An invitation to compare: Frans van Mieris's Cloth Shop in the context of early modern art collecting
With Frans van Mieris's Cloth Shop as case study, this article explores how the cultural practice of art collecting in the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic informed an artist's pictorial strategies. An analysis of the imagery and execution of the painting shows that Van Mieris makes judgment and comparison the central themes, cleverly urging viewers to compare his creation to the works of his renowned compatriots, including Gerrit Dou and Gerard ter Borch. The notion of judgment was particularly apt in the context of early modern collecting, for it was the site where viewers demonstrated their taste, which in turn was a badge of cultural and social distinction. Combining motifs from diverse conventional subjects, Van Mieris invites viewers to draw connections between The Cloth Shop and numerous other works either on display in the same space or in their memory. In the process, he succeeds in underscoring his technical virtuosity, and in not only satisfying but also surprising viewers with his imagery. Van Mieris thus provides the occasion for privileged viewers to perform their roles as liefhebbers, thereby underlining their cultural superiority.