Housed at the extraordinary Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Boy in a Turban Holding a Nosegay is a masterpiece by Michael Sweerts (1618-1664). Sweerts was a Flemish painter most recognised for his allegorical and genre paintings as well as portraits and tronies (common type, or group of types, of works common in Dutch Golden Age painting and Flemish Baroque painting that show an exaggerated facial expression or a stock character in costume.) Sweerts was rather a busy painter, having worked in Rome, Brussels, Amsterdam, Persia and India (Goa). It may interest the reader to know I have been to all of these places except Persia, but the night is young. Equally I did go to Bruges rather than Brussels in the Before Time but these are small details.
Boy in a Turban holding a Nosegay has been associated with the group of paintings that Sweerts executed at the end of his Amsterdam period. The subject of the present painting and the sex of the figure have been the focus of debate and have given rise to different interpretations. The gentle, delicate features and the turban hiding the hair make it difficult to define the subject precisely, and the canvas was previously entitled Figure in a Turban. It was only in 1958, when the painting was included in an exhibition on Sweerts in Rotterdam, that the sitter was described as a boy, a reading that has been maintained in the present day.
The fact that the boy is holding a nosegay has led to the suggestion that this is a representation of the sense of Smell. Sweerts executed two, now dispersed, series on the Five Senses. In one series, which uses a similar format to the present painting, five male figures in exotic dress hold objects and animals related to the senses. Museo Thysen
When I was last in Madrid I did not take the opportunity to visit this museum preferring instead to go to the Prado and the Royal Palace where I saw a miniature version of my favourite sculpture in the world, which can be found in the Cappella Sansevero in Naples. See the miniature below, which I first beheld in the Carlos III. Majestad y Ornatos exhibition.
But I digress, see below the painting which is the subject of this post:
This for me is absolutely astounding work. The clarity of the skin is lovely, the light falling on the turban is particularly gorgeous. If you look at the eyes you can see them watering slightly. The strands of the patterned undergarment of the turban is exceptionally well done.
The highlight of this painting for me is the nail depiction. The flowers in the nose gay are a little crude in comparison to this. But with the overall impression this has left on me I can forgive Mr Sweerts. The nails are just immaculate. The colour is perfect, the shape is perfect, the sheen is extraordinary. And the shade from the nose gay onto the hands is a particularly fine detail.
Why have I chosen this as my birthday post, I hear you ask? Well this painting has given me a reason to reminisce about the wonderful time I spend in Madrid and made me consider a future trip with M. Equally it is undeniably a masterly work of supreme skill from my preferred period in art. I cannot but appreciate the overall excellence of this painting. In short, it has made me rather happy. And being rather happy is all I want on this most special milestone in my headlong journey towards the grave.