Wallerant Vaillant, A Boy Drawing a Bust of the Emperor Vitellius, a mezzotint after a painting by Michiel Sweerts

The Netherlands, AD 1665-75 (state I)

After working as an assistant to Prince Rupert, Vaillant set up as an independent mezzotint printmaker in Amsterdam. This print reproduces a painting by Michiel Sweerts (1624-64) now in the Institute of Arts, Minneapolis. It is noticeably more successful in capturing smooth, dark tones than earlier experiments with the new technique.

The charm of the print owes much to the contrast between the childish features of the boy, with his thick curls falling over his collar, and the bust of the heavily jowled emperor. The simplicity and quiet gravity of the subject are impressive. The boy's shoes, the three pieces of charcoal on the floor, the knife and dish for sharpenings, and the wing for dusting away fragments from the drawing, are given a close attention that transfigures them from commonplace items to emblems of a child's experience of discovery. Indeed the image could have been constructed as an emblem or allegory of education.

Vaillant made more than 200 mezzotints, which widely promoted the virtues of the new process. This print is one of 1,488 seventeenth and eighteenth-century mezzotints that in 1874 entered The British Museum from the collection of Charles Howard, 5th Earl of Wicklow, who had inherited them from his ancestor, the painter and connoisseur Hugh Howard (1675-1737/8).

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More information


A. Griffiths (ed.), Landmarks in print collecting (London, The British Museum Press)


Height: 333.000 mm
Width: 269.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1874-8-8-1051 (Hollstein 97)



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