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Highquality

A Boy with a White Cravat

c. 1656
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Canvas
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41.7 x 33.6 cm

The Portrait of a Boy with a White Cravat represents an important addition to Michaelina’s oeuvre. Little is known about its provenance. Significantly, it was auctioned in 2008 as ‘Circle of the Le Nain Brothers’.1 It was described as ‘Portrait of a boy, bust-length, in a grey coat and a white necktie with blue and red trim’.2 At that time, relatively little information was available about Michaelina Wautier, so the portrait was not identified as being by her. Its overall lay-out recalls that of paintings by the brothers Antoine, Mathieu, and Louis Le Nain, who settled in Paris around 1630. Young boys, as depicted here, abound in their oeuvre. However strongly the typology of the boys of the Le Nain brothers is related to A Boy with a White Cravat, parallels with the depiction of individual boys in the oeuvre of Michael Sweerts (1618-1664) are even more convincing. In 1656, Sweerts published his Diversae facies in vsvm iuvenvm et aliorvm delineatae, a textbook with twelve etchings of heads. These are half-length studies of a girl, boys, men, and women. The manual was probably intended to inspire apprentices or used as teaching material at the drawing academy that Sweerts founded in Brussels after his return from Italy in 1655. This was a unique initiative and moreover the oldest academy in the Southern Netherlands. The students drew there ‘naer het leven,’ which means ‘after life’ (in this case, a model). Given the rules of decorum and prevailing etiquette at the time, it is inconceivable that Michaelina took lessons at the drawing academy. Moreover, her early work makes it abundantly clear that she was already an accomplished artist before 1653. This does not preclude Michaelina and her brother Charles from having had some sort of contact with Sweerts before he left for Italy at the latest in 1646 or – with respect to Charles possibly in Italy itself. Little is known about Sweerts’ stay in his native Brussels, but Michaelina would have had access to work by him after settling there around 1640. The affinity between their depictions of individual boys is unmistakable. A Boy with a White Cravat seems to be typologically inspired by examples from Sweerts’ Diversae facies (fig. 17). The boy’s pose with his head turned to the left and glancing sideways is identical to that in an etching of a girl (fig. 18), while the boy’s type is recognisable in a boy facing front with half-long hair (fig. 19).f