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Daniel Mytens

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Born:1590

Died:1647

Nationality:Dutch

Known For:Portraits

The Jacobean portraitist Daniel Mytens (sometimes spelt Mijtens) was born in Delft, Netherlands, one of four sons of the coachbuilder and saddler Maerten Mytens and his wife Anneke Pieters, a well-respected Dutch couple originally from The Hague. Mytens’ lack of early surviving work means that little is known about his early artistic career, except that he came from a family of artists begun by his uncle, the Flemish Renaissance painter Aert Mytens. It is likely that Mytens learned to paint from a relative, eventually training with either Jan Anthonisz van Ravesteyn in The Hague or Michiel van Mierevelt (d. 1641) in Delft, joining the professional association of painters in The Hague, the Guild of St Luke, in 1610, before marrying his first wife, Gratia Clejtser, in 1612.

A letter addressed to the English ambassador in The Hague, Dudley Carleton, written by Mytens and dated 18 August 1618 implies that he had arrived in England sometime before 1618, the year in which he completed his first English commission, a double portrait of Thomas Howard, second Earl of Arundel, and his wife, Alatheia Talbot, Countess of Arundel [c.1618, National Portrait Gallery London] in which the fashionable pair sit before two viewing galleries, one lined with classical, figurative sculptures, the other hung with painted portraits. On his arrival in London Mytens joined a community of Dutch and Flemish artists with whom he was linked by familial ties and likely began his career working for his relative, the royal painter Paul van Somer (c.1577-1621).

Even at this early stage he demonstrated a natural acuity for realism and perception in the subtle nuances of light and texture best achieved in the portraiture of his contemporary, Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641). His Netherlandish origins provided him with fastidious draughtsmanship, a delicate handling of form and convincing treatment of space whilst also capturing the fine splendour of court dress. He laid emphasis on the faces of his sitters, arguably indicative of Mierevelt’s influence, but most significantly his portraits balance psychological insight with a sense of reserved dignity. The departure of Van Dyck for Italy in 1621 and the death of Paul van Somer that same year left Mytens free to claim artistic supremacy at the court of King James I, and he quickly established an aristocratic following among influential patrons such as James, Marquis of Hamilton, Sir John Ashburnham, and William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke.

The earliest recorded payment in the royal accounts dates to May 1620 for his full-length painting of the Earl of Nottingham, Lord High Admiral [National Maritime Museum London], and perhaps his first portrait of the King is dated 1621 [National Portrait Gallery].

James I believed Mytens’s modern, sophisticated and flattering style of portraiture would help him achieve the betrothal of his son, Charles, to the Spanish Infanta Maria Anna, and on 19 July 1624 he granted the artist a pension committing him to serve him and his heirs ‘faithfullie and diligently’, forbidding him to go abroad without royal consent. Later that year Prince Charles granted Mytens denizenship and by 1625 the artist was living in a house in St Martin's Lane, London. By June 1625 his ‘faculty and skill…in the art of picture drawing’ secured him the official position of a picture-drawer in the royal chamber in ordinary of the new King Charles I. Charles commissioned copies of Italian old masters by the likes of Titian and Vecchio in the Royal Collection, allowing Mytens to develop his style on a six month trip to the Netherlands in August 1626 during which he absorbed influences from contemporary Dutch and Flemish portraiture.

Mytens is recorded as returning to England by 1626 and enjoyed a lucrative, largely unchallenged, career at court through to 1630 producing his stately yet naturalistic portraits documenting Charles’s rise to the throne along with many aristocratic members of his court such as George, Baron Baltimore and James, Duke of Hamilton. These mostly full-length prototypes varied in dress, setting and pose, copied by his studio and replicated by followers to be disseminated across Britain and Europe substantiating the monarch’s authority and majesty. The style of his Portrait of Charles I from 1629 [Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York] was significant as it preceded the dissolution of parliament and needed to show a strong monarchical figure capable of ruling a new era by usurping compositional and stylistic elements from Van Dyck and Rubens.

Following the death of his first wife Gratia, Mytens married his second wife, Johanna Drossaert, on 2 September 1628 and the marriage produced twin daughters, Elizabeth and Susanna (bap. July 1629), and the family became part of an affluent circle of French and Dutch merchants, deacons and elders.

The final record of a portrait of Charles I is dated May 1634 after Mytens had been granted permission to leave England for the Low Countries in 1630. It was around this time that Mytens painted his c.1631 portrait of Charles [illustrated - previously with Philip Mould & Co]. He was joined in The Hague by his wife, three children, two maids, and ‘truncks of apparel’ in 1631. He continued to receive his pension from the English treasury but began to work primarily as an agent for British art collectors, principally the Earl of Arundel, acting as an intermediary on the sale of works by Holbein, Dürer, Raphael, Andrea del Sarto and Titian. Mytens painted a few minor portraits while serving as deacon in his local church from 1638, eventually dying on 22 June 1647.