Checkers Artist Michiel Sweerts
Michiel Sweerts, 1618 to 1664,
Self-Portrait of Michiel Sweerts, (1658-61).
The Checkers Players
1656 Man en Vrouw
Spelen Dam Man
and Woman Playing Checkers
- Michiel Sweerts was an inventive Flemish
painter of religious scenes, genre images
that reflected a close observation of daily
life and detailed, classical portraits
of the Baroque period, though little biographical
data is known about his artistic training
or career from his early years.
- However, we know that Michiel Sweerts
traveled extensively and sojourned to Italy,
where he lived for a decade from 1646 -
1656 and became a member of the painter’s academy.
- Within this circle of Flemish painters
residing in Rome at Santa Maria del Popolo,
the interest centered around artist Pieter
van Laer and the Bamboccianti, who were
known for their depiction of daily life
genre scenes and as followers of Caravaggio.
- While in Italy, Sweerts was commissioned to complete some work
for Pope Innocent X.
- Artist Michiel Sweerts was an enigmatic
and handsome artist, whose style was quite
difficult to categorize, as it would seem
that he developed a technique based on
a variety of influences from his various
artistic associations in Brussels and Rome.
- Michiel created within his artistic expression
an eclectic Netherlandish genre adaptation
of early tenebrous styles to form his own
hybrid art based on a combination of Caravaggio-influenced,
full-bodied figures with a blend of Vermeer's
genre of painting.
- Sweerts painted genre scenes and historical settings that combined
stark chiaroscuro and blunt realism with a classical serenity and
simplicity that set the quiet mood of his work.
- Artist Michiel Sweerts' work was certainly
in a class by itself because of the quiet,
melancholy dignity of his figures and his
exquisite silvery tonality.
- In his oil painting, The
Checker Players, of 1652, the
checkers artist Michiel Sweerts remained
within the traditional artistic strictures
of a triangular composition depicting
two main checkers players in a game.
- The setting represented the ultimate
simplicity of stools, table, checkerboard
and checkers players.
- The artist painted the checkers players and spectators in
aristocratic attire and the pose of the youth in red carried an
air of breeding and almost a touch of arrogance as he gazed
out towards the viewer or the artist; the other central character,
also a youth, was dressed in black and totally focused on his
next checker move; the figures appear to have been created as
portraits within a genre setting of a normal form of leisurely
activity and the choice of colors for the costumes could be
symbolic of the Red and Black checkers pieces commonly used
throughout the ages.
- Michiel Sweerts again focused on the hands as seen in the
tapered hand of the younger youth making a checker move and
also in the pointing hand of the spectator behind.
- Sweerts used stark chiaroscuro of a dark
background with a distant figure looking
on and observing the group of boys, who
were highlighted by a strong source of
light from the right drawing attention
to the two players at the checkerboard.
- Some sources believe that the artist painted a self-portrait
of himself in the youth in red attire and one could certainly see
a potential resemblance to a younger Michiel.
- Sweerts often depicted himself as a gentleman painter to honor
and ennoble the profession as he sought to share his knowledge and
experience with novice artists of the period.
- By 1656, the Flemish artist Michiel Sweerts
had absorbed as much as was necessary for
a statement in his own style and technique
and he returned to his native Brussels,
where he opened an academy for life drawing
in 1656, as he was interested in the training
and professional status of artists; Sweerts
also published a series of prints designed
to serve as ‘artists’ exemplars.
- Sweerts painted numerous interior scenes
of drawing lesions within the studio environment.
- His self portrait depicted above was
an example of his elegant and sophisticated
rendering to create an aristocratic appearance
with the Italian alps as a backdrop; the
artists' painting showed him holding a
paintbrush in his hand that was tapered
to symbolize aristocratic ‘breeding’.
- In his 1656 painting of The
Man and Woman Playing Checkers,
checkers artist Michiel Sweerts again
depicted the genre theme of a leisurely
game of checkers with a simplicity set
within a strong, stark contrast in chiaroscuro;
the checker players were clothed in aristocratic
costumes in subdued colors and postures,
baring serious, yet serene facial expressions;
the woman gazes out towards the viewer
away from her opponent, who is looking
at her intently; in the background, an
older woman, who is likely a servant,
looks on at the couple’s checker
- Sweerts focused on the hands of both
players, the woman holding the fan in
one hand and the other placed on the checkerboard,
while his also rested on the game as if
ready to make a checker move; the man could
represent a profile self portrait of Michiel
- The dark background was offset by a peek of gray
sky and vague landscape creating depth within an
otherwise flat composition and this imagery may have
been a subtle hint at the level of the man’s
feelings for his checkers companion.
- In 1659, Michiel Sweerts became a member
of St. Luke’s painters' guild.
- Towards the end of his career, artist
Sweerts worked mostly as a portraitist
and these studies, like his genre scenes,
were distinguished by delicate and Subdued
color harmonies and a great sensitivity
of expression and handling.
- Michiel later moved to Amsterdam, and joined the Jesuit Order
as a "lay Brother" rather
than a priest and became a member of the Lazarist Société
des Missions Étrangères.
- Then Sweerts sailed with their missionary group from Marseilles
to Jerusalem and on to Goa, India, in the Far East during the
following year in late 1661; He was summarily dismissed from the
mission in 1662 due to his unsuitability to the task because of
his mental instability, quarrelsome nature and ungoverned zeal.
- This fine painter artist Michiel Sweerts,
died at the Portugese Jesuit colony at
Goa, India, in 1664.