number of canvases given to the artist vary from 40 to 100. Some of Sweerts’ works were so popular in his time that contemporary copies were made, some by Sweerts himself, others by pupils or followers. It is not always easy to determine the level of Sweerts’ involvement (if any) in the making of these copies. For instance, there exist at least four early copies, of varying quality, of his Artist’s studio with a woman sewing (one copy at the Collection RAU – Fondation Unicef, Cologne). None of his paintings produced after he left Europe is known to survive.

The majority of his output falls into two categories: ‘genre scenes” of low-life subjects of country and street life and portraits or tronies. A third category are allegorical works, which are regarded as enigmatic and are the subject of ongoing interpretation by art historians. Sweerts reportedly painted compositions of Biblical subjects, several of which are mentioned in contemporary inventories. However, none of these are known to have survived. One of his religious paintings, a Lamentation is known from the print, which Sweerts himself made after his own painting. The composition is unusual for the Virgin’s comforting gesture towards the inconsolable Mary Magdalene.

Sweerts is an enigmatic and difficult artist to categorise, since he absorbed a variety of influences to create an eclectic style that adapted Netherlandish genre painting to early tenebrist styles as well as blended Baroque and classicist tendencies.

By December 1661 Sweerts had arrived in Marseilles from where his ship left for Palestine in January 1662.  Sweerts sailed for Alexandretta with bishop François Pallu, 7 priests and another lay brother. In Syria he is said to have produced some paintings. On the overland portion of the trip in Syria he became mentally unstable and was dismissed from the company somewhere between Isfahan and Tabriz in Persia. He then traveled on to the Portuguese Jesuits in Goa where he is reported to have died at the age of 46.

Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Etching,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Etching&oldid=887368691 (accessed March 29, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Michiel Sweerts,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Michiel_Sweerts&oldid=850063690  (accessed March 29, 2019).

Wikimedia contributors, “Michiel Sweerts,”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Michiel_Sweerts_-_The_lamentation.jpg (accessed March 29, 2019)


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