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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Jan Miel

Carnival Time in Rome, 1653, Jan Miel                           
Jan Miel Self-portrait (probably 1630s)
One of the more troublesome problems in exploring the life and times of artists from the past--especially way in the past--is their tendency to sometimes play around with their names. You'd think they were movie stars or something. Add to that the various spellings imposed by one or more European languages in the various countries where they may have lived, and it gets to be tricky just doing the research to write one of these massive missives. Take Jan Miel, for instance. The name is short, simple, pronounced exactly as it's spelled. However this guy had no less than nine different names, spellings, or nicknames over the course of his career from about 1630 until his death in 1663. (He was born in 1599.) Just for the record, Jan Miel was also known by Jan Miele, Jan Bicke, Jan Bike, Cavaliere Giovanni Miele, Cavaliere Giovanni Milo, Cavaliere Giovanni della Vita, Petit Jean (little Jan), and the nicknames, Bieco (Italian for Squint) and Honingh-bie (Italian for Honey Bee). Which provides a clue as to why art historians turn prematurely gray.
Ceres, Bacchus, and Venus, 1645, Jan Miel, the type of thing
he painted in Rome as he tried to rise above genre painting.
Young Man Seated on the Ground,
Jan Miel
Jan Miel was a Flemish painter and engraver, but he spent most of his life working out of Rome. That alone accounts for all the "Giovanni" names, Giovanni being Italian for Jan, Jean, or John. There Jan Miel lived and worked with a group of other Flemish painters called the Bentvueghels, who delighted in giving one another "bent" nicknames, which accounts for the last two names listed above. Though Miel was trained in the finest tradition of 17th-century Dutch painting, perhaps even by Anthony van Dyck himself, the Dutch "Golden Age" was highly overpopulated, to say the least (even Rembrandt went bankrupt). Arriving in Rome between 1630 and 1633, Jan Miel not only hobnobbed with the Bentvueghels but another group of mostly Dutch and Flemish painters called the Bamboccianti. (There was likely quite a bit of overlapping membership between the two groups, the first of which may have been more social than artistic.)
The Farmer's Breakfast, Jan Miel
Mater Dolorosa, Jan Miel
The Bamboccianti were genre painters, mostly producing small "cabinet" (size) paintings or prints of everyday life depicting the lower classes in Rome and the nearby countryside. Jan Miel played a large part in the development of this new tradition in Italian art. At the time, Italian painters seldom stooped to painting personages without the designation "Cardinal," "Pope," or "Saint" before their names (not that any of them necessarily were saints). A "red cap" could be bought by the wealthy and popes were often elected as the lesser of two or three evils. The church was rife with corruption, politics, and still recovering from the Counter-Reformation. The painters from up north (many of them Protestants) tried their best to stay out of all that. Lower-class genre, was safe and apparently quite profitable, judging from the number of Netherlandish artists who congregated in Rome during this time.

The Grape Merchant, Jan Miel
Flute Playing Boy, (attributed to) Jan Miel.
Miel tended to specialize in genre crowd scenes such as his Carnival Tim in Rome (top) or his Carnival in the Piazza Colonna, Rome (bottom) both from 1653. On a smaller scale we find the genre scene, The Grape Merchant (above) or his Arch of Constantine (below) dating from the 1540s, which depicts a group of peasants and their livestock grazing in what had once been the Roman Forum. On a more intimate level, Miel's Flute Playing Boy (without a date, the attribution is a bit shaky here) suggests he was equally at home painting individual figures and portraits. Miel's Mater Dolorosa, (above, right) is typical of Italian Mannerist painting of the 17th-century. Nine different aliases is not.

The Arch of Constantine, Rome, 1640s, Jan Miel

Carnival in the Piazza Colonna, Rome, 1645, Jan Miel.
Not just a "crowd" scene, more of a mob scene.


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