Jan Miel (Beveren 1599-1664 Turin) Two boys playing morra or micatio

After an apprenticeship most probably to Daniel Seghers, Jan Miel became a painter, draughtsman and engraver of landscapes and genre scenes. When he settles in Italy around 1633, he becomes acquainted with the work of Claude Lorraine (for who he painted the figures in several of his pictures) and his Italian contemporaries like Pieter van Laer (his Bentvueghel-nickname il Bamboccio). In 1641 he became director of the Corporation of Virtuosi and in 1648 a member of the Accademia de San Luca. At the end of 1658 he was appointed court painter at Turin by Charles Emmanuel II of Savoy in whose palace he lived (Palazzo Reale). Miel's Bentvueghel-nicknames are Bieco (lozenge or cross-eyed) and Honingh-Bie, the latter which refers to his surname which means honey in French. Willem Schellinks mentions this nickname referring to a visit he paid to Miel in Turin on December 5, 1663: “Na noen ginge bezoeken de cavalier Joan Miell alias de Honingh-bie' (After noon I went visiting the cavalier Joan Miell alias the Honingh-bie). His studies (often in black chalk) are lively documents and clearly drawn in situ, depicting Italian daily llife which he saw around him during the first half of the seventeenth century.[1]

Authorship confirmed drawings by Jan Miel are very scarce, while anonymous sheets are often erroneously attributed to Miel or given to his contemporary Pieter van Laer (1599-1642), who was active in Rome in the same years. A group of (significant smaller) studies of the collection Pierre Mariette, now in The Louvre were previously (mis)attributed to Cornelis Pietersz. Bega (1631-1664). [2][3]. 

The two boys in this charming and relatively large study are playing morra, an ancient Roman and Greek hand game known by the name of micatio from micare digitis (to flash with the fingers). This game was popular especially among kids and can be played by two or more where the participants quickly simultaneously reveal one hand while calling out a number. The child who calls the total number of fingers revealed scores a point. The first participant to score three points wins the game. The presence of numerous pentimenti and repetition of the left boy's slipper make this one of the most accomplished studies by Jan Miel.

Thus far we haven't been able to locate the painting in which these two boys may figure, though they are likely to appear in a comparative painting like Figures feasting at a fair in Prati, outside the walls of Rome, with the Basilica di San Pietro and Monte Mario beyond or La Calcara.[4][5]

Our drawing once was part of the famous collection of Johann Edler Goll van Franckenstein whose collection comprised over six thousand drawings and is mentioned in his auction, together with a second sheet by Miel in the same auction lot. Somewhere in time afer the Goll auction in 1833 the drawings from this lot got dispersed and the accompanying drawing by Jan Miel was purchased by Frits Lugt in 1928, now part of the collection Fondation Custodia/Collection Frits Lugt, Paris.[6]

A closely related drawing depicting two children was with Christie's, Paris in 2002.[7]



[1] Vlaamse tekeningen uit de Zeventiende eeuw, Verzameling Frits Lugt/Institut Néerlandais Parijs.
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Institut Néerlandais, Paris, Kunstmuseum, Bern, Royal Library Albert I, Brussels, 1972. Cat. no. 54/54a, p.81-82.

[2] Musée du Louvre, Inventaire général des dessins des Écoles de Nord. École flamande par Frits Lugt.
Paris, Musées Nationaux, Palais du Louvre, 1949. Vol. I, p. 105, nrs. 912-918.

[3] Pierre Rosenberg, Les dessins de la collection Mariette. Écoles flamande, hollandaise et allemande.
Éditions El Viso, Madrid et Paris, 2022. Tome I, p. 200-202, nrs. N296-N299.

[4] Jan Miel, Figures feasting at a Fair in Prati, outside the Walls of Rome.
Oil on canvas, 87,5 x 174,5 cm. Sotheby's, Amsterdam, 8 May 2007, lot #33.

[5] Jan Miel, La Calcara.
Oil on canvas, 87 x 163 cm.
Finarte, Rome, 23 November 1993, lot #133 

[6] Pieter Hendrik Goll van Franckenstein (Amsterdam 1787-1832 Amsterdam). his auction, Amsterdam, De Vries...Roos, 1 July 1833. Kunstboek TT, no. 18 (together with the drawing now in the coll. Lugt/Fondation Custodia, Paris.
Boy reclining on a saddle. Black chalk, 144 x 212 mm. Inv. nr. 4808)

[7] Jan Miel, Petite fille vue de dos portant un chapeau.
Black chalk, 166 x 109 mm. Christie's, Paris, 21 March 2002, Lot. #305

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